If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well
The earliest use of this proverb that the vastness of the Internet can provide is that of a letter written in 1746 from Lord Chesterfield to his son. In it, Chesterfield tells his son, “In truth, whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well, and nothing can be done well without attention.”
There are many variations on this theme, from the quite minor word change of “job” to “thing”, to ones that change the entire meaning of the proverb, such as “if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” and “if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” This last one has been used by a wide range of people, including Robert A. Heinlein and David Letterman.
This saying is often used by people who take pride in the quality of their work, regardless of what that work might be. If one is going to spend the time to work on something, it only makes sense to do it to the best of your ability.
JD, unfortunately, is still learning:
Josiah ran a hand over the freshly sanded pew, the good wood finally visible from the heavy coat of varnish. He nodded in satisfaction.
“You keep goin’ so slow, Josiah, it’ll be forever before the church is ready!” JD called from his own half-sanded pew.
Josiah shook his head, and resumed his careful work. “Son, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. So that’s what I’m doing.”
If you want something done well, do it yourself
This saying speaks to trust. Whom can we trust to do a job well? Generally we trust ourselves most; after all, usually we have the most knowledge of our own abilities and talents. Therefore if there’s something that needs to be done and done well, we trust ourselves to do it best.
This saying has been around a long time—since 1541, in fact. It was first published in Henry Bullinger’s The Christian State of Matrimony. There, it appears as “If thou wilt prospere, then loke to euery thynge thyne owne self.” But, as with our first saying, this one has been used by a multitude of people in many similar forms, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” In the second section of the poem, we find this: “That’s what I always say; if you wish a thing to be well done/You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to others!”
You may see this as “done right” rather than “done well” but the meaning is the same, regardless.
When it comes to doing something well, some people are more touchy about it than others:
The pew that JD had been working on still had patches of varnish along the bottom and other hard-to-reach areas. Josiah sighed and picked up the sandpaper that JD had been using, wrapping it carefully around his sanding block. “Guess it’s true that if you want something done well, do it yourself.”
Whenever your characters have jobs that need to be done, either of these proverbs could be slipped in, depending on the situation. It’s worth it to remember, however, that while some things are worth overdoing, proverbs in your fic is not one of them.
- The Free Dictionary here and here
- Cambridge Dictionary
- Letters to his son by Lord Chesterfield
- Idiomation at Word Press