1: Steve Jobs‘ father prided himself on being a craftsman. He would finish the back of the cabinets he built even though they would be hidden against the wall.
Steve learned early in life to: “Respect the craft and make something beautiful,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.
Steve adopted this philosophy as the founder and wildly successful CEO of Apple. He “cared even about the inside of his products, making sure they were beautifully designed even though the users would never see them,” Ryan notes.
At every moment, “life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer,” Ryan writes. “Right action—unselfish, dedicated, masterful, creative—that is the answer to that question. That’s one way to find the meaning of life. And how to turn every obstacle into an opportunity.”
Ryan’s point? If we see any of this as a burden, we are looking at it the wrong way.
Because how we do anything is how we do everything.
2: As President of the United States, Andrew Johnson would speak fondly of his career as a tailor before he entered politics. “My garments never ripped or gave way,” he would say.
Once, while campaigning, someone heckled him about his humble beginnings. Andrew responded proudly: “That does not disconcert me in the least; for when I used to be a tailor I had the reputation of being a good one, and making close fits, always punctual with my customers, and always did good work.”
A later U.S. President, James Garfield, paid for college by serving as the janitor in exchange for tuition. “He did the job every day smiling and without a hint of shame. Each morning, he’d ring the university’s bell tower to start the classes—his day already having long begun—and stomp to class with cheer and eagerness,” writes Ryan. “Within just one year of starting at the school he was a professor—teaching a full course load in addition to his studies. By his twenty-sixth birthday he was the dean.”
Results like these are what happens when we do our job and do it with excellence.
“These men went from humble poverty to power by always doing what they were asked to do—and doing it right and with real pride. And doing it better than anyone else. In fact, doing it well because no one else wanted to do it,” Ryan observes.
On the path to where we want to go, we will likely be asked to do things we would prefer not to do. Especially when we are starting out. Our first jobs often “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie once said.
“There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn,” Ryan notes.
3: We must guard against our tendency to be so busy thinking about our future that we don’t take pride in our current responsibilities. We must never “just phone it all in, cash our paycheck, and dream of some higher station in life,” Ryan warns.
Perhaps we think, “This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.”
Because every moment is an opportunity to do our very best. “Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well,” Ryan writes. “That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.”
We will be many things in our lives. We will do many things in our lives. “Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with: hard work, honesty, and helping others as best we can,” he notes. “Each project matters and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of being.”
We should never have to ask ourselves, “But what am I supposed to do now?”
Because the answer is always the same: Do our job.
“Whether anyone notices, whether we’re paid for it, whether the project turns out successfully—it doesn’t matter,” Ryan implores us. “Each and every task requires our best. Whether we’re facing down bankruptcy and angry customers, or raking in money and deciding how to grow from here, if we do our best, we can be proud of our choices and confident they’re the right ones.
“Because we did our job—whatever it is.”
Reflection: Think about the projects or activities I’ve completed in the past two weeks. Did I do them all with excellence? Are there any lessons to be learned?
Action: Journal about the questions above.