"Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at."
Someone has a less than morally sound job, like a drug dealer, arms dealer, assassin, or lobbyist
. They usually get into the job to make ends meet, especially if the job is illegal, but when they become financially sound or even get a legal job, they refuse to stop
. Why? — because they're good at it. The fulfillment of being competent has surpassed the fulfillment of being a "good person." Or, they're willing (if in a legal job, like lobbyists) to let their job damage their personal lives and public facade for the simple reason of competence.
See also Do Wrong, Right
and Punch Clock Villain
. Compare Evil Virtues
. Contrast Reluctant Warrior
, who fights because he has to... and isn't necessarily good at it.
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- Mr. Nice from The Batman Adventures wound up becoming a master criminal because he is incredibly good at it. His family first got an inkling of his future when, as a baby, he trounced and disarmed a burglar. He actually was a kiddy TV show host (his happiest days), until his live show was attacked by some terrorists and he discovered how proficient he was at combat by engaging them head-on and handily winning. His TV career ended that moment, and he discovered that being a nicer guy than Ned Flanders didn't stop him from being a freakin' great criminal, ultimately joining Mastermind and the Perfesser to form the Threatening Trio.
- In the "Madmen & Lovers" arc in one Batman series, this is part of the Joker's origin story. He was a brilliant, psychopathic, criminal. But he was so good it was boring and he was ready to kill himself as a result. A young Harley Quinn (working as a bartender and unaware that her mopey patron "Jack" was referring to his skill as a violent criminal) convinces him that if you are really good at something, you owe it to yourself and the world to go out and do it. He agrees to try One Last Job. Batman shows up, and his obsession with the caped crusader begins, renewing his passion for life...
- Lobster Random claims to be a professional torturer because he's good at it, understands it and can't do anything else.
- Nexus spent most of his career bitterly miserable that a Sufficiently Advanced alien was compelling him to travel the universe executing mass murderers. The oppressed cheered him for it and tyrants loathed him for it, but Horatio himself just wanted to stop killing people. When, after years, he finally gets his wish—the above-mentioned alien agrees to leave him alone, and another member of the alien's race agrees to maintain his super-powers—Horatio realizes that he's spent his entire adult life doing this, and executing murderers is the only thing he knows how to do.
- Occasionally Bruce Banner is called out on the fact that, despite having an intellect on par with Reed Richards or Tony Stark, before becoming the Hulk he devoted his life to making bombs. His explanation? He was good at it. And indeed, he made the most destructive bomb ever; one that never stops exploding. The Hulk.
- Thank You For Smoking: Nick Naylor is a lobbyist for tobacco companies and invokes the trope by name in the movie (and the book?). He even associates with similar lobbyists (NRA and the alcohol lobbies) and discusses strategies and a viewer can tell that these people take pride in their work (at one point they're deeply insulted when Nick declares that only he would be hunted down by vigilantes for what he does). Later on, the Marlboro Man calls him out on it:
"I was always good at killing VC, but I didn't make a career of it."
- Yuri Orlov from Lord of War is an illegal arms dealer who has several reasons to quit - his wife threatening to leave him, a Interpol agent dogging him, and building a successful lumber export company, but goes back to arms dealing because, at the end of the day, it is what he's good at.
- Famous dialogue between a cop (Al Pacino) and a big-time robber (Robert De Niro) in Heat:
Neil McCauley: I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.
Vincent Hanna: I don't know how to do anything else.
Neil McCauley: Neither do I.
Vincent Hanna: I don't much want to either.
Neil McCauley: Neither do I.
- Elektra gives this as the reason for being an assassin when Abby asks.
Abby: That's messed up.
Live Action TV
- Nancy Botwin from Weeds is much the same in her career as a marijuana dealer, or at least she thinks she is.
- Better Off Ted: The case for most of the main cast, especially Ted, who's especially adept at his job and serves the morally questionable conglomerate Veridian Dynamics despite his otherwise squeaky clean morality.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent: One episode featured a handwriting expert who used his skills for nefarious purposes, "because I'm brilliant at what I do!". The expert was played by one Stephen Colbert.
- Breaking Bad: This is Walt's Motive Decay, going from making meth to provide for his family when he's gone to making meth because it's the only thing that lets him use his previously wasted skill at chemistry. He eventually admits this to Skyler in the series finale.
Walt: Skyler. All the things that I did, you need to understand–
Skyler: If I have to hear, one more time, that you did this for the family–
Walt: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really...I was alive.
- In the Doctor Who serial City of Death, the Fourth Doctor and Professor Kerensky debate the ethics of messing with time, and the Doctor replies, "Well, I'm a professional; I know what I'm doing." Then again, the Time Lords are professional time-travelers who make sure that the timeline doesn't get too screwed-up.
- This exchange between the Doctor and Romana in "Nightmare in Eden":
Romana: I don't think we should interfere.
The Doctor: Interfere! Of course we should interfere. Always do what you're best at, that's what I say.
