Today we feature our second extract from Ryan Holiday‘s new book, The Obstacle is the Way, which draws on Marcus Aurelius’ idea that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”, and shows how you can turn obstacles into opportunities and how this has been done throughout history, from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs. In this extract, Ryan focusses on giving your job the respect it deserves…
Do Your Job, Do It Right
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quidvis recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.)—SIR HENRY ROYCE
Long past his humble beginnings, President Andrew Johnson would speak proudly of his career as a tailor before he entered politics. “My garments never ripped or gave way,” he would say.
On the campaign trail, a heckler once tried to embarrass him by shouting about his working-class credentials. John- son replied without breaking stride: “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.”
Another president, James Garfield, paid his way through college in 1851 by persuading his school, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, to let him be 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.
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.
This is what happens when you do your job—whatever it is—and do it well.
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.
Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.