The Romans always aimed to leave a place better than they found it. Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. When you hear of someone who’s up for an award in the Queens Honour’s List, or being noted for their bravery for saving someone from a house fire, the phrases ‘beyond duty’ and ‘going the extra mile’ are typically rolled out. But to my mind, it’s pretty hard to get through life and to find some form of peace of mind without going the extra mile.
Unless your life is about existing on a sofa watching TV all day and night and living on benefits, or you have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth, then most of us are forced to go that extra mile. Earning money to be able to enjoy decent food, regular trips to the cinema, buying the little treats that make you happy, to pay for holidays and the holy grail of owning your own home doesn’t come easy, and why should it? For many, career satisfaction is a combination of fulfilling a vocation and earning enough to enjoy that vocation.
In the industry I am part of, that isn’t a stroll in the park. Working as a creative has to be one of the most rewarding of occupations. Using your talents, seeing ideas reach fruition, is part of our DNA as humans. The lowest school truancy rates are found in art, design and music classes, and the creative industries boast a minimal level of absenteeism. But we routinely work long hours to solve a question and deliver a solution to our clients, and ultimately to the public. It rarely feels as if we have ‘gone beyond the call of duty’, but rather that we have ‘done what’s needed’ and what’s ‘right and proper’.
Never a truer phrase was spoken by my mum, nan and pop when they said, ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. When my pop, Colin, spent hours in his shed making lead soldiers for the immaculate replica castle that he had made for me; when my mum, Maureen, kept adjusting the dress she was making until it fitted her hips like a glove; when my nan, Ida, scrubbed the front step of our house in Morecambe until it absolutely gleamed, it was about completing a task to the best of their ability. They didn’t expect a medal, but it made for a fulfilled life and satisfaction on a daily basis.
Seeing Maureen, Ida and Colin at work certainly had a massive impact on my life. Meeting a woman – my wife Gerardine – who is similarly driven, always needing to feel that real fulfillment comes only from knowing that you have given it your all, has ensured that I have enjoyed a career and family life full of moments, and projects, to be proud of. In simple things such as sport: from being able to run long distances and experience the benefits that brings in terms of well-being, and still enjoy chocolate, to seeing my youngest lad absorb our work ethic and really push himself, totally self-motivated in his aim to become a professional cricketer. He is 14, and he reminds me of myself as a young teenager. He has to get up early, and most nights of the week he is not home till 10.30pm, as he has to fit in his schoolwork as well as the intensive training. His weekends are dominated by sport – at his behest, I hasten to add!
It takes me back to my early teens. From the age of 12, I would get home from school and work in the pub that my parents managed. I would collect glasses, clean the beer pumps and work in the kitchen at least five nights a week and at weekends. Sometimes I would nod off in a boring lesson at school, but my job gave me the money to be able to have fun, afford clothes to look good and buy records. At 13 I was wearing the latest fashion: Oxford bags, tank top and brogues, and building quite a tasty Northern Soul record collection, thank you very much!
I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Most importantly, it gave me a work ethic. To some short-sighted people my early working life might be looked upon as child labour, but I chose to work, and I clearly understood the benefits. (Don’t get me onto the subject of child labour: I believe that some work, as long as it has been chosen by the child, can be enormously beneficial!)
At HemingwayDesign, we are in demand and having great success as designers because the clients, brands and retailers we work with know that we don’t just get projects done but we push them and ourselves. We question, prod and poke and do our utmost to see the end product fly. Seeing Gerardine agonise over the masterplan of an affordable housing scheme we’re involved with, or work through the night on thrifty ways to deliver immersive set dressing for our Vintage Festival; watching our team strive for perfection on their projects with G-Plan, Hush Puppies and John Lewis – all this makes it clear why we are successful.
But even if this wasn’t in our DNA, we still wouldn’t have a choice. It’s not so much about going beyond the call of duty. It’s simply this way or, in the long run, it’s almost certain failure.