There Is No Such Thing As Bad Work. George Carlin Taught Me That.


When I was in 9th grade, my family roadtripped down to Florida over winter break. My parents had always found interesting things to play in the car on long drives. My parents were big fans of D.C. parody group The Capital Steps,(1) and we listened to their cassettes in the car. We listened to the hysterical stories of Bill Harley, and the random baseball rantings of Danny Kaye.(2)

But on that trip to Florida, my mother decided — and I do not know why — to bring along some George Carlin for the drive.

That was the first time I’d ever heard Carlin’s famed “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine.(3) I’d never heard anything quite like it before. I’d never heard anyone use words — simple, clear, decisive words — to prove such a powerful point.

Things would never be the same after that.

One line in the routine hit me especially hard. There was this idea that certain words were inherently “bad.” Carlin said that was total crap.

“There are no bad words,” he said. “Bad thoughts. Bad intentions. And words.”

I’d like to say the same is true with your work. Again, it doesn’t matter what your work is — playing basketball, writing the Great American Novel, building a better mousetrap. All that matters is that there is no such thing as bad work.

The results aren’t what you want sometimes. But the work itself is always good. Always.

There are bad results, sure. But work? Passionate, driven, goal-oriented work never fails. It’s never bad. Through it, regardless of results, you’ll learn how to do better work.

There will always be people who tell you that your work isn’t any good, just like there will always people who tell you that you can’t say certain words, or that you can’t try certain things.

But I know what Carlin would say about those people:

Fuck ’em.

Go do the work instead.

  1. I still can’t hear Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” without singing, “Boris Yeltsin is the hardest rhyme.”
  2. “Oh, I say D! I say D-O! D-O-D! D-O-D-G! D-O-D-G-E-R-S! Team, team, team, team ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
  3. No need to Google it — the seven are shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.