Work On Your Work: Don’t Hold Back From Being Good

The common assumption is that people want to be good at their work; that they desire to be competent, useful, and valuable to their employer, teammates, and customers. But frequently their actions (and our own) run counter to that assumption. We see it around us all the time; witnessing the potential talent and energy languishing in our coworkers and associates. Often we experience it languishing in ourselves. Individuals who entered the organization with energy and ideas devolve to fit the conventional mold over time, moving closer to the lowest common denominator. The bar is not set very high in many organizations. Many in the crowd are merely doing enough to keep their boss off their back or avoid notice. They want to do the minimum and be on their way each day. Their collective workplace influence drags the bar down to a beautiful resting spot on the floor.

If you venture forth from the crowd and get good at your work, you become different from others around you (and being different is often lonely and rarely valued by the group). People who are afraid to be good at their work fill many companies and firms. This fact leads to the standard workplace reward of competency, initiative, and curiosity: an ever-increasing workload. Because the leaders of organizations can spend precious time and energy trying to motivate, cajole, and incentivize people past their fears or they can continue to place bets on the horse already moving swiftly down the track. All of these observations beg the questions:

Why are people afraid to be good at their jobs?

What’s holding us back?

What Happens When You Get Good At Your Work

(a.k.a. The Stuff That Holds Us Back)


Responsibility is one of the cornerstone items that elevates and amplifies when you become competent at your work. You’ll have to take ownership of the work, outcomes, planning, and perhaps other staff. This reality is frightening to many people. There’s nowhere to hide in the crowd, in the meeting, or during the presentation. Some people wear this responsibility lightly, moving forward purposefully in spite of its weight; for others, the very idea is crippling, and it produces a fear of getting good and being recognized. If you’re good at your job, responsibility comes with the territory; its part and parcel of what you are being paid to do: take the initiative and make decisions.


Everyone claims they want to be in charge, to be calling the shots, to possess the power to exert their influence and bend the situation to their will. They’re lying to themselves. Because they have that choice every day when it comes to their attitudes, efforts, and work, and they walk away. They do the minimum because they don’t want to shoulder the burden of decisions. When you are good at your work, people bring you the problems, issues, and ideas. And then you need to decide on them. You. Not the guy down the hall. You. And most of us don’t like that kind of pressure or spotlight. But if you embrace responsibility and make a decent effort at making decisions in the best interest of your team or employer, then your value within the organization can skyrocket rapidly.


If you’re good at your work, you’ll without a doubt see an increase in your benefit to both the organization and to those outside of it. Your desirability to other employers and the ability to command compensation and value in the open market will increase. We’ve written before about making yourself invaluable at your job. Your worth is determined in large part by your efforts, actions, and attitudes. This knowledge is a scary prospect: my value is my responsibility. Not a compensation study, salary range, job description, or HR assessment; it is my responsibility. It is your responsibility (and mine) first to demonstrate the value which we provide and then negotiate to see that value appropriately rewarded. You can do that once you get good at your work.


There are different expectations for different work, positions, and people. That’s a fact of the natural hierarchies we live within. People will say that they want everyone within the organization treated equally, but they’re lying. They want people treated according to their efforts, with more effort garnishing greater rewards and autonomy. When you are good at your work, there will be a different set of expectations. You will be expected to take the initiative, follow up, communicate, perform, and verify. You will be expected to act alone as well as meld with a team. The dud on the team does not have these same expectations. They are expected to stay out of the way and await orders. The expectations for them will remain static and known.

But for the person striving to be competent, the expectations increase over time. The Herculean effort that you put forth to bring about success on that last endeavor becomes the “new normal”; it will be the expected typical results moving forward. Fortunately, your skills, competency, and confidence will also be expanding at the same time, sometimes leaping ahead of expectations and sometimes lagging, but still moving forward to have the two variables meet.

The Rewards

The fundamental truth is that the rewards of getting good at your work will outweigh (in the long run) the issues and pressures that hold us back. The prize is competency and satisfaction. Of avoiding the nagging feelings of a life lived in apathy and fear. Of being active and alive, with a purpose to the hours spent at our labor. For those of us who are striving to be interested in our work and competent at it, it means never being without work for very long (if ever). Another reward is a growing internal motivation, a gift that you give yourself. This internal motivation cannot be taken away by circumstances, by a boss, or even by results. It’s the satisfaction you get from performing the work itself and the desire to perform it well. This striving, curiosity, and motivation are always rewarded in the marketplace, regardless of the particular industry.

The Secret Is Not A Secret

How can we get good at our work and jobs? Work long and hard and pay attention. There’s no secret recipe, no hack, and no shortcut. Behind each successful striver, grinder, and productive, successful worker are two fundamental traits: long hours spent getting good at their work and a dominant, overarching attitude of “I am not afraid.

I’m not afraid of the work.

I’m not concerned about the long hours.

I am willing to invest now for future rewards.

I’m not afraid to stand out from the crowd.

I’m not afraid to get good at this.

There are enough people out there playing in the mediocre league. These individuals are anxious, bored, and live in quiet desperation, particularly when it comes to their work. Don’t add to their number. Get good at your work and make it count.

Moving Forward:

Do you find yourself holding back your talents or energies from different parts of your work?

Is it because of any of the reasons discussed above?

Originally published at on June 4, 2019.



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Frederick Johnston

Frederick Johnston

Lifelong writer and researcher, often can be found at, pursuing a life well lived