It’s Not OK to Be OK…OK?

Last night 60 Minutes had a segment on The Equity Project, an innovative charter school in New York City (video here). It’s a school that “auditions” teachers from all over the country and hires “the best of the best.” When teachers are hired they are paid $125,000, and get no tenure. Out of all the interesting things the school is doing, and the creative ways they are being done, one teacher’s quote struck me more than any other. When asked about being a teacher in such a school, he answered: “It’s not OK just to be OK.”

In other words, excellence, innovation, creativity, passion, and hard work are expected from each and every teacher at the TEP School. So how do the teachers at the TEP School avoid being “just OK”? They prepare; they learn excellent classroom management; they creatively focus on taking students from Point A to Point B; they videotape their classes so that they can evaluate one another (can you imagine?); and they work hard. When they fail to live up to the exacting standards of the school they either work harder, or walk away (or get let go).

Tim Rice knows that it’s not OK just to be OK. You may recognize the name. Tim Rice is the other half of the duo (which included Andrew Lloyd Weber) that wrote such smash hits as Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Rice had great success until he wrote the musical Chess. I bet you haven’t seen it (except you, Dad). That’s because it was a huge flop.

Rice admitted that it wasn’t very good. “In fact,” he says, “it was terrible!” So did he quit? Did he give up? Did he stop writing? No. He knew that it’s not OK just to be OK. So he worked harder than ever. He re-worked the musical. He says that it is now far superior to the original version, and it is slated to open again in London’s West End.

It seems that Tim Rice’s hard work has paid off. In addition to re-working Chess, he wrote, amongst other things, the musical The Lion King and has garnered three Oscars, four Tonys, and six Grammys. He has also been “knighted” and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tim Rice has experienced both success and failure. But he still realizes that it’s not OK just to be OK. He’s not resting on his laurels. He could easily retire and never have to work again. But his craft, his art, and his passion all converge, so he’s happy to work hard every day. His new project is a musical called From Here to Eternity.

So what do TEP School teachers and Tim Rice have in common? They are passionate about their “art.” They chase after innovation. They do their homework. They are intent on getting better. And the key to it all is that they work hard. There’s no substitute for hard work. None.

If you really believe that it’s not OK just to be OK, what do you do? Go the extra mile. Stay later than anyone else. Pursue your craft. Use spare minutes to do the things that stir your soul. Read. Write. Do your homework. Evaluate. Don’t procrastinate. Finally, deliver.

How do you pursue being better than “just OK”? I’d love your thoughts and ideas.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “It’s Not OK to Be OK…OK?

  1. Be extraordinary. Sure, it's hard…but it's really satisfying too.
    It also strikes me that the bar is relatively low in most cases — seeing that others are only doing what is OK makes it easier to identify what extraordinary is.
    Interesting post. Thanks!

  2. To continue where I was cut off – both versions of CHESS, and loved them both. The first wasn't all that bad and had a pretty good run on the West End. the revsed version, which was better, didn't run nearly as long, and had a very brief run in NYC. But is has some of Rice's most clever lyrics.

  3. Sometimes working "harder" isn't the answer in life. Harder really needs to be defined. I worked "harder" at times in a 21 year career with a company – now I look back and it didn't seem to matter. Many people do the same – look at time they put in to work "harder" and realize all they missed things that mattered in their lives. Sometimes it seems like that is the new norm. Some people can work harder and it gets easier – they succeed. The right resources, etc. comes their way. Some people work harder and it gets harder – they don't get the breaks or whatever?! – they fail. In teaching, the results are not always objective as in other work as I am more or less relating here. I'm still working on this but "harder" may not be the answer.

    • I can't argue with you. But I DO think that working harder "toward the gap," that is, toward the area where your passion for something and a need exists, will bring results. Working harder for the sake of working harder won't do anything but make you tired. But working harder on something that you're passionate about, and that meets a real need, will most definitely bring results.