I’m sorry to say, we’ll probably never receive a Nobel Prize for the work we do. Few of us will win an award for the meeting we facilitate, the transaction we process or the project we lead. There’s probably no Presidential Medal of Honor in our future. The media will not be citing our achievements as a national model.
Although few of us will ever receive prestigious awards for our work, we can make our daily tasks great by doing them with passion, focus and a sense of purpose. Doing our work as if we were producing the world’s next great product, innovation or solution elevates its meaning and importance. If we approach our work from this perspective, we give it a sense of honor and integrity and inspire others to work toward an equally high standard.
In my 9th grade and senior years of high school, I had a great English teacher named Skip Sherman. He was one of my first mentors and I still try to emulate him in my work.
Among Skip’s many talents and strengths as a teacher was a mastery of the English language equaled by few people I’ve ever known. Most of us struggle to find the right words to express the precise thought or concept we are trying to communicate. Not Skip. Skip’s mastery of the vocabulary, grammar and rhythm of the English language was matched by a diction and manner of articulation that gave each word he uttered an almost physical weight, motion and density.
Even more important than Skip’s beautiful way with language was how he taught with such deep dedication, focus and passion. He approached teaching his high school English students as if it were the most important thing he could possibly do. He taught as if our very survival depended on our ability to write well and read and interpret English literature. Skip’s approach to teaching made his work great, and that greatness captivated us, inspired us and stuck with us. Even today, decades later, my old high school friends and I still talk in awe about Skip Sherman and what a great teacher he was.
The greatness Skip brought to teaching English to high school students didn’t earn him any high honors, awards or national recognition. It simply created exceptionally high-quality learning. But beyond the subject matter, he modeled a way of living and working with passion, dedication and commitment that elevates the subject matter, teacher and student. There was no question that those of us who were fortunate enough to sit in his classroom experienced a kind of greatness.
What strikes me even more profoundly today with the passage of time is that Skip could have done an entirely adequate job of teaching English in this little school in Monterey, California, by putting even half the amount of time, energy and passion into his work. But in his own way, he chose to do great things.
Skip Sherman taught me that we don’t need to have a lofty, important-sounding job to do great work. We can all strive to do great things in our work. We can elevate it with honor and integrity, and transform it into something that both serves and inspires our colleagues and customers. What better reward than to know in our own hearts and minds that we have chosen to do great things.
This blog does not represent official policies of the Corporation for National and Community Service or those of the U.S. Government.
Jeffrey Page is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.