That’s the title of a a book I just finished reading. It was an easy-to-read book which left me satisfied but also unsettled. Unsettled in a good way–asking questions, continuing to ponder what I read and its relevance to my own life.
There were several paragraphs in the introduction which seemed like they could be talking about my own life. Career-wise, I’m a lot of things right now. I don’t even really like thinking in terms of career, but since it makes things easier to have a word that refers to the things that we do, I’ll keep using the term. With that terminology, then, of all the things I do right now, Stay at Home Mom is at the center.
Thinking about that, then, I reread the introduction as if it were talking about me and my vocation of parenting. Here are some rather lengthy quotes from the book with references to the specific profession removed. I’ll tell you at the end which career is being focused on in this book. If you are a parent, do these thoughts sound familiar? Does it resonate with those of you in different careers?
What does it take to be good at something in which failure is so easy, so effortless? [When I was preparing for this career], my deepest concern was to become competent….
…Success in ______ has dimensions that cannot be found on a playing field. For one, lives are on the line. Our decisions and omissions are therefore moral in nature. We also face daunting expectations….The steps are often uncertain. The knowledge to be mastered is both vast and incomplete. Yet we are expected to act with swiftness and consistency…for the care of a single person. We are also expected to do our work humanely with gentleness and concern. It’s not only the stakes but also the complexity of performance…that makes it so interesting and, at the same time, so unsettling. [This paragraph in particular rang true to me of the pressures and joys I experience as a Mom.]
….This is a book about performance in _____…. We must grapple with systems, resources, circumstances, people–and our own shortcomings, as well. We face obstacles of seemingly unending variety. Yet somehow we must advance, we must refine, we must improve. How we have and how we do is my subject here.
The sections of this book examine three core requirements for success in ________–or in any endeavor that involves risk and responsibility. The first is diligence, the necessity of giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles. Diligence seems an easy and minor virtue. (You just pay attention, right?) But it is neither. Diligence is both central to performance and fiendishly hard….
The second challenge is to do right. _______ is a fundamentally human profession. It is therefore forever troubled by human failings, failings like avarice, arrogance, insecurity, misunderstanding. In this section I consider some of our most uncomfortable questions….
The third requirement for success is ingenuity–thinking anew. Ingenuity is often misunderstood. It is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change. It arises from deliberate, even obsessive, reflection on failure and a constant searching for new solutions….
Betterment is a perpetual labor. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing….To complicate matters, we…are also only human ourselves. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. Yet still, to live as a _____ is to live so that one’s life is bound up in others’ and in science and in the messy, complicated connection between the two. It is to live a life of responsibility. The question, then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility. Just by doing this work, one has. The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well…. [quotes taken from pages 3-9 of the book Better, by Atul Gawande]
The author is a medical doctor and so that is the career he is looking at when he asks questions about betterment. His book is subtitled: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. The book is full of stories, with statistics and commentary (such as the above selections) woven throughout. It was a remarkably light read for dealing with such deep topics (I was able to follow it while exercising at the gym, which really says something about a book’s readability!)
Some questions I am asking at this end of reading the book include: What does it mean to improve? How can I improve what I do? Is better always better? Is the process of getting better or pursuing better always worth it? Can a person consciously and continuously seek betterment, while maintaining an attitude of calm at-peaceness with what they are able to do now (taking into consideration knowledge, abilities and resources)?