On Work

By Scott Westerman
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“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

This is what we celebrate on Labor Day, that American Work Ethic that defined our finest hours and made us the envy of the world. Repressed peoples came here for the opportunity to work and work hard. Even those who ended up on our shores by circumstance could rise above travails, paradigms and prejudice with dedicated effort.

The prize is today as it was then, to discover a rewarding craft and turn it into high art.

As I learned while collecting discarded pop cans as an officer trainee in the Air Force, even the most mundane task can become a meditation in excellence. “Every job from the heart is, ultimately, of equal value,” writes Criss Jami. “The nurse injects the syringe; the writer slides the pen; the farmer plows the dirt; the comedian draws the laughter. Monetary income is the perfect deceiver of a man’s true worth.”

Directed energy has power. So make sure you know where you are pointing yours. Coach John Wooden articulates this perfectly. “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” First comes thought. How can I add value today? What can I do to make a difference? From thought comes direction. And energy applied in the direction of positive purpose moves the ball forward.

This is important because, no matter how insignificant it may seem, your work has meaning. As Robert Kennedy put it, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

So ponder your purpose, create a plan, and get out there and work. Forget the tired cliche, “don’t work too hard”. Work life balance is important. But when you are working, focus totally on your contributions. And work hard. Work with single minded tenacity and resilience, never taking your eye off of your goal. You won’t build a skyscraper in a day, perhaps not even in a lifetime. But your work can be the spark that ignites a meaningful life for someone else. And in the final analysis, that’s what we are here for.

“In the end,” concludes writer Julian Castro, “the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”

The fruits of your labor will either strengthen or poison those who follow you. So make your legacy a good one.

And work at it.