Nobody cares you did it

“The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit.”

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) English Clergyman, Educator & Classicist. Quoted in John Gross, The Oxford Book of Aphorisms

If you are in this work for the glory or money, you better pack it up. I mean, you and I might be able to name some public health heroes; but I bet most people never heard of them. Unless they invented something awesome like a vaccine. And even then, it’s probably just you and me. There is no glory in public health. There are barely any “thank you’s” or certificates of recognition suitable for framing.

I get frustrated pissed off by the people who barely lift a finger to do the hard work of good public health, and yet want to be the first to get any credit or accolades. These are the people who only do what is exactly in their job descriptions, and only if everyone is going to know they did it. They rarely, if ever, help out a colleague. Sometimes they even act like serving the public is too much to ask of them. I think you know at least one person who fits that description. Hopefully it isn’t you. Of course it isn’t. Those people don’t read this blog. They are too busy reading Perez Hilton or TMZ.

So my point?

It ain’t about you. It’s about the work. It’s about the people.

We public health folks need to stop being territorial about data, about clients, about programs, about ideas. Silos and ivory towers are holding us back. We could solve some big problems if we would just forget about credit and ownership. And really, so much of what we make and gather doesn’t belong to us anyway. It’s not mine or yours, it’s ours. It’s funded by the public, for the public.

Remember them?

Many of us serve our funders, not the public. That shit has got to stop. Like last Tuesday.  Even the federal government talks about coordination and collaboration, but often doesn’t provide any real support or funding to go along with the initiatives. So no wonder they fail. We are also rewarded for what we do that can be counted (clients, tests, screenings, units, etc.). So who wants to do work that they can’t get paid to do? Not too many people. And not too many managers and Executive Directors can justify employees working on things that don’t get reimbursed or fall out of grant requirements. It’s bullshit, but it’s how it works. If nobody can pay for it, it rarely gets done. I don’t know how to fix that, but we should at least try.

If we change the system to look at macro-level outcomes, maybe we can get our heads out of this us v. them head space that serves no one. Once we measure progress at organizational, city-wide or some other system-level, I think we might see if we are actually doing anything worthwhile. We are so focused on protecting our own little tree that we can’t see the whole damn forest is burning around us.

So here’s my proposal: forget your job title, your job description, and your targets;  and just focus on the mission. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish? Answer that question and then make it happen. You will probably need to work with other people to get there; and along the way you’ll probably help them with their missions too. This is why superheroes hang out in gangs like the Justice League – way easier to save the world with a super friend or two.

I call Wonder Woman! Which superhero are you going to be?

My super hero buddies and me, 2012



6 thoughts on “Nobody cares you did it

  1. I identify myself with Superman. Even though I was raised as an American, I am not one of them. They are good people; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For that reason above all, their capacity for good, my parents sent me here.

    Seriously, though, you are spot-on about not being in this for the fame and fortune. People who get rich in Public Health are not really doing Public Health. They’re doing management or advertising or media relations. (Not even “public” relations.) They’re not on the front lines, vaccinating (or getting shot at for vaccinating), taking surveys, investigating outbreaks, implementing interventions.

    They’re a bunch of squares.

  2. Squares, indeed! Cool kids get dirty while they work.
    Superman is pretty cool. But my favorite male superhero is Batman. He’s dark and conflicted, but committed to justice. I guess, a bit like me. 🙂

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