What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 23, 2013 · 57 comments

in A Man's Life

actwell

Over the door of a building that sits close to the Stirling Castle in southern Scotland, hangs a curious stone designed by John Allan, a 19th century architect known for his peculiar designs, as well as including inscriptions in his work.

At the top of this particular piece, Allan had carved a quote typically attributed to Shakespeare: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” Below the quotation sits a grid of nine squares, each bearing different symbols and shapes.

square

The design forms what is called a “magic square.” Each of the symbols represents a numerical value, and no matter which way you add the numbers up, they always total 18. If any of the numbers are moved or replaced with another, the tiles will no longer add up to 18, and the square will lose its “magic.” Each symbol has an irreplaceable part to play in contributing to the whole.

I have a replica of the Stirling stone sitting in my office. It reminds me that whatever part I have to play in my family, community, or work — whether it’s a big role or a seemingly minor one — it’s up to me to carry out my responsibilities the very best I can. The Stirling stone also reminds me that true happiness and fulfillment in life comes not from being recognized, but from being useful to the world around me.

For any group or culture to function as it was intended and reach its full potential, everyone must pull their own weight, from those doing the “grunt” work to those at the top of the pile. The idea that you should do your best – even in the small and obscure roles of life —  isn’t a particularly sexy principle, but one much needed in our world.

All Good Work Is Important

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In our modern life, “acting well thy part” in whatever station life finds you in often takes a back seat to the idea of being “passionate” about what you do. According to this popular notion, to find true meaning and fulfillment, you need to work at something you were “made to do.” If your work doesn’t spring from your “deep inner truth” or if it isn’t fun, then it’s not a job worth doing. In general, the type of work that one can be passionate about is thought to be limited to creative, white-collar careers – tech, art, media, and the like. Leave the other boring and mindless work to the poor unenlightened saps, or so the thinking goes.

But as Dirty Jobs TV host Mike Rowe pointed out in a TED talk, all work has value. And any kind of work – even the “dirty” kind – can bring you happiness, even if you’re not passionate about it. The people he worked with on his show, from road kill retrievers to manure cultivators, were the happiest people he had ever met. Why were they so content? Because, as Rowe intoned before each episode, they earned “an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.”

The folks he interacted with didn’t do “sexy” jobs, but they were satisfied in knowing they had an absolutely essential role in keeping society humming along. Like removing a single tile from the magic square, if you take one of these “dirty” jobs out of the equation, things start to fall apart and society no longer “adds up.”

These folks were more concerned about being useful to society than having an “important,” passion-filled job.

The essential nature of work is not limited to those who use a shovel and a pickaxe. Every job big and small, unique or ordinary, when done well, can add to society and enrich the lives of other people. A waiter can think of himself as just someone who serves food to people, or he can think of himself as someone who gives a pair of harried parents welcome relief and enjoyment on their first date night out in a year. A nurse tech can see himself as just cleaning up after patients, or he can see himself as offering encouragement, positivity, and humor to those who are often in pain. We’ve all experienced the huge gap between those who simply do their job, and those who “act well their part.” The latter carry out their responsibilities, whatever they are, to the best of their ability.

American playwright Channing Pollock expounded on this principle 70 years ago:

“Naturally, all of us “want to do something important, but few of us realize that we are probably doing it in our everyday jobs. We have fallen into the habit of thinking that the only important jobs are the “glamor” jobs, or at least the white-collar jobs — the executive jobs. But the essential work of the world isn’t done by jazz-band leaders and radio and movie stars, or even by bond salesmen and our more than three hundred thousand doctors and lawyers. It is done by the man with the hoe and the hammer, by the women who care for those men and their children and their homes, and by millions of other men and women who range from the teacher’s desk to the more coveted desks littered with phones and push buttons.

