Several years ago, I sang on what should have been a routine recording session. There were about six of us singing well-known songs for karaoke tracks, and I was asked to record a solo on a break. After singing it through just once, the producer said, ‘Wow, Chance, I think we got it!” If you’re happy, I’m happy, I thought to myself. It wasn’t my best, but it wasn’t bad either. Plenty good enough for what we were doing. No one’s ever gonna hear this anyway, I told myself. Ten minutes and I was done. On to the next thing.
I didn’t give it another thought until a couple of years later when that recording started popping up in other places. I began getting emails and phone calls from friends saying, “I heard you on Pandora!” Then I noticed it on a compilation. And another. And another. Before I knew it, that ten minutes of my life and work had a greater reach than almost anything else I’d ever done. Like it or not, it was out there – and I didn’t like it at all.
It started an important internal conversation that began with thoughts like…
“They shouldn’t be able to release that!”
“If I’d have known so many people were gonna hear it, I’d have asked to sing that line again.”
“I sure wish people could hear something that matters to me instead of this.”
“Nobody knows I did that so quickly. They’re gonna think that’s my best work.”
(In my most whiny voice…) “It’s not faaaiiir!’’
After all of my excuses and accusations, I eventually arrived at the simple truth… It’s my fault. I should have cared more that day.
Truth be told, I was phoning it in. I was punching a clock, just doing what was in front of my face, unaware that I was creating something that would eventually matter. If I’d known where it would end up, of course I would have given it more effort. I would have done work that was worthy of my name. Not that it was bad – but it wasn’t up to my standard, and I knew it even in that moment. I just wanted to get it done.
I should have cared more that day. I should have given more of myself to it. I should have treated it like it mattered – because it did. And as it turns out, it matters even more so today. If I’m not happy, it’s my fault. I settled for ‘good enough’, rather than sticking with it until I could be proud. I let someone else’s lower standard affect mine. But all these years later, it’s got my name on it, and it says more about me than anyone else in the room that day.
It taught me a valuable lesson. You never know when your work will come back to help or hurt you. You never know where or how it will show up in the future. Is it enough to slide by – or should we be driven by an inner standard calling us to give the best we’re capable of? Sometimes our employers don’t know how to lead us to our best… but does that mean they don’t deserve our best?
It’s time to move beyond simply punching a clock. We’ve got to approach even those things we don’t give great value to as if they matter. Because they do – even more than we know in the moment.
I’d love another pass at that vocal, but in a way I’m glad I can’t get it. I think everything I ever do will be better for it.