- The reason Tyrion Lannister, acting Hand of the King, gives to his mistress in Game of Thrones for remaining in the Deadly Decadent Court of King's Landing, despite the fact that people are trying to kill him and he is stripped of power after his father takes over as Hand of the King:
Tyrion: I can't. I do belong here. These bad people... are what I'm good at. Out-talking them, out-thinking them... it's what I am. And I like it. I like it more than anything I've ever done.
- Person of Interest: Root, on her track record of murder and theft: "My mom told me to follow my talents, and I'm good at what I do."
- In Orange Is The New Black, the inverse of this is the reason given for Alex seriously contemplating going back to dealing drugs after getting out of prison - she doesn't know how to do anything else.
- Boxer "Aussie Joe" Bugner's feats include going 12 rounds against Ali and Frazier and staging a surprisingly successful comeback in his middle age, but after his second retirement he admitted he never really enjoyed boxing.
- Metal Gear Solid: At the climax, Grey Fox laments that fighting was and is his only talent in life, but has some reconciliation in that he never sold out his beliefs and fought for a cause he felt was unworthy. This is a deliberate, non-callous comparison to Solid Snake at this point in the series, who is an even more gifted warrior yet has always blindly followed orders without philosophy.
- The plight of those who are natural soldiers versus the concept of peace is one of the oldest and most important themes in the series. Solid Snake is loath to admit it even under the most excruciating duress, but he loves battle, and while his enemies often seek the proliferation of worldwide conflict for the benefit of natural-born soldiers like himself, he has a selfless moral instinct which forces him to stop them at any cost. In a meta sense we as players participate in this contradiction by playing the games because we enjoy and pay for simulated violence, yet portray characters who strive to prevent conflicts. The secondary plot line of the series follows the journey of his father, Big Boss, which sees him face the same quandary yet reach a completely different conclusion, choosing to fight because it's all he really has in his life and can't see any other alternative, nor does he think he needs a reason like following orders or wanting to stop the bad guys.
- Zevran from Dragon Age notes that even if he wanted to be anything other than an assassin, which he doesn't, he has been doing this work all his life and doesn't know how to do anything else. Well, nothing else that wouldn't get him arrested for performing in public.
- Isabela in the sequel gives this as an excuse for her continued career as a pirate (other than simply enjoying the freedom that comes with it), though other characters have pointed out that her skills could easily be put to use doing something else, and unlike Zevran, she chose to become a pirate and there's no one threatening to hunt her down if she quits ( Castillion comes close, but he really only cares about the tome she stole, not what she does with her life afterwords). One could make the case that this actually makes her come off as much more selfish, given how easily she can ignore the people her actions hurt. The Qunari Incident perfectly demonstrates what happens when this tendency reaches its zenith, leaving several hundred people dead because of her, yet it also marks the point where she starts to go through a bit of Character Development. Provided she has a good enough relationship with Hawke and doesn't run off first.
- Implied to be the reason why Hawke prefers to work outside the law as a Part Time Hero, instead of getting an actual job or position of authority in Kirkwall. Similarly, why they continue to perform odd jobs for people around the city, even after becoming independently wealthy.
- Niko Bellic of Grand Theft Auto IV fame tells his cousin Roman that, although he'd like to settle down and live a normal lifestyle, his only skills are criminal.
- When asked why she became a private detective, Petra from Emerald City Confidential responds that she took on the job because she was good at it. To be fair, she also has the option to justify her work by saying that she wants to help the helpless.
- Mondo from Killer is Dead apparently became an executioner after waking up one morning with a cybernetic transforming arm. Because when you have a cybernetic transforming arm, you might as well use it.
- In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Wilhelm's entire background and motivation are summed up as "As a kid/teenager, I was good at fights." Note that this is Not Hyperbole. You can find logs from his attempt at getting an autobiography where his childhood and teenage years are literally summed up as "I was good at fights."
- Thief from 8-Bit Theater originally took up stealing in order to pay for his father's medicine, then kept stealing even after the situation was resolved. Then again, he's a protagonist from 8-Bit Theater, and he's an elf from that comic. Screwing other people over is what those two groups do best.
- Belkar from The Order of the Stick admits that "hurting people is the only thing I'm good at." Most of the time he doesn't have a problem with that. Most of the time.
- The Accuser: When interviewed by a reporter who described his recently acquitted client as a "racketeer and reputed killer", Amoral Attorney Dan Mason claimed he did his job and was "proud of it". His wife even complained he was "too good".
- In The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown once manages to refresh his comedian routine by starting to complain cynically about the modern world, and becomes popular as a stand-up act again. Soon, however, he's once again persuaded to start endorsing a product even in his act in the middle of complaining about everything else, immediately losing his credibility. He doesn't regret it, though, because as he explains he's realised his real talent isn't comedy - it's selling out.
- Xiaolin Showdown: Jack Spicer quits being evil only to turn back again when he is afraid he'll actually be worse at being good than he was at being bad. Ironic, given he was much better at being a good guy.
- Dick Dastardly will lampshade his villainy on many occasions. When the announcer on Wacky Races calls him a fiend for one of his schemes, Dastardly replies gleefully "I know it!"