Do Your Best Work in Private

Watchmaker


Sometimes we wonder how certain people are gifted with greater opportunities to showcase their talents or contribute to a cause or increase their influence. How did someone pick up their work? How did they get connected, recognized, and known? Why are they being asked to step forward and use their skills in growing ways?

There’s no single answer to this question. Every person and situation is different. We also can’t equate platform with influence, or recognition with significance, or publicity with faithfulness.

But if you’re hoping for increased opportunities to serve or create or produce, there’s one discipline you can pursue that can keep the door unlocked: do your best work in private.

It seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t I do my best work when it’s most public, when there’s a clear offer on the line, when The People Who Matter are certain to see it?

No.

Why not?

Because these opportunities are always on the line. Everything you produce in your area of work—whether art or literature or science or coaching or organization or events or hospitality—it’s all on the line every time you practice or prepare, research or rehearse, compete or create. Every time you prep or hone or present (or simply do) your work, whether it’s large or small, whether in public or in private, whether the stakes seem high or disappointingly absent, your standards and your values and your discipline and your self-expectations are being displayed.

More importantly, they’re being cultivated.

I’m always struck when people who dream of publishing a book publish a garbled blog post. You shake your head a bit when you see friends who self-present as future artists producing things far below their capacity, just because nothing’s (allegedly) on the line. It always induces some cognitive dissonance when we watch someone who’s eager for an opportunity or a position or a promotion do the kind of work that would keep away, rather than attract, that promotion.

If all I ever write are first drafts, I shouldn’t be surprised if I’m never asked to publish a fiftieth draft—which is what we call a “book.” If the highest I ever aim is the lowest common denominator of people’s expectations, I shouldn’t be surprised if I’m only called upon to contribute at the lowest levels. If I only rise to the occasion at public occasions, I shouldn’t be surprised when public occasions rarely ask me to rise.

Our families, our jobs, our churches, and our world need the best of our training, our talents, our service, and our skills. Mediocrity is everywhere—especially in the shadows, where we think no one’s watching. So step up, especially when you’re not stepping out, and do your best work in private.


2 thoughts on “Do Your Best Work in Private

  1. The Scriptures support this!
    Proverbs 22:29 KJV — Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.

  2. I find this to be a surprising insight. The level of focus, intensity and purpose that I ought to bring to my developing craft (art, in my case) should not correspond to my expectations about the size or nature of the immediate audience. I see the reward of each effort as the cultivation of the skills–the actual progress rather than *recognition* of progress. The picture you paint of devoting yourself to producing a collection of “invisible” masterpieces is compelling.

    It reminds me how seasoned artists often answer the question, “How long did it take you to paint that painting?” The most savvy answer is something like, “35 years,” which speaks to some 20+ years of failed, unseen work.

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