On the value of doing it right the first time

When my brother and I were growing up, there was an aphorism that my dad could be counted to utter at every possible opportunity: "Be the labor great or small, do it right or not at all." No matter the secret frustrations or eye-rolls I may have gifted him back then, it has now become my own mantra. And it is to that aphorism — in particular, to the persistence, commitment, and insistence on quality that it has ingrained in me — that I owe a great deal of my success in life. 

At some point, I no longer needed my dad to say it to me. Instead, his voice — and those words — were always just right there in my ear. Maybe I'm exhaustedly sweeping the kitchen floor, and I think I'm done, but then I see another grainy patch of dust shimmering over in a different corner, and there's the voice again. Or maybe I'm nearly finished painting a bedroom a beautiful new color; it's taken me hours upon hours across several days; and, through my exhaustion, I realize there's a teeny-tiny spot I missed above the doorway that like 98% of people would never ever ever notice in all of eternity. And yep, there it is again. Thanks to my dad, I'm pretty much never allowed to half-ass anything. 

Regardless of the situation, once I've seen that little spot — once I've spotted any error or opportunity for improvement whatsoever — I've got to fix it. I'm not allowed to let it go. I've got to make sure it's done right. This is not to say I'm always overjoyed about it. Mostly, in fact, I'm slightly irritated. On dozens of occasions, I've talked back to the air: "FINE. Whatever. Do it right or not it all. I get it. Fine. I'll do it. Shut up already!" But then I sweep up the offending dust or ascend the ladder to tackle that teeny-tiny spot. Summarily annoyed by my own insistence on doing it right, I do it right. 

If you know me personally, I'd wager that there's a greater than 60% chance you've heard me utter this "be the labor" advice aloud. If you are my fiancé or my ten-year-old almost-stepson, you've heard it at least once a month, and that's a highly conservative estimate. (On some occasions, when particularly unenjoyable tasks are at hand, they've taken to only half-jokingly responding, "But I don't WANT to be the labor!!") And so it goes: a phrase that has plagued and annoyed me for much of my life has nonetheless become core to who I am.

But the thing is, my dad was right. If something is at all worth doing, it's worth doing right... and doing right the first time. It's pointless and time-wasting to cut corners or half-ass anything. You're likely to disappoint someone, look lazy, or suffer some sort of negative consequences. You're even more likely to be compelled to return to the task to redo the part you failed to do right the first time. 

So. In the words of my hard-working, uncompromising father — who, let's face it, probably heard the words from his own incredibly hard-working, uncompromising father — "be the labor great or small, do it right or not at all." Hear it in a stern dad voice, or hear it in my slightly gentler, always-well-meaning-sounding tones. But HEAR IT. It's honestly the best advice I can give any of you. It applies to every single area of your life that matters.

That conviction is also the reason my poor stepson is doomed to hear the phrase from me continually throughout his youth: because I am dead-set on doing everything I can to help him understand the value of doing things right, and doing them right the first time. If he takes it to heart, it will take him far in life. (Well, once he learns to control the eye-rolling.) 

And with all that said: thanks, dad. With mom's help, you turned me into an incredibly hard worker with an unswerving commitment to quality and commitment. Though there are times I've cursed you for it, I really do love you for it. 

POSTSCRIPT: Hilariously, through the wonders of Google, I've *just this moment* learned that this is the full version of the (anonymous) quote: "If a task is once begun, never leave it till it's done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." And it turns out I don't agree with that first part at all. But hey, people don't have to be right about EVERYTHING. :)