We are all workmen, and it seems to me that almost any work well done is important. Our civilization is a complicated machine, and machines wouldn’t be worth much if they were made only of shiny gadgets. There must be grease cups and all sorts of “minor” parts. Take out the smallest of these and you’ll soon find that there’s no such thing as a minor part. In the same way, if your water pipes burst, or your telephone goes wrong, or, passing to still more urgent matters, if you found yourself without food or water, you’d discover the plumber, the lineman, the mechanic and the farmer to be just as important as the general manager or the president of the board. Each has his place, and it takes more than a silk hat or a spotlight or a name on the door to make that place vital.

What it takes chiefly, perhaps, is interest and pride in your work. The fellow with a future isn’t often the one who scorns what he is doing at present. He’s the man who thinks his job is important, and so goes on to ever more important jobs.

Few of us understand what a big job a little job may be. The schoolteacher who started Edison thinking about electricity, or laid the mental cornerstones of any other conspicuously or inconspicuously useful citizen, may have said, “What’s being a schoolma’am? I want to do something important.” My friend, Richard, the carpenter, thinks me a very superior person because I lecture and write articles, but we could do better without lectures and articles, perhaps, than without houses. The English poet, Owen Meredith, reminded us that “we may live without books, but civilized man cannot live without cooks” — and that takes in Mr. Richard.

All good work is important. And loyalty, and kindness, and small helpfulness is important, too. There used to be an elevator man at the Lamb’s Club, in New York, who went far out of his way to be pleasant and useful to its members. When he died, not long ago, one of them told me, “Pat’s funeral was our biggest demonstration of respect since the passing of Victor Herbert.” There’s Edgar, the soda-water clerk who used to be at our corner, and who was so full of neighborly advice and eagerness to be everybody’s friend and handyman that we really mourned him when he moved away. My own personal list of important people would include him, and dozens of other friends who are farmers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.

It isn’t your job that counts, but what you do in your job…When President Roosevelt declared we needed fifty thousand planes for national defense, an authority said the problem was to supply ground crews. We all want to fly, but few of us want to tighten bolts. Yet without men to build and repair planes and men to bring fuel the flyer is as earthbound as they, and it isn’t important whether we have fifty thousand pilots or five.

That realization is vital to ourselves, and to progress and survival. I can ruin any morning’s work by asking, ‘What the use of this in a civilization that may be crumbling about our ears?’ I can make the morning glad, and the work good, by answering ‘Civilization won’t crumble while we all do our jobs. If I write as well and honestly as I can, how do I know whom it may help, or how many? How do I know that mine isn’t one of the most important jobs in the world?’

How do you know yours isn’t too?”

Aren’t I Just Settling If I “Act Well Thy Part”?

Some of you might be thinking, “This ‘acting well thy part’ business just sounds like a cop-out for settling. How can I expect to make something of myself if I’m content with my current position?”

“Acting well thy part” doesn’t mean that you must be content with whatever position you currently find yourself in. It doesn’t negate ambition and goal-setting. If you have a job you’re unhappy with, there’s nothing wrong with striving to achieve a better one.

Acting your part well simply means that wherever you are in the moment, you have the integrity to do your best and to be as useful as possible. Yes, you have goals and ambition for the future, but you don’t let them distract from doing a good job now.

Theodore Roosevelt was a living example of the “act well thy part” principle. When he was 36 and serving as a member of the New York City Police Board, he did his job with a gusto that was so uncharacteristic of the position that others wondered if he was already aiming to one day be President of the United States.

When journalist Jacob Riis put that question to TR, Roosevelt had a surprisingly virulent reaction, as a colleague of Riis’ remembered:

“TR leaped to his feet, ran around his desk, and fists clenched, teeth bared, he seemed about to strike or throttle Riis, who cowered away, amazed.

‘Don’t you dare ask me that,’ TR yelled at Riis. ‘Don’t you dare put such ideas into my head. No friend of mind would ever say a thing like that, you—you—’

Riis’ shocked face or TR’s recollection that he had few friends as devoted as Jake Riis halted him. He backed away, came up again to Riis, and put his arm around his shoulder. Then he beckoned me close and in an awed tone of voice explained.

