The Lonely Road to Excellence

Almost six weeks have passed since I posted the introductory article for this year. In the intervening period, several writing ideas have crossed my mind, but as they say, until your fingers hit the keyboard, ideas are just wishful thinking. Technically, I was on leave, but work and family commitments ensured I always had an excuse not to write. Paradoxically, today’s article tries to encourage something that if done well, may infringe on your right to freedom to enjoy your leave.

I had cause to visit a hospital recently as a loving escort and while the doctor attended to his patient, we began to talk about attitudes to work in Nigeria. The discussion sprang up because I was pissed about poor customer service from some persons at the front desk and another person in the same hospital who did not show up for work. This contrasted with this Nigerian doctor who seemed like an externally displaced foreigner working in Nigeria. He surely took his work quite seriously.

As the doctor, patient, and escort discussed, we zoned in on a common trend with poor service delivery in Nigeria. The doctor would allude to being treated as a pariah by many of his colleagues in the hospital who felt he was “too serious’, or taking the job “as if it is his father’s company”. The doctor lamented about people who expect him to drop his standards, rather than them stepping up by improving their game. You see, in these parts, the diligent person is usually the bad person.

As the discussion progressed, I found parallels between the doctor’s experience and mine. Without even doing anything above the ordinary, you would have colleagues feeling you are putting them in a spot by striving for excellence. For many persons, their ethos can be articulated as “why do today what can be done tomorrow”, or “why give your best for something not directly beneficial to you”, or “why bother about what does not belong to you”. This mind-set appears quite prevalent across the Nigerian society, yet we wonder why things remain in their bad state.

The civil servant who does not see any reason to do her job well, fumes in anger at the police officer who shows no interest in catching the kidnappers who borrowed her son. The speech writer who gladly plagiarises someone else to draft his boss’s speech, or writes a speech riddled with errors, is pissed by the bank teller who plays Sudoku while a long queue of customers await. The tailor who stitches a mockery of a design agreed with a client, swears annoyingly at the contractor who delivers a road with lifespan comparable to that of a housefly. The lecturer who uses lecture notes that precede Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement, wonders why nurses at the emergency ward seem to operate in suspended animation while her son battles for his life.

There is a popular saying that “breakfast would reach everybody”. The society is designed as an interdependent organism where different parts contribute to general well-being. Imagine having perfect eyesight but lacking sense of smell, or having strong legs like Usain Bolt but dependent on a weak heart. That is what we get when different members of the society do not perform optimally. It does not have to be your father’s business for you to do your job well. In fact, for persons who argue that they cannot put in their best in another person’s business (private or government), I wonder if they would expect diligent workers if sometime later in life they were able to setup their own organisation, because the breakfast surely has to be served.

For some, they may fear that “the reward for good work is more work”, but I think this happens because majority of persons deliver substandard work. That is why it appears that anyone who does well gets more work. However, do not let fear of more work hold you back. If we all can be the best version of ourselves, everyone would be better for it. Let’s end with the words of a wise man: “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank (Proverbs 22:29 NIV)”. Strive for excellence and someday, it would pay off.

Image Credit: mikehawkins.org


2 thoughts on “The Lonely Road to Excellence

  1. “Without even doing anything above the ordinary, you would have colleagues feeling you are putting them in a spot by striving for excellence”.

    This captures everything. And we have folks who have dropped their standards in order not to make their colleagues feel uncomfortable. We need to ignore that discomfort and insist on excellence.

    Well written, Jonah.

    Liked by 1 person

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