A couple of times a year, my wife and I will go see a concert. This is no small feat, convincing a cheapskate like me to pay money to hear what is generally a lower-quality version of a song I already own, while also having to pay for a babysitter.

To ease negotiating, we have a list of criteria for determining who we should see. It has to be one or more of the following (check two boxes and it’s a no-brainer):

  • The musician/band is culturally significant or one of the top performers of their genre (e.g., Katy Perry)
  • The venue contributes significantly to the experience (e.g., John Legend in a very small, intimate casino showcase a few years ago; Norah Jones’ upcoming show at the Orpheum, etc.)
  • We’d better go see them now because odds are they won’t be around much longer.

I suppose it’s a function of our age that most of our concerts (bands we liked in our youth, two decades ago) end up being in category 3. The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dr. John, Sade… you get the picture.

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And that list now includes Hall & Oates. Thanks to the free market economy, I was able to snag a couple lawn seats for only twice their face value, so when the night came we packed our cooler and our lawn chairs and headed out to the show, not knowing what to expect. Which was probably a good thing.

Not that the show was horrible. It was… fine. They played one cover, a couple B sides, and focused mainly on the stuff we all remember them for. They were musically proficient, if a little mechanical. They must have had a contract to play for exactly an hour and a half, because we got a “good night, Memphis!” at 89 minutes and the roadies were packing up before Daryl and John even left the stage. Cries for an encore went unheeded, and many of us in the audience just sat there in silent disbelief until security eventually shooed us out.

Fortunately, where the band fell short on entertainment value, the crowd picked up the slack. Naturally, there were the people who were waaaaaay into Hall & Oates and demonstrated their dedication by outsinging the band. And props to the guy who snuck into the magnolias right behind us so he could smoke pot for most of the show (at a Hall & Oates concert???). But my favorite had to be the middle-aged man sitting with a handful of friends in a circle, his wife sitting opposite him, carrying on an active conversation with her while scrolling through porn on his smartphone and occasionally showing a picture to the guy sitting next to him. Not swimsuits or lingerie shots or any of that. Flat out porn. It was equal parts disgusting and fascinating to watch. Between falsetto super fans, pothead hiding in the trees, and porn guy, it was definitely a memorable night, but probably not in the way the headliners intended.

I thought about that concert a couple weeks ago while having a motivational pep talk with myself. Every once in a while, I find myself taking on a project that I’d really rather not touch. Usually it’s a favor to a client who knows the project is a dud, doesn’t want anything to do with it either, and desperately needs help getting it done.

When I first tackled those projects years ago, it was with gritted teeth and a “let’s get this over with” attitude. Until one day when I was on the other end of that kind of attitude and realized what an awful experience it was. Ever since, I’ve done my best to put a smile on my face and approach even the worst project with enthusiasm, gratitude, and positivity. After all, the work is going to get done either way, but it’s up to me what impression I leave in the process.

The Hall & Oates concert gave me a new metaphor to use when I need to give myself that occasional kick in the pants. It reminded me that customers really can tell when you’re mailing it in, and they resent it. It reminded me that every customer is going to remember something about their experience with you, and it’s up to you to decide what they remember. And it reminded me that good enough isn’t good enough.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you are stuck with an assignment that sucks. Remember: the only one who has to know that it sucks is you.

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