‘Never, never, you must never either of you ever remind a man at work on a political job that he may be president. It almost always kills him politically. He loses his nerve; he can’t do his work; he gives up the very traits that are making him a possibility. I, for instance, I am going to do great things here, hard things that require all the courage, ability, work that I am capable of, and I can do them if I think of them alone.’”

This approach to life was one TR has decided on as a young New York assemblyman a decade earlier:

“At one period I began to believe that I had a future before me, and that it behooved me to be very farsighted and scan each action carefully with a view to its possible effect on that future. This speedily made me useless to the public and an object of aversion to myself; and I then made up my mind that I would not try to think of the future at all, but would proceed on the assumption that each office I held would be the last I ever should hold, and I would confine myself to trying to do my work as well as possible while I held that office.”

Oftentimes we say that once we get our dream position, then we’ll really start trying. But those who do half-ass work in lower level jobs tend to do half-ass work in the big, “important” jobs. If you can’t do simple, menial work and do it well, why would an employer or a client believe you’d be capable of more complex and important work?

I unfortunately know a few men who have failed to realize this principle. They’ve never “acted well their part” in any role they’ve had in work or in life. Consequently, they’ve never been able to achieve the goals or position they believe they truly “deserve.”

Acting Well Thy Part Usually Means Repetition – And That’s Okay

Mike Rowe argues that innovation and imitation are two sides of the same coin, and that the world needs both. We need the thrilling work of creating the new and novel. But we also need to duplicate the component parts of those innovations over and over again in order to keep them running.

We all want lives that allow for some innovation, and yet we all have roles that are mostly imitation – where we are required to do the same thing again and again, day in and day out. But as long as you’re “acting well thy” part you can still find meaning and fulfillment in it.

My dad is a good example of this. He worked as a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for over 30 years. His job didn’t change all that much over those three decades. Most of the time he was in the office writing memos and reports or preparing evidence for cases. During duck season he would spend his weekends freezing his butt off checking hunters. Despite being highly repetitious and often boring, my dad loved his job.

I asked him how he could do the same seemingly boring or unenjoyable things every day for 30 years and still enjoy it. His answer? “I just took one day at a time and strived to give my very best that day.”

He acted well his part. And it paid off. Not only did he find fulfillment in his work, but he excelled in his career and left a legacy at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of its best agents.

As it is in work, so it is in your family. Once you become a dad you quickly learn that parenting is a series of wake up, wash, rinse, and repeat. But you buck up and “act well thy part” as a dad because you’re an irreplaceable part of the “magic square” that is your family. If you fail in your role, your family as a whole will greatly suffer.

How Can You Act Well Thy Part?

My challenge to you today is to “act well thy part” wherever you are in life.

If you’re a young man aiming for the varsity football team, but right now you’re a lowly “scrub” on the scout team, you still have an important role to play in helping the team win by giving your best in practice.

If you’re in a low-level job that doesn’t seem very glamorous, look for the ways, even if they’re small, that you can contribute to and better the lives of those around you.

If you’re dad and husband, don’t let our culture’s emphasis on material and professional success blind you to the fact those are the two most important and fulfilling jobs a man can have. Sure, a lot of the tasks you’ll do aren’t very prestigious, but they’re important.

Finally, if you’re a man, are you acting the part of a true man? Men have a unique role to play in strengthening our society, but too many have shirked the mantle of manhood and we are all suffering for it.

The extent to which every man embraces every part he is given, the important and not so important, and does his best to magnify that role, is the extent to which our families, teams, and communities strengthen and thrive or wither and decay. The world we live in is one giant magic square, and each of has an irreplaceable role to play in contributing to a beautiful whole. In embracing your role in the present moment, no matter how small or mundane, and for however long it lasts, you’ll discover that life is much more meaningful and rewarding.

How will you act well thy part?

