Rum-Soaked Grave-Diggers, the Expert-Positioning Phenomenon, and your Goals for the New Year
by Douglas Kruger
A week before the New Year, in the company of a crowd of strangers on a foreign continent, I stood in a shower, fully dressed but in pitch darkness, listening tensely for the voices of ghosts.
We were visiting Sydney, and booked for the ghost tour of the old Quarantine Station, where well over 500 people are reputed to have died of a combination of ship-bourn diseases and the primitive treatments prescribed to try to heal them (carbolic acid shower, anyone? It will remove the lice - and your first two layers of skin).
One of the tales we were told, standing beneath the Southern Cross and beside an old cemetery, highlighted what goes wrong when you deal with the opposite end of the spectrum from the industry expert: the rank amateur.
Residents of the quarantine station had begun complaining of bad smells. Nothing unusual about that in a medical quarantine station in the 19’th century; but these were particular odious and unusually persistent.
Officials from Sydney investigated and were horrified to discover the source: Diseased bodies buried less than 40cm under the ground.
Hold your arm out in front of you and trace the distance from elbow to fingers. That was the distance between pestilence-ridden carcasses and the vulnerable patients walking around above them, minus their top-two layers of skin.
It turned out that the staff had hired the cheapest imaginable labour to dig the graves: Local drunks.
This collection of itinerants had been promised a bottle of rum on completion of the disinterment of each body. The inevitable result was that they would do the quickest, shoddiest job imaginable in order to grab their prize and go babysit it in the bush. When they were done, they’d come back for more.
Let’s contrast that with the behaviour of an expert. These grave diggers were people who were not even slightly interested in what they were doing. They had not bought into an industry, were not passionate about a cause, did not adhere to any form of standards, and could not have cared less about further learning. The work was utterly incidental to them. They were also not incentivised by pride in their work. They were incentivised to get it done quickly, a dynamic that will necessarily damage the quality of their input.
There will always be rum-soaked grave-diggers in the world. They exist in every industry, people who simply do not care about what they do and take no pride in the work itself.
As the new year yawns, stretches and bats indignantly at its alarm clock, you have ahead of you an opportunity for fresh perspectives.
So, simple question: As you currently view your occupation and your industry, do you care about what you do? Are you emotionally invested, and is your pride in yourself - in part - determined by how well you do what you do?
The key idea that I would like you to consider is this: No one makes the expert-positioning decision for you. In fact, if you show the world that you are cheap grave-digger material, there is work available for you. It’s cheap, nasty and badly paid. But you can certainly position yourself for it, and you will get it.
If you choose Door Number Two, and make the considered call to position yourself as an expert, I’d like to offer you a simple guideline for your resolutions. Let's call it: The Aspiring Expert's New-Year Starter Kit. This will take a little longer than merely jotting down 'Quit smoking and go to gym,' so set aside at least a half hour in order to give it the proper degree of focus and attention.
Here's what you do: Take each of the following headlines, and see if you can come up with a few examples of what to keep, cull or introduce. I'll give you an example, using the headline 'Physical Fitness':
- Doing heavy composite movements with each work-out;
- Cardio at the end of every gym session.
- Sugar in coffee
- Start doing more core-based exercises.
Now it's your turn. Here are some useful headings, slanted toward your expert-positioning goals. Try to find as many useful 'keep's, 'culls' and 'introduce's' as you can for each:
- Media Coverage
- Industry Networking
- Personal Productivity
- Content Creation
- Personal Growth and Further Education
- Image and Personal Appearance
- Marketing Materials
- Support Systems (to Amplify your Efforts)
- Things that are Iconically 'You' (and do give yourself permission to cull here, too)
- Spectacular, Above-and-Beyond Projects or Campaigns
See you in the New Year, after you've taken some strategic time-out to determine precise ways to own your industry. Because there’s more for you out there than merely rum in the bush.