Nothing worth having comes easy


By Chris McClellan


Full Disclosure - This post has almost nothing to do with beer, but you might like reading it anyway. This isn’t an indictment of any single individual, but rather a modest (and obvious) observation I’ve had after a particularly frustrating day.

Story #1

I currently live in a 16 story apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan…and the elevator in my building is broken. Before we get too far, I will readily admit that I live on the fourth floor and I can walk my ass up to my apartment without too much grief or effort. It doesn’t really effect me, on balance. But to anyone above the fourth floor, a broken elevator is sort of a big deal. The building has a service elevator they’re currently substituting in for the actual elevator, and that requires it to be manned at all times, which costs the building more money.

How did we get here, you ask? How did the management of a very expensive New York City apartment building let an elevator break on their watch, inconveniencing the tenants and setting a precedent for bad maintenance and poor customer service?

Story #2

Also in NYC - The same day I was getting good and upset about the elevator being broken, I walked out of my building and got onto the downtown 1 train at 79th and Broadway. The 1/2/3 trains are the main artery north and south for the most of the west side of the city, and as such are an important set of train lines for its residents.

As we were making our way downtown, we stopped at the 59th street station and the train conductor had a classic NYC announcement come over the intercom - “The train’s dispatcher has stopped this train due to train traffic ahead of us…we should be underway shortly”. If you live here, you’ve heard this announcement at least once a day, every day, for the entire time you’ve commuted around the city. The MTA has recently stopped making excuses and started a relatively novel new exercise in their efforts to be more transparent with their customers…telling the truth.

No worries..we’d be underway shortly. 5 mins later, we’re not underway. 7 mins later, we’re still not underway. I’m already out of the train, up the stairs, and walking downtown as quickly as I can.

How did we get here, you ask? How did the management of the world’s most important public transportation system inconvenience me yet again, wasting my time and my money and causing me to be late to my appointment?

Nothing worth having comes easy
— Theodore Roosevelt

Bad effort stinks…and you can smell it a mile away

Bad effort is a complete and total plague on society. Horribly written emails that are full of typos and bad grammar are a bad effort. Poorly made goods that I have to return to the store after using once are a bad effort. If we all lived as hunter/gatherers and never interacted with other social groups, then their bad effort wouldn’t effect me and I honestly wouldn’t care. But as we build a more dependent society, based on shared systems and public infrastructure, we have inherently lost the ability to not care. Your work directly effects my life. Your effort has a direct correlation to my state of well being. Pick a topic and it’s the same. Public Transportation. Health Care. Climate Change. The U.S Government. We live this way because it’s more efficient and more mutually beneficial. We can find more value together than apart. We live this way because it’s a good idea, and when executed correctly, has enormous return on investment.

But it only works if we all put in the effort. This system, whether it’s the microcosm of an apartment building on the Upper West Side, or the entire Metropolitan Transportation Administration with its incredibly huge multi-billion dollar budgets, only works if we all pull in the same direction and get on the same page about the reality of the situation.

The elevator in my building broke because it was extremely old. It was extremely old 25 years ago when it should have been replaced and the part that rankles me is that everyone knew it. Everyone who was in a position to fix the problem knew that it was going to be a problem. It was a ticking time bomb, and now it’s in dire straights and needs a total overhaul and it’s going to be out of commission for months. It’s directly impacting my life in a negative way, all due to the negligence of the folks making the decisions.

The MTA is a pathetic excuse for what the world’s most important public transportation system should be. It works, but barely. It’s based on outdated technology, it’s always late, it’s dirty and hot, and it’s a complete shame for a city on the scale and grandeur of New York. New York’s train’s should be the best in the world. They should run on time and they should be clean and quick and quiet and perfect. We have the money. We have the need. We simply don’t have the will.

phoning it in

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’m not pretending that we’ve had a recent outbreak of “bad effort” that’s suddenly infecting everyone and causing all these problems. It’s an inherent part of human nature that we completely avoid doing things that aren’t pleasant, fun, or inherently gratifying. I’ve got a fresh bill from the gym I almost never go to that will point to this fact…but at least that only effects me.

As I mentioned earlier, you can smell bad effort a mile away. When you drink a beer that tastes like a bad effort, you know it. When you see someone’s professional assignment they’ve had a month to work on and it looks like they cobbled it together the night before, you know it. You just do. You can’t avoid it, and it’s obvious to anyone in the room. Excuses don’t mean anything at that point.

I started this post with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt because I really thought it spoke to the experience of knowing a bad effort. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all half-assed our way through a bunch of tasks. I’m guilty as charged. But here’s the kicker - Half-assing it has literally never, ever worked to build long term success. Bullshitting people has the same success rate. The NYC subway is a shame, and everyone who is in a position to fix it knows that’s the truth. You cannot get things done correctly by doing a bad job, plain and simple.

What’s to be done

(I think) we can all agree that if there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and we have the ability to bring the right constituents together to make a decision, then in theory, it should be done as such.

The impediments to this relatively simple formula are legion when we start to talk about scale. Politics. Economics. Geography. Education. Religion. Our recent and ridiculous practice of publicly debating facts and discrediting expertise on a whim. These practices inhibit progress, promote chaos and anxiety, and get in the damn way. I’m fully cognizant that’s it’s not always as easy as “let’s just get this done” when you’re dealing with a population north of 350 million people.

But most of the time, on scales smaller than an entire nation, the first step is that easy. It’s that easy. It’s sitting down and saying “listen…we’ve got a problem here”. It’s taking the time to address the problem, present a solution, and give it a swing. I’m not saying that our local politicians in NYC haven’t tried to do something about our antiquated train system, but what I am saying is that they haven’t tried hard enough…and it’s obvious.

Nothing worth having comes easy. My marriage is a test of my character, my maturity, and my will, but it’s worth it in so many ways. My job can be frustrating, like all jobs, but it’s worth it because I care about what I do and I’m trying to be better. My friends and family take time and care, but they’re worth it because they make me a better person.

Nothing worth having comes easy. Let’s put in the work, let’s stop BSing each other, and let’s get on the same page when it comes to the challenges we have to address and the solutions we’ve got in hand. That’s a good start for me.

Chris McClellan