 

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John R September 24, 2013 at 12:06 am

Posts like this reinforce the ‘carpe diem’ philosophy of tomorrow. I have made it a habit of checking your site nightly, prior to retiring to sleep, as you so often give a lasting perspective or reinforce a fundamental value obscured in the chaos of my daily routine (or lack thereof) that is best left to linger in the subconscious. I very much appreciate your dedication to bettering us all through the elegant transmission of messages as complex as man’s moral compass and as basic as a shoeshine. You gracefully remind us that every action, undertaking and habit are a derivative of character.

Thank you.

2 Nick P. September 24, 2013 at 12:50 am

This really provides us with a simple question to ask ourselves to self evaluate. With all the business in our lives we should step back and see if we are doing our part as men well. I try to take a few minutes before going to bed to review my day and ask myself if I have lived up to what it means to be a man. Have I made another person’s day any better? If everyone stood back and could ask if they act well their part the world would be a better place.

3 Niki September 24, 2013 at 12:53 am

Great post, reminds me of some advice from my grandfather.
I paid my way through university by working on a road construction crew during the summer. One evening, I was complaining to my family about how tired I was from shovelling gravel and picking rocks off the side of the road. My grandfather was quick to reply with a story about a construction worker he had once talked to: when asked what he had done that day, the fellow replied, “well, I built a road”.
Now, whenever I’m annoyed by repetitive labour or mundane jobs, I am reminded of my grandfather’s advice to always look at the bigger picture.

4 Enis September 24, 2013 at 2:58 am

One of your best posts yet, and I’ve been a fan of the site since 2009.

Busy hands are happy hands is a simple notion, but as true today as it has ever been.

Thank you, as always, for your daily contribution Brett.

Sincerely, your fellow Tulsan,
Enis Taner

5 J September 24, 2013 at 4:46 am

Really enjoyed the topic.

I’d like to add another dimension to this.

I used to be like those that you describe, I had a (white collar) low level job and used to have to do a lot of boring, grunt work that I largely did not want to be involved with, if I could avoid it. I wanted to be the “ideas man”.

Anyway, long story short, I now own my own business in the same field and use much of that knowledge I gained doing the boring, repetitive, “menial” stuff. Yep, it’s a lot more “glamorous” to now say I own my own business, but I could NOT do this role now, if I did not know that grunt work inside out.

I guess my point is, we never know when those small things we learned will come in handy at some point in our future destiny, in whatever field.

Also, I too find myself getting very annoyed when people look down on street sweepers, bin men, cleaners etc.

When those professions go on strike, as the bin men did the other week in my city, everyone soon realizes how important that job is when rubbish is piling up outside people’s homes!

But no, most, will not want to be in those types of jobs because we all have been drenched in the MTV Cribs culture that worships material success and ‘glamorous’ highly public jobs. Hard to ‘delete’ this thoughts from our brains, no matter how shallow we may know it is, deep down.

6 Kristi September 24, 2013 at 5:52 am

Extremely helpful – thank you! I love the reminder about repetition – I tend to get disillusioned sometimes and feel in a rut.

7 WWBrock September 24, 2013 at 6:02 am

Outstanding article, I am going to use it for a FHE lesson to teach my kids about being more unified and acting well their part in a family, and the other organizations they are a part of, Scouts, School, etc. Thank you for your insightful positive articles,

8 Helen September 24, 2013 at 6:28 am

Great article!

9 Ben M September 24, 2013 at 6:31 am

As a husband and father who never attained to my “dream job”, this post really resonated with me. For many of us, where we are in life now is not where we thought we’d be, or not what we would have wanted for ourselves when we were younger. Yet, instead of longing for something “better”, when we appreciate what we do in life, no matter how menial it may seem, we can find great happiness, satifaction, and pride in what we do and who we are. Thank you for the great site and many insightful posts.

