Friday, May 28, 2010

Doing Your Best

I've started to read Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which, among other things, describes the need to praise kids for their actions and efforts rather than their innate talents and intelligence.  The thinking is that rewarding kids for getting A's by telling them that they are smart eventually backfires when the kids inevitably run across something that is difficult for them: they think that if they were really smart, they'd be able to answer the question easily; and when they don't know the answer right away, they think it's because they aren't smart after all (rather than because problem-solving takes effort).  I'm not sure that I buy into this line of thinking.  I believe that some people really are smart and it is ok to recognize that.  Of course, anything worth achieving does take effort, so the message that you should always work hard is a good one, too.  But I'm not convinced that the two are mutually exclusive.

In any event, I was thinking of the value of always doing your best when I read The Tipsy Diaries column in today's New York Times.  The piece describes Doug Quinn, the bartender extraordinare at the legendary P. J. Clarke's.  He went to college (Vassar even) but here he is making the humble task of bartending his life's work.  The Times alludes to the position as lucrative (even just in tips, he probably pulls in upwards of $1000 a night), but more than anything, the paper makes it clear that Quinn has taken his God-given talents of "speed, stamina, dexterity, personality and an awe-inspiring memory" and worked them to the point that he is clearly acknowledged as one of the best in his profession.

Note: A version of this post is included in the anthology Songs of Ourselves, published by Blue Heron Book Works.

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