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The Work Should Be the Reward

My wife loves Nick Saban because he’s the GOAT of college football coaches, and because he was, until this week, the coach of her beloved Alabama Crimson Tide.

I love Nick Saban because he’s the GOAT of crabby, short-tempered, uptight perfectionists.

I’m joking but only kinda. On his way to winning a record seven national championships Saban became a hero to those of us who sweat the small stuff, who believe that God and the Devil both are in the details, who live our lives convinced that if we worry and nitpick enough everything will work out right.

I’m joking, again. Kinda. Sorta. Maybe.

I became the NCWN Executive Director just after Saban’s first season at Alabama, just a few months after I’d met the woman who’s now my wife. Since then I genuinely have looked to Saban as a guide and role model not just for running an organization–even an organization of writers–but for writing itself.

Saban preached “the Process,” the practice of focusing not on championships or even final scores but on the task before you and doing it as well as you possibly can. He taught his players to control what they could control and ignore what they couldn’t, to treat luck and circumstances as mere distractions. He told them to “Do your job” and “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing”–trite and simplistic, but not untrue.

Nor is it bad advice for creative writers, working in an art and an industry in which sales and prizes can depend as much on luck as talent.

Watch enough football and you’ll begin to notice the coaches who seem less concerned with winning than with proving themselves smarter or tougher or louder than the other guys. You’ll notice the coaches more concerned with showing their way to be the right way than with finding a way to win. You’ll notice the coaches who care more about the camera on their face than the trophy in their hands.

Saban never fell into those traps. He never forgot what his job was and never failed to perform it as well as he could. For him the rewards themselves were often mere distractions: The work itself was his love and his reward.

May we all find work we love as much, and may our work be as rewarding.

– Ed Southern