10 Andrew September 24, 2013 at 6:37 am

Another great post! I wish that more people promoted and lived this value today. One of my coworkers often tells me to “slow down,” and “take it easy” and “not work so hard.” I think he’s afraid that my dedication to doing the best job I can makes his slacking look worse, even though my perfectionism benefits more than hurts him. He’s right about one thing: the compensation that I receive is not on par with the effort that I make. However, knowing that I’m doing the best job that I can is its own reward. Keep up the great motivational posts as well as the more practical ones! (PS- the recent dumbbells guest post was very useful, too!)

11 Hugh September 24, 2013 at 7:13 am

One of your best articles (and that’s saying something)!

Well done and thank you.

12 Marco September 24, 2013 at 7:14 am

I remember getting ridiculed by some of the workers, mostly older than me, on a construction site where I was a laborer for a few years. My primary task was clean-up on many days of the week; picking up whatever the carpenters, masons, roofers and sheetrockers left behind. Along with doing the daily morning coffee run, it was the most menial task on the project. But I did it well, so well in fact that I made extra money some evenings by cleaning newly-built luxury homes for the ‘big’ presentation our developer made to the new owners, before they got the certificate of occupancy. Personal pride was a motivator of course, but I also figured that if I had to do this job, at this point in my life, why not do it as well as I possibly could, why not elevate it and make it something special?

13 Tyler September 24, 2013 at 7:33 am

I second everything John R stated. A beautifully conveyed message that is well appreciated, yet unfortunately poorly understood by the masses. Hopefully your words can reach those that find their jobs as meaningless, for meaningless only applies to those with a misguided perspective.

No job is above another; our world works best as a functional syncytium. Anything less results in the shortcomings we see day in and day out. However, it is those people that take pride in their jobs, no matter the task, that hold us together as nations.

Again, thank you for the reminder, and keep up the good work!

14 Karla Fears September 24, 2013 at 7:47 am

Excellent article. Where did you acquire the stone replica? I’d like to start giving it as gifts for my nieces and nephews when they graduate from college…

15 Ron Wince September 24, 2013 at 8:07 am

Simply a fantastic post! Thank you.

16 J.D. September 24, 2013 at 9:24 am

This is one of the best things I have ever read; I definitely will be sharing it. Now to get back to work so I can do my job well…

(also from a fellow Tulsan).

17 Devon September 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

Great post. I gotta ask, where did you get a replica of the Stirling Stone? I’d love to have one in my office. Thanks.

18 BHJCTJ September 24, 2013 at 9:48 am

Interestingly, this stone and phrase has deep significance to Latter-day Saints. In fact, a replica is prominently displayed in their Missionary Training Center. Search the phrase in Google, and most of the top results are tied to the LDS Church.

19 Nate September 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

Brett,

David O McKay was the MAN! Any relation? I have used quotes from several sources I have been introduced to from your website in Elders Quorum meetings.

@ Devon,

I found this link through a quick Google search
http://www.maskeryandlund.com/actwellthypart.html

20 Jeff September 24, 2013 at 10:19 am

The paragraph in the conclusion regarding being on the ‘scrub’ football team reminded me of the movie “Rudy.” Now there is a great example of a man “doing well his part.”

Little Rudy Ruettiger was never going to play on the regular Notre Dame team. He was tiny, without a speck of athletic talent. But he went out on every practice and gave everything he had on the practice field. As the captain of the team said in the movie “he’s [Rudy] just doing his job.”

21 CGrow September 24, 2013 at 10:31 am

Very inspiring post! Just what I need lately.

22 Caleb B. September 24, 2013 at 10:38 am

Great article, and something we would all do well to consider everyday.

23 Brad September 24, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thank you Brett and Kate!!

24 Tony September 24, 2013 at 11:15 am

” He said, “It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that’s enough reason to go for me
It’s my job to be better than the rest
And that makes a day for me.” From Jimmy Buffett “It’s My Job.” Pride and dedication are hallmarks of success, no matter what your job is.

25 Fred September 24, 2013 at 11:46 am

There is a replica of this carving in the foyer of the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. It teaches a valuable lesson.

