Let’s Hear It for the Invisibles

“Welcome to the world of realitythere is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth – actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it.”
– David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

“If you come to define success, in both business and in life, as philosophers and religions have for millennia, by the satisfaction derived from work itself and not the degree of attention you receive for it… Ask yourself: do I want to find lasting reward by challenging myself?”
– David Zweig, The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion

We’re certainly full-fledged into celebrity culture. The famous 15 minutes of fame prediction is now upon us. So we look for our posts to go viral, and we sit waiting with full-fledged anticipation at the latest Kardashian development. And CEOs are now as big on the celebrity circuit as actors and musicians.

But the world works because of the anonymous work of the manythe “invisibles.”

After the Ebola scare in Dallas, and the wonderful news that the two health care workers who exposed themselves to Ebola by treating Mr. Duncan and contracted the illness in the process are now free of it, I thought about all the nurses, and health care professionals, from the doctors to the “lowest” assistants who care for the human needs of people who suffer with illness. What would we do without these anonymous workers, serving real human need, day after day? No applause; no recognition.

The same can be said about numerous positions in the local government realm.

It reminded me of the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbare Ehrenreich. She took on low-paying jobs and wrote about her experiences. One of her observations was that these “unskilled workers” were in fact very skilled. And, many of them work very hard at their jobs. Here’s a key quote from that book:

The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

I’ve been reading Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig. In it, he writes about three characteristics of the “invisibles,” which he first discovered in research for an article for The Atlantic. From the book:

I found they all consistently embody three traits:

  1. Ambivalence toward recognition
  2. Meticulousness
  3. Savoring of responsibility

In other words, they work hard at their jobs (they are meticulous), they find meaning from within, and you can genuinely count on them.

These really are the people that make our workplaces and our lives work, so make sure you show your appreciation for them whenever possible.

Let’s hear it for the invisibles!

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

9 responses

  1. This is an awesomely presented perspective, and so true; thanks!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Charles!

  2. The Invisibles is indeed an excellent book about the nature of work. For all the pomp and circumstance of those who live or work in the spotlight of broadcast or social media, there is so much of the work of the world that occurs without anyone noticing. And that’s not always a bad thing. A wise leader knows that sometimes the most important functions of an organization are performed by the ones most easily overlooked, and that not everyone craves the spotlight of attention. If you can find one of these “invisibles”, cherish them. They make a huge contribution to your success. Find a way to reward their efforts that complements their nature. And, let them know that even if others may overlook their contribution, you do not.

    1. Exactly, Joseph. Thank you so much for your input.

      1. By the way, I love how in the blue box at the top of the post with David Zweig’s quote from his book, the name “Invisibles” isn’t visible, just the subtitle “The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion” is visible. If that was by design, I think to be ingenious. If by accident, sometimes someone stumbles into genius. Either way, it made me smile.

      2. HAHA! Then, we’ll call it a stumbled-upon genius 😉

  3. I don’t get to read your blog as much as I used to but EVERY time I come here I find a gem! This is one of them. Many of the “leaders” among us who receive accolades would be nothing without the “invisibles” on the front lines…Bravo. Another home run. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for being a faithful reader, Enna!

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