Things worth doing, worth trying, and not worth your effort

This post was originally published in September 2012.  While I am currently in the process of narrating an audiobook, I’m taking a break from my normal Tuesday posts; clients come first, of course!  But since the subject of the book I’m narrating is about the importance of connecting with others, of taking pride in your work and yourself, and of making the effort to improve your life each day, I thought this was worth re-posting…


Lord Chesterfield, 1765

“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
– Lord Chesterfield (1694 – 1773)

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”
– Hunter S. Thompson

“Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” 
– Ron Swanson of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”

No matter how you look at it or to whom you look for a great quote about it, we humans strive for excellence.  Throughout history, we as a species have faced innumerable insurmountable odds – floods, plagues, sabre-toothed tigers, the Kardashians – and have always managed to not only survive, but thrive.

It’s that innate drive, coupled with our intelligence and curiosity, that has propelled us from drawing on cave walls to writing Elizabethan sonnets, from discovering fire to sending men to the moon.  It is our constant quest for knowledge, wisdom, and self-discovery that has allowed us to create life-changing inventions like vaccines, automobiles, computers, and Moxie.

So why do some people just not bother?

A couple of months ago, I came across a book-review blog (which shall remain nameless).  The most recent posting, dated July 2012, was a review of the book, The Hunger Games.  Now, considering the fact that the book was originally published in 2008, the fellow writing this review seemed to be a tad late to the party.  The movie, of course, just came out earlier this year – so a book review at this point was, to say the least, overdue.

But then I read it.

Paraphrasing – but almost word-for-word – the review went as follows:  “I’ve heard alot about this book; if it’s anything like the movie, this is probably pretty good.”

I was dumbfounded.  I actually started yelling at my poor computer for wasting the 40 seconds or so of my life that it took to find and read that insightful and eye-opening ‘review.’

The question I kept asking this faceless ‘book reviewer’ was…”Why bother?!?”

If you’re not going to even try to make an effort, why waste the time?  Maybe it’s because I value quality, perhaps it’s because I value my time…but I simply cannot wrap my head around why anyone would voluntarily undertake a project they have absolutely no desire to actually DO, much less complete.  Am I missing something?

The $5000 idea…that wasn’t:

Here’s another one:  A businessman I know recently told me about his wife’s idea to sell crafts at the local fairs and flea markets; she knew what was popular and trendy, she had researched what she’d need, and thought it would be fun and profitable.  So my friend and his wife agreed to go forward with it.

That was three years ago.

At the time of this writing, nearly $5000 worth of merchandise remains packed away in their garage, waiting to be brought somewhere – anywhere – and be sold.

According to my friend, his wife became disinterested in the idea before she ever got the idea off the ground.

Again I ask, “Why bother??”

Is it laziness?  Apathy?  Disillusionment?

Forget, “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”…how about, “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth trying to do well.”  Or, “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth making an effort to try to do well.”  Or even, “if something’s worth considering doing, at least try to pretend to do it well, so others don’t write blog posts about you.”

I can understand if someone poorly performs a task they don’t actually want to do; I may or may not respect that, but I can understand it.  I can also understand a less-than-stellar performance from someone who is still learning the task.  Failure isn’t always a bad thing – it’s the best way to learn, in many instances.  But in these cases, we’re talking about people who voluntarily decided to not even attempt a goal they set for themselves.  If you don’t want to review books, don’t!  If you’d rather not hit the flea market circuit, don’t purchase enough inventory to start up your own mall anchor store!

Quitting = Liberating

Don’t get me wrong; if you don’t want to do whatever you’ve decided to do…it’s ok to change your mind.  But isn’t it better to simply cease whatever you’re doing rather than turn in a half-baked performance?

Are you struggling to get that first or second book published?  Ask yourself if you really enjoy the process:  the writing, the revising, the querying, the rejection.  If you find it difficult to be motivated to do the work…the work is probably suffering.  No one said you can’t stop.

Are you getting frustrated with the number of auditions or casting calls you’re being passed on, and wondering if you should keep at it?  Again, ask yourself if you enjoy what you’re doing – and if the answer is no, find something you do enjoy.  The only person putting pressure on you…is you.

Talent = Overrated

The difference between excellence and mediocrity is not necessarily talent.  Very often, tenacity beats brains, practice beats natural ability, and hard work beats luck.  (For the record, that last one is almost always true).  Nothing against talent, it’s certainly important – but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

I frequently play soccer and basketball with some of the folks in town, and although I’m one of the least-qualified players on any field I step onto, I hold my own.  Why?  Because, as I’ve told them, what I lack in talent I make up for in hustle.

Do you have hustle?

Are you making an effort?