26 Harland September 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

Great reminder and article. I enjoyed J’s comments above, as it was also my experience. Out of college I found myself without a job and took some more hands-on, difficult jobs to start out. I hated a lot about it. But it proved to teach me a lot about how to treat and service customers, about these nuts-and-bolts jobs, and some humility.
The appreciation of this principle also makes sure we treat our fellows well…there is no need to yell at our waiter or the clerk at the counter. We are no better or worse than any of the other butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
As a pervious leader of a young man’s organization, I knew that a young man would do well in life, be successful and a real man, if I knew he could put in a hard days work without complaint. A real back-breaking, sweat on your brow day. I think that working hard in your place also fundementally builds us up as men of character.

27 Brett McKay September 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm

@Nate-

No relation unfortunately, but David O. is definitely the man.

@Karla & Devon-

See the link Nate posted for where to buy a replica. The only place I’m aware of you can get it is that website. It’s a site that sells LDS (Latter-Day Saint) art, as it has special significance to that church; when a future president of it was a young missionary in Scotland, he saw the stone and was greatly inspired by it. But the stone itself does not have any religious significance or associations that I know of.

28 Jesse September 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

This is just what I needed to read, just when I needed to read it. Also the link to the Dirty Jobs video was great. Keep it up.

29 jw September 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

“The Stirling stone also reminds me that true happiness and fulfillment in life comes not from being recognized, but from being useful to the world around me.”

Not sure I totally agree with this…
There are plenty of people in this world who would not be considered “Useful”
Our current culture is doing its best to terminate these people all together. Each person regardless of their “usefulness” has value. Recognizing a person’s value just because they exist should bring happiness and fulfillment.

30 William September 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm

It’s quite interesting that the encouragement to do well in whatever you do is not new, but goes all the way back to biblical times, too. Recall the parable of the talents?

Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your [c]master.’

22 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 Then you ought to have put my money [d]in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In particular vs. 29 – to everyone who has, more shall be given, but he who has not, it shall be taken way. Work hard, do the right thing, and rewards will come your way. Be slothful and lazy and what you have can be taken away.

Take pride in your work, no matter what it is. If you aren’t willing to clean the bathrooms you have no right leading a company. Do what you must and do your best.

Great article!

31 Rks1157 September 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm

It’s a piece of advice that I was given and have passed on to countless younger men. “You are what you do.” Others know us and remember us by our actions and nothing more. Understanding this makes a successful life very simple and should we get off track it is easy to return just by doing the right things.

32 Ink Wellson September 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Thanks for a great article!

I found this inspiring enough that I went searching for my own replica of the stone. If anyone else is looking, it seems to be more commonly referred to as a “McKay stone” after David O. McKay, former president of the LDS church.

A family connection to our favorite bloggers, perchance?

33 Josh September 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Is this where you got your info?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykfMvoHu6xA

I think your article may need revision. The stone used to be in a building next to Sterling castle. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apparently purchased the stone because of its importance in church history. The stone is also special to me, because it was the modo for me when I served as a missionary in Scotland.

34 Robert Newey September 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm

My Dad grew up in on a farm in the Ogden Valley. One of the neighboring farmers saw that stone while he was laboring in his ancestral home of Scotland. At the time he saw the stone he was fairly depressed with the lack of success he was seeing. The words carved in that stone struck a chord with him and became a code he lived by. That neighbor of my Dad made a big difference in lives of many people by always acting his part. Come to think of it, the neighbor was a McKay as well.

35 jeff September 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Tidbit of interest: Even the diagonals add up to 18, as they should for a magic square.

36 Mark Paas September 24, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Great post. I work in an industry where the lowest common denominator has their hands on the product last. Often producing some shockingly bad results. The question is how to instill this type of pride in work with people getting paid the least especially when they dont own the product. Ideas ?

