With each task that we are assigned, with each part of our work, we should strive, always, to give our best. Years ago, a book that garnered a great deal of popularity encouraged us not to “sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff.” As an educator of more than a quarter century, I have always eschewed and disdained that philosophy, because experiences has taught me that the real work is in the daily attention to details. And as we attend to those details, we need to remember to attend to them all the way to the end. Attention must be paid, because in those moments are character is formed and revealed.
As a wrestling coach, I worked with students, repeating ad nauseam moves until those moves were committed to memory, muscle memory. As we used to say to the wrestlers, the match is won here in practice, not on the day of the match. Victory, success, is won, is earned in the quiet moments of hard work and reflection, not in the bright moments in the arena or on the stage. And as we seek to do our best, I am reminded of the importance of giving our best, always, and to the end, because what we do when no one is looking, that truly is our character:
“A master carpenter who’d worked for the same builder for nearly 50 years announced he was retiring. The builder told him how much he appreciated his work and presented him with a $5,000 bonus. Then he asked if he would build just one more house. He owned a magnificent lot with a spectacular view and wanted to build a dream home there.
The carpenter was bitterly disappointed at the small bonus and extra project, but the building fee would help him buy a small cottage. He agreed to build the dream house.
He’d always prided himself on his uncompromising commitment to quality, but his resentment caused him to cut corners, ignore details, and accept shoddy workmanship from his workers. He even looked the other way when some of them substituted cheaper materials and pocketed the difference.
When the house was finished, the builder shook the carpenter’s hand and with a huge smile gave him a thank-you card. The carpenter was disdainful – until he saw inside the card the deed to the house he’d just built.
The carpenter was ashamed to have misjudged his old friend and betrayed his own values, and he was remorseful that the house he would now live in for the rest of his life had been made so carelessly.”
Our character is the house we live in, and it’s built piece by piece by our daily choices. Deceit, irresponsibility, and disrespect are like shoddy workmanship. Whenever we put in less than our best and ignore our potential for excellence, we create a future full of creaky floors, leaky roofs, and crumbling foundations.
Build, then, your house, not as the carpenter who built his last house and was forced to live in it, but as people who care about one another, embrace work, hard work, and want to make something great of their lives.