Take a look at your life and see if there are projects, activities, or responsibilities you have taken on that you would rather not deal with.  Are you doing them well?  Are you trying to do them well?  Are you doing them at all?  There are probably plenty of folks out there who can and will do them – better than you.  Are you ok with that?

It’s your call.


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First Impressions: The merits of a good opening line

If I asked you to recite the first line of your favourite poem, could you?

How about your favourite novel?   Favourite movie?

Now, if I asked you to recite any memorable line from a poem, novel, commercial, TV show, movie, or whatever – you’d probably pull something out of your head fairly quickly.

So that begs the question:  if an opening line isn’t memorable…how important is it?

I had been wanting to write about opening lines for awhile now, so I need to thank fellow blogger and children’s poet Ed DeCaria for getting me to finally write it.  Ed’s blog post about the first lines of children’s poems got me pondering whether or not it’s a sin that I barely remember the opening lines of any of my favourite poems or books or movies.  I started thinking about the purpose behind a good opening line.  And soon I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had not invalidated my poetic license by forgetting the great opening lines of poets and authors from Shakespeare to Silverstein.

An opening line doesn’t need to be memorable.

It needs to be engaging.

The commercial, for the commercial:

As radio advertising guru Dan O’Day says:  the first line of a commercial is the commercial for the commercial.  It’s also the commercial for the poem or novel.  In other words, the opening line needs to be interesting enough – or intriguing enough or funny enough or shocking enough – to get the reader or listener to want to keep reading or listening.  That first line is advertising the content that follows.

Whether or not an opening line is memorable is irrelevant – as long as it helps make the entire piece that follows memorable.   (And in the case of commercials, effective)

Speaking of commercials, I cringe when I hear one begin, “Hi, this Joe What’s-his-face from Wacky Widgets!”  Or even worse, an announcer – presumably in his too-perfect and overly-smooth delivery – saying, “And now, Joe What’s-his-face from Wacky Widgets…”  Opening lines like these give a listener NO REASON to care about the message, much less a compelling reason to continue listening.  They might as well start the commercial, “Hey, I’m a business owner, and this is a commercial!  I’m going to try to sell you something…feel free to turn the channel!”

Over the years, I’ve produced a lot of client-voiced spots – still do, too – but they all start with a compelling opening line.  Memorable?  Maybe not – but they’re compelling, and they get the job done.  Here’s one recent example for a local motorcycle shop’s one-day sales event:

NationalPowersports_OpenHouse2012-#2 9-21-12

Notice I didn’t start off telling the listener who Nate is; I started off with Nate connecting with the listener himself, via a premise most of us can relate to:  the typical sale where overpriced vehicles are artificially ‘marked down.’  It’s that first line that has to make you want to keep listening – and if you’re a motorcyclist, chances are you did.

I tell my radio advertising clients all the time that one has to assume the listener doesn’t care.  Not to be insulting, but when your commercial comes on the air, it’s viewed as an interruption – and a good copywriter needs to overcome that.  Why do you suppose such a big deal is made about Super Bowl commercials?  Because advertising agencies don’t want people leaving the living room to get more nachoes while they’re trying to pitch a car manufacturer’s newest model.  The first line should attract attention and draw you in…and make you a participant in the story.

Memorable Lines v. Opening Lines

“What light through yonder window breaks!”

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

“An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”

“I am your father!!”

(Be honest…you read that last one in James Earl Jones’ voice, didn’t you?)

The point of all these quotes, obviously, is to show that some of the most memorable lines from some of the greatest works of fiction aren’t necessarily the opening lines.  However the piece started, it was enough to hook the reader/viewer and keep him or her interested.  The only opening line from these four examples most folks might recall is, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” but even that’s wrong, because it comes from the first Star Wars movie and the line about Luke Skywalker’s father (above) comes from the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. 

That’s why the opening line – the commercial for the commercial – can be both extremely important yet regettably forgettable.  Look at it this way:  the movie “Titanic” was one of the highest-grossing, most widely-viewed, hugely successful films of all time…

…but do you remember the trailer?

That favourite opening line, again?

Have you been able to come up with anything?  Your favourite opening line to a poem, novel, movie, anything?

If you’ve thought of one or two, you’re probably doing better than most.  Even opening lines that are well-known (like “Call me Ishmael” from Melville’s Moby Dick or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) are often misattributed to other works, by folks who have heard them but may or may not have read the actual novels.

Although opening lines may be extremely important, memorable lines – whether recalled exactly or slightly misquoted – are something else entirely.  A good opening line will get the reader/viewer/ listener’s attention – but if the rest of the piece doesn’t live up to the expectations that have been created, nothing about your piece will be memorable.

Except, perhaps, for the wrong reasons.