37 joe g. September 25, 2013 at 5:24 am

nice post it really encourages me to put my best effort in my studies to be the best I wanna be.l look forward for more of this. thanks

38 NICK September 25, 2013 at 10:58 am

Great article! This brings up an interesting point I struggle with working in manufacturing here in the beautiful Midwest. I work with men who make only a fraction of my salary, but do much more physically challenging work. To remain competitive we must keep our wages to a minimum, and this means that many of these men make less than $25,000 per year. It’s an interesting issue we all have…we realize we need the work of everyone, but it’s much easier to feel satisfaction at $100,000 than $25,000. I’m far from liberal, but I feel like this is contributing to the dissatisfaction of the working class. I get the feeling that if people felt like they had a “good” paying job, they would see it as more of a career, and we wouldn’t have as many bad waiters, parking attendants, TSA agents, etc. If being a “professional” waiter/line-worker/parking attendant/fast food employee/etc puts you in the low-class, then we are going to have a lot of shitty attitudes to deal with.

39 C Jackson September 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I’ve lived through a lot of examples of either acting or not acting my part.
When I first decided my life required a full time position, I knew I had to start from the ground up. I worked for my city doing “grunt work”. Long story short, I went from weedeater, cemetery litter pickup, highway pickup, part time garbage helper (with my dad), to part time with our gas dept, and finally full time with them. I did all that in about a year, by never complaining, going where I was sent, and being eager to work. I did well with my parts, whatever it was.
When I first got a chance at starting a career, it was with a wholesale food distributor. I saw $$$ as it was a great paying company for the work. After a couple of years of this I got cynical. I drove around for hours in a stupid looking truck and dealing with cry baby customers. My work suffered, I didn’t care.
I got demoted and lost half my salary, with our second baby on the way.
I had to relearn doing well in my part, the hard way. My boss, I think, expected me to quit. Instead I worked so hard that I got my position back within another year. And now I’m my bosses assistant. I still drive in a stupid looking truck and deal with babies all day, but I go home to a house I have and eat a meal that my work paid for, and I’m glad.

40 Chris September 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

What an excellent article. Thanks for posting it.

41 Nathan September 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I’ve found this particularly challenging in my current job. “Acting your part well simply means that wherever you are in the moment, you have the integrity to do your best and to be as useful as possible.” I rotated from a position as assistant head of operations for a rescue unit–hard, tedious, stressful, but definitely useful work. Now I am in a newly created position as a liaison to a DOD office, and despite my efforts so far to make contacts and help out, have found little demand for my services. When I am tasked, it’s just feeding information from one bureaucracy to the other, mostly FYI, when other agencies are actually doing the work, and when there are other nodes tasked with moving the same info. It can be very challenging, after working in a clearly “useful” job to move to one that is clearly not needed. Thankfully, in the service, it never lasts forever. But it eats at your soul in the mean time….

42 MrBill September 28, 2013 at 8:48 am

Finally, something positive, inspirational and useful on the Internet! I guess I’ve been looking in all the wrong places. I’ve been in shock and denial over a medical diagnosis and have not been taking action needed for myself and my family. I have been shoved into a role I did not ask for, I did not audition for, and have no desire to play. But it is a role I will play, willingly or not. If I play the roll well, the outcome will be much better than if I play the roll poorly. Your article is helping me understand that I can take personal pride in playing this uncomfortable roll well. And that is part of being a Real Man. Thank you.

43 Roger September 28, 2013 at 9:08 am

This principle was recognized thousands of years ago as truth.

“Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

44 Craig September 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Great article. I have heard this quoted many times in church and have seen the stone in publications but have never been told what the picture represents. I guess the point is that that the 2 is as important as the 10 and had better be the best 2 it can be.

45 Donald September 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Thanks… Changed my perspective for the next few years. Patience is a tough virtue.

46 mickeyman September 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I bought a 3,000 year-old bead from a museum distributor some years ago and used to talk about with the kids–we don’t know who it was who made that bead, but here it is 3,000 years later–and we can almost touch that man through his work. So if you are to do something that will be remembered thousands of years from now, it doesn’t have to be a great deed; it need only be something simple, but done well.

