Good Work: A Definition
by Terry Heick
What’s the definition of ‘good work’?
Good work is work that makes the world ‘better’ but, of course, that’s subjective. So let’s keep trying.
Good work is the ongoing exertion of cognitive, creative, and physical functions in pursuit of a world that not only makes room for such things but supports others in doing good work, too.
Good work can be done through jobs that, if continued can become ‘careers’ but doesn’t require either. Ideally, one’s work on job are the same but may not fully overlap.
In 2015, in Wendell Berry And Preparing Students For Good Work, I quoted Berry: “The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is simply that we each are called…by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. Implicit in this idea is the evidently startling possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction.”
Good work is applying your affection, intellect, and specific ‘genius’ on people and places you depend on and that depend on you.
Good work is about bringing to bear your own affection, intellect, and collective experience on things worth doing on a scale that honors the complexity of the task. To use your hands–and the hands of your mind–to craft deeply personal work that couldn’t possibly be done by anyone else.
Good work may be thought of as it relates to its opposite, ‘bad’ work. In the graphic above, I mapped out some of the characteristics of good work, including:
What is the effect of your work–on your community, for example? If greatly emphasized, what would that effect be?
What physical, human, natural, digital, Historical, and other ‘contexts’ does your work function within?
How does your work improve or deepen equity on a familial, social, or financial level?
What is the best scale for the work so one can observe and adjust for opportunities and unintended consequences?
There is obviously more to this idea and I’ll be doing a webinar and course on it all soon. In the meantime, I hope it is both (mostly) legible and useful as you begin to think about the concept of ‘good work’ in your classroom.
Human | Effect | Equity | Nature | Scale | Limits | Progress | Knowledge Demands