I was saddened to hear about the passing last month of professor and author Robert Pirsig, best known for the 1970s classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
I first read the book during the early ‘90s, during a time of professional turmoil, finding much comfort and direction from its pages. I still think often about Pirsig’s take on Quality, which assumes almost mythical proportion (including status as an uppercase word). Occasionally, I’ll take my battered paperback copy down from its shelf and thumb through its worn pages, refreshing my memory as to the book’s importance in my life.
Quality as a driving force
If you haven’t had the pleasure, the book is ostensibly a fictionalized autobiography about a father-son motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California. But it’s much more. Pirsig takes a deep dive into writing and the subject of Quality, which he believes is a fundamental force in the universe. The motorcycle, the road trip and the relationship between father and son are merely backdrops to the discussion of Quality.
The philosophical discussion of Quality isn’t what interests me. I relate more to the idea of having Quality in one’s life and in one’s efforts. One of my personal mantras is, “If it’s worth my time, it’s worth doing right.” Personally, that means finding the most efficient way to cut the grass, put away the dishes or arrive for a meeting on time.
Professionally, Quality means not just doing my best but doing what’s in the best interests of my clients, based on more than 30 years as a professional content producer. Admittedly, it can be frustrating when the client goes in a different direction, but I take solace in knowing that my first effort was an honest attempt to fulfill the assignment. Ultimately, I get paid for giving clients what they want—even if I don’t think it’s what they need.
There are no shortcuts to Quality as an ideal.
Guy book? You be the judge
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” may be more of a guy book. My English professor wife couldn’t get into it, and she reads widely. It can be a difficult read, mainly because the protagonist isn’t always a nice person. He is fighting his own demons, including a past that includes a stint in a mental institution and a course of electroconvulsive therapy, which altered his personality. He is sometimes short with his son and can be a real pain.
But who among us is always calm, always rational, always in control?
If only for Pirsig’s take on Quality, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is worth a look. I know for sure that I’ll be returning to its pages soon.