The term ‘unheroic work’ first landed in my language via a book by Jedediah Purdy1 about the commons of politics and community.
The quote reads,
“Yet a political achievement cannot be taken for granted. It is always either a continuing accomplishment or an eroding one. It requires the sustenance of unheroic work.”
Despite the different topic, his words ‘unheroic work’ perfectly captured what I’ve talked about for years. That brand results from the various and continuing decisions and actions, big and small, made by people across an organisation.
When I first explored the idea, my focus was on the sustenance side. The contribution unheroic work makes. I spent less time on what it is until some recent references reigniting my thinking.
An email forwarded from a friend with a call to supporters by Georgian voting rights activist Stacy Abrams highlighted the ‘hard and unglamorous work’ it takes to win elections.
In a podcast interview, best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert lamented people have the wrong idea about a creative life, which she says is decidedly not glamorous and instead “90% boring2”.
Even ancient stoic philosopher Zeno, in a quote captured by author Ryan Holiday, reminds us that, “Well-being is realised by small steps, but is truly no small thing3”.
Whether you are a writer, in politics, philosophy, work for an enterprise, or toil solo, unheroic work goes unnoticed and usually unheralded.
From hefty things to those more mundane and repetitious, it weaves seamlessly and invisibly into our day-to-day endeavours, easy to overlook and underestimate. Yet, track the path of unheroic work, and you can easily observe the impact.
A janitor clearing used packaging from the loading dock so shipments can come and go smoothly.
An analyst crunching the data to show how many people are using the new app.
A receptionist’s broad smile and cheerful greeting helping visitors feel welcomed and at ease.
A project manager proof-reading the tender document one last time to ensure it is error-free.
Every role in every enterprise does unheroic work. It may not be 90%, but it probably makes up most of what you do every day, so it is worthy of attention. After all, everyone can come up with a small thing someone did that sticks with them.
Do you want unheroic work to contribute to the continuing accomplishment of your brand result?
Take a sheet of paper and list the ordinary things you do every day. Pick one and look for ways to use your identity of purpose and values to better align it to what you care about. Then pick another …
Hit pause on sexy, shiny distractions and free some attention for the wealth of small stuff. Feeding the brand result and sustaining it with your unheroic work.
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Don’t forget to get your copy of my ebook The Unheroic Work.