Enduring Advice | Pushing the Wave

Enduring Advice

Opinion, 11 February 2024
by L.A. Davenport
My time at university has been much in my mind in recent weeks, for numerous reasons, and one moment in particular has come back to me again and again, partly as I watch some of the younger members of my extended family prepare for making their own way in the big wide world.

I should explain that I studied medicine and, in our college, our merry band of 11 students, out of more than a hundred in our year from across the university, formed a tight-knit and surprisingly close group.

It must have something that we all remarked upon, at least to ourselves, as it came as no surprise to any of us when, during a drinks party with our director of studies, one of our number, who I will alway treasure for being disarmingly outspoken, asked our host why on earth he had chosen us lot to study such an august subject at such an august institution (I paraphrase, but that is essentially what she meant).

Once we had all laughed in relief at having had the elephant in the room addressed so directly (and in a broad Cumbrian accent), our tutor replied, with almost no hesitation, that he had chosen us not necessarily because we were the best of the best, although we were all of a high standard, but because he would have to spend three years in our company and he wanted people who he could stand!

He went on to explain a little less flippantly that his role was, in part, to create a community, and he needed to ensure that we would both meet the academic demands of the course and fit with not only the ethos of the institution and its culture but also with each other.

We often discussed this moment over the ensuing years we spent together, occasionally even with our director of studies, as it struck us all as having contained a little nugget of advice that we could take away and apply to our lives, once we had graduated and were forced to deal with the real world.

And it was only when I was out there working for my living that I began to appreciate the myriad implications of what our tutor had told us. Moreover, it occurred to me that similar advice is rarely given, even though it can have a huge impact on your success in your chosen role or profession.

What I have taken away from it is that, yes, you have to have to be really good at your job but to succeed you also have to be reliable, thoughtful and conscientious, and able to be part of a community. (I don’t mean to be part of a team here, as that is much more closely related to your actual work and can, paradoxically, have a lesser impact on your acceptability to the wider organisation.)

More than that, you should try, at all times, to be pleasant to work with, by which I mean kind, attentive and respectful, and not let your ego get in the way how you judge a situation.

I am acutely aware, however, that will be many among you reading this who will argue that such considerations have nothing to do with performing a job well, that it is only the results that count and that you simply have to be the best and make yourself standout.

As a freelance journalist, writer and editor who has worked with dozens of clients from the UK, Europe and the USA for nigh-on 20 years (and having been an employee for eight years before leaving the comforts of a salaried role) I can assure you that that is definitely not the case. Indeed:
  1. it is not possible to define who is the ‘best’ at anything, as there are always numerous factors to consider, mercurial brilliance usually being the least of them; and
  2. once you are competing with people who are all of a certain standard, and the employer or client therefore knows the job will be done well in any case, the quality of your work becomes very much a secondary factor.

In short, there is no point in being brilliant if you cannot be relied upon to get the job done or are such a pain to work with that it becomes at best a chore and at worst a form of waking nightmare to have to deal with you every day.

It is a cold, hard truth that people who are nice and easy to work with will be chosen ahead of almost anyone else who is, on paper, better at a given role, with a few rare exceptions in which being able to deal with other human beings is not part of the job description.

I am not sure how much young people about to embark upon the world of work want to hear advice from grizzled work horses like me, especially when it is unsolicited.

However, whenever I get the opportunity I tell the story of our director of studies and what his words have meant to me over the years. And if at least one person can learn from them, that would make me and, I suspect, him very happy.
Recently I confessed my guilty pleasure at poring over images from the red carpet at awards ceremonies, and I was again able to indulge myself following the 66th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

It has to be admitted that musicians generally make less inspiring and certainly less stylish choices for the red carpet at their awards ceremonies than do actors but, judging by the photos published by the New York Times, there were still some interesting outfits at this year’s event.

Personally, I most appreciated the efforts from Ice Spice, Olivia Rodrigo (although a 1995 vintage Versace gown is always going to be a winner) and Janelle Monáe in her impressive Armani gown, although I also have to give a shoutout to 21 Savage’s gold stud-trimmed suit, the lines of which worked very well for a man of his height and build.
Finally, photos of another kind featured on Pushing the Wave this week, when I finally got the time to publish a photo story from my trip to New Orleans way back in 2011.

I had of course been there year before, but I find the difference in the images between 2010 and 2011 quite remarkable. It isn’t just that I switched from a 35mm Zorki S camera for the first trip to a medium format Bronica ETRSi for the second, and in doing so ramped up the quality of the images enormously, but also that I had cleared matured greatly as a photographer in 12 short months.

Not only that, but I was visiting NOLA for the second time, and so didn’t have the same perspective on that most inspiring and fascinating of cities. The truth is I saw and understood far more than I did on my first trip.

I hope you enjoy the results.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Enduring Advice | Pushing the Wave