The Pursuit of Prestige

· April 25th

I believe, especially in a creative professional’s life, there is a tendency to garner prestige surrounding awards, job titles, and clients, rather than focus on the details in our work. The pursuit of prestige comes naturally to us, yet it is frequently interpreted as the pursuit of excellence with the goal of recognition.

Pursuing recognition as reward without the input of excellence is a short-lived race; it loses meaning quickly and sets shallow unrealistic expectations. In 2006, Y-Combinator founder, Paul Graham wrote an article called How to Do What You Love where he said,

“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige.”

Like anything else, recognition is earned only when you’ve put in hard work to make it the best it can be for both yourself and your client. We should not be working for the single purpose of being recognised as its creators. We should be working for the purpose of making things better for people we haven’t met yet.

With each new project is the opportunity to outdo our last. When stuck in a rut, we learn quickly by necessity in order to better ourselves. I believe the best work is produced when there is absolute synergy between the designer and the client with an emphasis on quality over sensational appeal. Only at this point do we succeed in surrendering our pursuit of prestige and ultimately deliver honest work of which one can feel proud.

In retrospect, I see many of the decisions I have made in my career so far have been for the possibility of prestige or recognition, as I mistakenly thought that it was the best way to reward my ambition. This year, I chose to become self-employed, giving me the chance to focus on projects that are interesting and meaningful to me, no matter the size or popularity.

Further Media:

Paul Graham, How to Do What You Love
Alain de Botton’s TED talk: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success