47 Ron September 30, 2013 at 1:55 am

The anecdote about LBJ and the NASA janitor would be perfect in this article.

48 kamil October 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm

amazing article / articles. thanks for this site. really makes you think. i cant tell you how much I appreciate it, just know, its a part of my daily life.

49 Shivute October 1, 2013 at 11:20 pm

A very inspiring article. Thanks.

50 Ndegwa October 2, 2013 at 1:49 am

I disagree with the tone of this article. Not so the much with the words. Do well wherever you are, but never lose sight of what you were put here to do. We all have different talents, as spoken of in the Bible, and we bury them in different ways. Remember, the man who received one talent was proud for maintaining his one talent, as it was given to him. This is the same pride you may get from staying in the same “role” and doing it well day in day out. Remember, if that is not the talent God/Chance/Genetics/Universe has put in you….your pride is foolish, and your time is wasted.

51 Aaron October 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I am starting to like my job, not so much my place of work, more. I have been a housekeeper at a mental health facility for the past two years and this article or parts that I have read have inspired me to “act well my part” by cleaning like Joe the Singing Janitor would in the song by Junior Brown. I told my friend who shared this article with me that I’m going to a Halloween party on the 25th as a zombie housekeeper with a bloody mop.

52 Nick Merrill October 6, 2013 at 7:19 am

This is a wonderful article. And I love how in the comments I see that I’m not the only Mormon learning wisdom here. Thank y’all so much for maintaining this website and for publishing your book on virtue. I am definitely more of a man because of y’all.

53 Phillip October 8, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Spot on article.

However I do have mixed emotions concerning this.

1)The fantastic job you may be doing may be to train the person who is going to take over your soon-to-be outsourced position.

2)The number of people who’ve had jobs taken over by machines automatic check-out at the grocery store for example appears to be going up.

3)Now more than ever people have to get by on not just one job but multiple part time jobs. The idea of some employers is to get one person to do the work of two and a half.

54 jigar mehta October 9, 2013 at 7:35 am

‘A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.’ – Batman / Bruce Wayne to Jim Gordon in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

55 Aaron Feyd October 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Wow, great, great article! Brett, if you ever do a Manvotionals Part II, this should be either in the preface or at least be in the “Industry” chapter. My Granddad was a farmer most of his life, and later ran his own excavation business. He never had a “glorious” job and worked an average of 12 hours a day most of his life, but he had that ability to go out and do even the most of mundane of tasks with grit, mindfulness, and an energy that always said “Do your best”. In the last few days of his life, only being taken down by Parkinson’s disease, he had visitors that came in DROVES to see him. Each and every one of them said that he was the hardest working man they’d ever known. Now THAT’S a legacy.

56 porkchop October 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

returning to school after 13 years I was completely underwhelmed by the lack of respect, discipline, and attention displayed by the current crop of students both young and old. now, half-way throught the semester, there is a marked difference between those are fulfilling their roles as students well and those who are not. knowing that life often imitates school the instructors agree that it’s easy to know whom to recommend to job recruiters.

57 Kim November 26, 2013 at 3:01 am

I love AoM–and I’m not a man. I suspect there might be a lot more women who read your blog, women more interested in character-building and rhetoric than they are in Martha Stewart or breast-feeding.

I wholeheartedly agree with your post; in fact it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I understood intellectually the importance of doing your best no matter what you do–this idea was illuminated for me in Franny and Zooey–but the reality of it was a bitter pill to swallow when I worked at a job that felt like a jail sentence because I was terrified to follow my passion. No one held a gun to my head at the corporate job I had for more than 20 years, but since being downsized a whole new life has opened up. I swapped the east coast for the west and do my best at the odd jobs I do to support myself–dog-walker, gardener, tutor–while I wait for auditions and work at finishing my writing projects. I also volunteer for causes I’m passionate about and feel a great sense of usefulness I never felt working in an office for 30 years. Somehow when choose work that has meaning for you, no matter how menial, you find greater contentment and happiness than in a job that’s just paycheck.

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