“Good job.”

This is the driving concept behind the main character’s success in the hit movie Whiplash.

The main character is an average drummer, at best. But he connects with a mentor who, rather unconventionally, takes him under his wing and pushes him to expect more from himself.

The movie is challenging to watch in the sense that you see this boy eventually internalize the demanding voice of his mentor, practicing to the point of bleeding fingers and insomnia–his mentor never once settling to give him the most simplest phrase of approval: “Good job.”

Near the end of the movie, the mentor eventually explains, “There are no two words more harmful than good job.” His rationale is that approval is fleeting, and does nothing but encourage complacency. To think that you are “good enough” is to believe you have nowhere left to go, nothing else to improve upon.

And of course, in the last scene of the movie, the once average boy has become a truly refined version of himself. He is now a master drummer.

Although I’ll be the first to say I don’t always find this approach to mastery to be the most conducive or even emotionally healthy, there is something to be said for acknowledging that you always have something else to learn. 

Personally, I think it’s important to take time along the way to pat yourself on the back for a moment, let yourself enjoy your new talents and successes. But I am also a strong advocate for never lounging on one plateau for too long, and always looking for the next mountain to climb.

After all, that’s the only way you will grow.

If you are surrounded by people that constantly tell you “good job,” you need to be very honest with yourself and ask whether that environment is positive and healthy, or actually detrimental in that it encourages stagnated growth. The “good job” comments should never outweigh the “fix this” or “you can do better than that” comments. It is harsh and more challenging, no doubt–but it is also what is required to make it to the levels of success most people claim they want.

That’s the irony of “success.” People tend to see it as this path flourishing with rewards and vacations, pleasures and relaxation. And yes, you may eat at finer restaurants, vacation to more private places, sleep in a bigger bed, or drink a more expensive cup of coffee, but the internalized path of success will never change. It will forever be tough, and forever be demanding, and forever be a process of asking yourself what’s next to learn.

I do not suggest going off the deep end and never acknowledging what you do well. Tell yourself “good job” every now and then.

Just make sure you aren’t saying “good job” more than you’re asking, “How can I make myself better?”

Originally published on Inc.

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