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  • Yasmine

Beautiful work

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to share a meal with a dear colleague (hey M!). We were discussing the repetitive nature of some of our work, how one could easily slip. If only for one day, could we lower our standards of what we deem to be great work?

Like the internet meme goes: “Who’s gonna know?”

Everyone could have a bad morning, a migraine, personal concerns or worries that creep into your day and maybe just for that day, maybe one Tuesday afternoon, one could indulge themselves to a sprinkle of mediocrity ie: according to the Oxford dictionary settle for work “of only average quality”.

Yet, we both realised that in fact we never allow that to happen.

Over a cup of black tea they said: “There is something to be said about beautiful work”.

And that phrase just stuck with me ever since. “There is something to be said about beautiful work”.

But what is beautiful work? What is excellence?

When I was a PhD student, I often fell in the trap of comparison. In the absence of any clear academic grades, one can easily get lost. Getting older, I became better at setting up my own standards of what I think is good work. These standards are naturally not built out of vacuum, however they are also not built on the achievements of my peers either.

With time, like making something out or clay, I refined what the excellence I strive for looks like. It is very personal, what I can say though is that it resembles more a limit in the mathematical sense than a check box.

The next questions is what keeps us going? What is the fuel of excellence?

Two things come to mind: consistency and accountability.

Consistency can take many forms. It can be the willingness to do or act according to your metrics of excellence even on rainy days. To be consistent is tiring. To the best of my knowledge no ballerina from Garnier got to be Tchaikovsky’s black swan with a couple of plié, tendu, échapé per week. There are many ways of setting yourself up for consistent behaviour. It could be starting your day with your favorite coffee, have a one to one with your todo list. In some cases prepping yourself to winning an argument or making a point can get you going. Though I don’t recommend this in the long term. Consistency comes with practice and is refined with time as it helps to know what is driving you. It then becomes a virtuous cycle, the knowledge of yourself and aspirations will feed into your consistent behaviour.

Accountability, towards oneself or towards an external figure. Not being a young PhD anymore and having been around for some time, I find fascinating the ability of humans to lie to themselves. I can’t tell if deep down they know the truth? But constructing a soothing fulfilling story to justifies one’s failure to meet certain achievements or deliverables is a work of art. I am not interested in the roots of this phenomenon (at least not today), what I care about is how it can be avoided at all costs. And this is where accountability is your ally. If you write down on a sticky note: this is is what I consider to be a good goal or practice. Then when you come back a week or six months later to find a discrepancy, accountability is here to help adjust what went wrong and what can be better. For some people it could be external, an accountability buddy could be a great gift of life. Sometimes, there is almost a tacit agreement, and if one sees a little breach in excellence then your accountability buddy will gently (hopefully) point that out to you. This buddy can be an actual human being or just a boum in your face good reality check.

If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be: don’t let yourself be fooled into believing that your striving for excellence is arrogance.

42 years on this globe lead me to one certainty: I’d rather aim at being a black swan than a fake story weaver.

Picture: my grand mother Djoher age 96 signing her latest book.


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