Everywhere you turn, the advice is the same. Love your work. Love your startup. Do what you love, and you’ll never work again. In the startup world, it seems the Beatles were right, all you need is love. But when it comes to being the best you can be in work and life, there is something else that nobody talks about anymore.
A few months ago, I was reading an incredible book about World War II pilots, and I started thinking about what made these young men, barely more than children in their early 20s, risk their lives in the skies over Europe. It surely wasn’t love, and the book never candy-coats how terrified they were. Love, passion, hustle, and all the things startup entrepreneurs talk about had absolutely nothing to do with it. They put aside their fears and did what they had to do out of a sense of pride.
Pride is about character and excellence. It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror, judging yourself by the harshest standards, and still measuring up. Perhaps that’s why nobody talks about it anymore. Character and excellence don’t seem to matter in the modern world. Now all the advice is about loving your work. But love doesn’t push us to be our best.
Take, for example, the underwear delivery guys. It’s possible they love what they do. They might have a fun office and enjoy each other’s company enough that they love going to work each day. But I find it difficult to believe they are proud of themselves for mailing underwear. I can’t imagine they look in the mirror and honestly think this is the best work they can do (I could be wrong, just my guess).
The misguidance of love is that it’s all about feeling good. But pride is what makes something worthwhile. Pride is what makes you care about the quality and impact of your work. Even a CEO can lack the pride of a craftsman who considers all of his work a reflection of who he is.
As a society, I’m not sure we even know what pride is anymore. Generations of protecting fragile egos by handing out false pride in the form of participation ribbons has stripped us of our character. Our attempts to spread pride to everyone has diluted it to the point of disappearance. Because pride cannot be given and must be earned. The love of simply playing the game is not a replacement for the pride of putting in your best effort and leaving everything on the field.
In our microcosm of Silicon Valley, the end result of this dilution of pride is a culture of half-assed startups and self proclaimed founders who haven’t founded anything.
If you are one of the fortunate ones who have earned your pride, the good news is that it can’t be taken from you. But be warned that it must be continually practiced and is often easily, even unwittingly, given away. Most people, lacking in pride themselves, will try to convince you to do things that you’re not proud of and justify it as a means to an end. Ramp up user acquisition, even if you have to cheat. Just capture their personal data and say it was a mistake. It’s okay, the VCs are expecting you to lie. I doubt anyone is proud of shady tactics, but I suppose they love selling their company when the numbers look good. Greed and pride are often incompatible, but love doesn’t pass such judgments.
Loving what you do is not enough. The love we talk about when it comes to our work is fleeting. You can fall out of love through boredom or distraction, but pride runs much deeper. Pride doesn’t come and go with how fun things are. Pride is what gets you through the tough times when you just want to quit. Pride is the understanding that what you do and how you do it is a reflection of your character.
So instead of talking about how much you love your job or your startup, ask yourself how much pride you take in the work you do. If you can honestly say your work fills you with pride then, and only then, will you be truly invested.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]