Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

Do Your Best Work, Not Someone Else’s

Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

Opportunity by RK Rockefeller, Flickr

He had made up his mind.

Archie told his two friends he just couldn’t risk starting his own animated studio. “It’s a stupid fantasy.” Benjy and Sahib sat silent and stunned.

Archie had come from a long line of respected business innovators and creative people – his mother and father both investors and business owners; his grandfather played sax for Bennie Goodman; his grandmother, a jazz singer. The youngest of three brothers, Archie had admired his older brother Sam, his best friend, a talented artist who always saw the best in his younger brother. “Little Archer,” he nicknamed him. He would watch Archie excel at drawing or playing sax or amateur video production. “Man,” Sam would say,” little Archer, when you set your aim on something, you’ll hit it, brother. You’ve got the knack.”

Then at 18 Sam left for Europe and never looked back.

Archie could’ve gotten lost. But amidst a family tree of accomplishments, he had found his own talents and own way of grieving his brother’s absence through animated design. Still, he drifted through his 20s, getting jobs at agencies and studios more out of prestige and security than anything else.

Then on the same day, he lost his job and his girlfriend, the one person who moored him. Over the next several months, he took stock of his life until, boom, it became clear that his next mission was to start a small animation studio. He’d start it with his two colleagues and chums – Benjy who had business smarts and Sahib who had smarts in many areas plus brilliant artistic talents like Sam.

It would be a studio small in scale but large in its impact.

Archie’s studio would produce outrageously imaginative and elevating animated fare for older children, teenagers like Sam, and grown-ups. An alternative to Pixar that would explore the beauty and complexity of being young.

The vision lit him up. He could see teenagers enraptured and moved. He could see himself more in charge of his work. Benjy, Sahib, and Archie took off with the project. Business model. Short mock films. Investor pursuits.

But the vision also paralyzed him. He would retreat to his tiny cave apartment in Brooklyn and would crash on the Zebra print mattress. Who was he to do this? What if he failed? What would his family think? What would his ex-girlfriend think? What if his friends became foes in the madness of trying to make such a scheme fly?

One night he went to meet his two collaborators. Around a pub table, he told them the news. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I just cannot risk this. I think I need to go get a job and just do it the best I can. I’m sorry. I need to do something right. It’s a stupid fantasy.”

Sahib stood up and for a full minute stared silently. “Archie, you’re the most talented animator I know. That studio fired you because of budget constraints and narrow-sightedness. You were meant to start this studio.”

“But what if I fail?”

“What if?” Sahib said. “You’re not here to use your talents just to get a job and play it safe. You want to make something different. I’ve heard you for months talk about it.” Archie leaned in. “Archie, it is better to do your own work imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly. What if we call it Little Archer Studios?” (1)

It is better to do your own work imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.

That line is a translation from the Sanskrit of what is often hailed as one of the most beautiful stories in all of literature, the Bhagavad-Gita. It’s basically a story about a renowned warrior who at first refuses to fight the battle of his lifetime – and the conversation that ensues between the warrior and his big-hearted, wise mentor.

It’s a story still for our times about the work we must do in the world – whether “for” an employer or company or client or customer or our own endeavor. It’s a story that provokes us to ask what is our best work where we can excel.

The idea provokes us to ask what is the work for our best self – that version of ourselves that we know aligns with our deepest virtues and talents that contribute something useful and, yes, beautiful to the greater good.

It’s a story that provokes us to do business as unusual in the coming year. To think more of collaboration than cut-throat competition. To leverage our resources and stop hemming about earning real revenue to solve big problems.

There very well may be something hungering in you to stop stalling and stammering and telling yourself small stories about who you are.

There very well may be something hungering in you this year to start amplifying your best work, to bring forward your best strengths, and to start a new story about what you’re here for, imperfections and all.

Why not feed that hunger?

The world waits.

Be radical.

Refuse cynicism.

Lead with your ideal.

 

Jeffrey

 

(1) This story is fictional. Any resemblance to your brother, co-worker, friend, or self is strictly coincidental, uncanny, or remarkable.

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