The ABC’s of Professionalism
“Elbow grease is the best polish” — English Proverb
The topic is hard work, the title is elbow grease. To my father, these word pairs mean exactly the same thing — he prefers the latter. One of my favorite stories told at family gatherings is how Pops dealt with loafing baggers, cashiers and stock clerks in his stores. He would tell them they needed to apply some elbow grease. If they seemed puzzled by the instruction he’d send them on an errand to find a jar of it. For each person, the trick only worked once (except possibly for brother Dave). But, the point was made and the lesson was never forgotten. My dad probably would have also said the following, if he had thought of it:
“Nobody ever drowned in his own sweat.” — Ann Landers
Even possessing knowledge about the cause and effect relationship between work and results, mankind seems unable to counteract its tendency to avoid work. Any shortcut, regardless of how inferior it may be, is more often than not preferred over working up a sweat. It’s a sure bet that without the necessities of life, there would be no work done at all.
“The normal condition of man is hard work, self-denial, acquisition and accumulation and as soon as his descendants are freed from the necessity of such exertion, they begin to degenerate sooner or later in both body and mind.” — Thomas Mellon
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” — Frederick Douglass
“People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.” — Frederick Douglass
The desire to survive is a sufficient incentive for most people to put forth the effort necessary to acquire the basics of life: food and shelter. A life motivated solely by the survival instinct is the lowest form of existence and produces the least amount of effort.
“Everyone confesses in the abstract that exertion which brings out all the powers of body and mind is the best thing for us all; but practically most people do all they can to get rid of it, and as a general rule nobody does much more than circumstances drive them to do.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe
“The fundamental principle of human action, the law, that is to political economy what the law of gravitation is to physics is that men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion” — Henry George
Once survival has been achieved, people seek pleasure and comfort. At this level, they’ll put forth just enough additional effort as needed to acquire the goods, services and relationships for their pleasure. As these pleasures become synonymous with the person’s life, fear of loss may create new incentives to protect these pleasures. Level three is about safety. All three of these levels are characterized by visions that are inwardly focused on personal pleasure, comfort and safety.
“The principle of liberty and equality, if coupled with mere selfishness, will make men only devils, each trying to be independent that he may fight only for his own interest. And here is the need of religion and its power, to bring in the principle of benevolence and love to men.” — John Randolph (1773-1833)
“If pursuing material things becomes your only goal, you will fail in so many ways. Besides, in time all material things go away.” — John Wooden (1910- ), American basketball coach.
What happens when a person exchanges his mirror for a window? Suddenly the view changes along with his vision of life. He’s able to see a brand new level where people do things for others on a routine basis. The benefits of voluntary helping and sharing are amazing. He sees cooperation, the swapping of good deeds, as a more productive and more satisfying way to live.
There is one more level — service with a soul. This type of life, which is literally an act of worship, is the way Christ taught and lived. It’s all about serving people who are not in a position to return any type of benefit in response. Serving others in this capacity is equivalent to serving God.
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” — Bible, Luke 10:33-35
While rising through the levels, each step up comes from an increase in the magnitude of the vision, followed by greater amounts of effort to fulfill the bigger vision. It stands to reason that when a person is only interested in taking care of himself he will put forth only enough effort to accomplish that objective. Rising above an inward-looking philosophy and the drudgery that accompanies it starts with a new attitude and a bigger vision.
“Everything depends upon execution; having just a vision is no solution.” — Stephen Sondheim
“Instead of thinking about where you are, think about where you want to be. It takes twenty years of hard work to become an overnight success.” — Diana Rankin
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” — Muhammad Ali
Let’s look now at elbow grease as it relates to professionalism. Like other attributes of professionalism, putting forth one’s best effort is a matter of self-respect.
“A dream is a vision, a goal is a promise. You can keep your promises to yourself by remaining flexible, focused, and committed.” — Denis Waitley
“I can’t imagine a person becoming a success who doesn’t give this game of life everything he’s got.” — Walter Cronkite
“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” — Theodore Roosevelt
It’s not necessarily true that a professional is free from apprehension toward sweat. What is true is that he has ordered his life around his life’s purpose and passion. This tends to segregate the favorable from the distasteful deeds.
“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.” — Logan Pearsall Smith
Still, he will find drudgery in his path. But, because his courage is greater than his apprehension and experience has taught him perspective, he is able to rise above an attitude of drudgery.
“Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion” — Florence Nightingale
“Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun.” — Colleen C. Barrett
Instead of viewing personal toil as the price to pay, professionals welcome hard work as one of life’s opportunities. Hard work is an opportunity to improve, achieve AND enjoy.
“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.” — John Ruskin
“Success, remember is the reward of toil.” — Sophocles
“You do not pay the price of success, you enjoy the price of success.” — Zig Ziglar
“The happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an excellent life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.” — Aristotle
While professionals usually have a positive attitude about their work — others usually prefer to make excuses. “Well I’d have a good attitude about my job too if I made as much as the CEO.” Wrong! Attitude is the cause, not the effect.
“Both tears and sweat are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy; sweat will get you change.” — Jesse Jackson
“To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death.” — Jean Anouilh
Usually, the hardest part of work is the getting started part. Making excuses seems easier than making a beginning. Statements like, “I’m not prepared” or “the timing is bad” are usually fear disguised as excuses.
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great.” — Zig Ziglar
“In every phenomenon the beginning remains always the most notable moment.” — Thomas Carlyle
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao-Tzu
“The beginning is the half of every action.” — Greek Proverb
So here you are, armed with a powerful vision of your life and the understanding that action is the necessary next step. It’s time to turn the key, get in gear and step on the gas. It’s time to make an action plan.
“A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.” — Brian Tracy
“Life is a journey of single steps. None can be taken back. Take each step with the anticipation and the vision of the outcomes you desire.” — Gary Lear, Australia
The plan should consist of a sequence of manageable objectives or goals and it must be written down. The goals help make the vision seem less daunting and they are the milestones for measuring progress.
“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” — William Faulkner
“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.” — Rene Descartes
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” — Henry Ford
One popular planning technique, called the SMART Plan, has many variations on the format. However, the principles are similar. I like this one:
- Specific – Define a step-by-step approach in terms of detailed goals that can be measured and tracked.
- Mission – Goals must be consistent with the overall mission and vision.
- Accountability – Identify person(s) with authority over the vision.
- Resources – List both required and available resources.
- Timeline – Define dates for progress reports and milestone completion.
The most important part of planning is writing down the plan. A written plan based on bite-sized measurable goals enhances accountability and focus. Keep the plan handy and review it daily. When individual goals are reached, reward yourself in some small, yet meaningful way. If you stop to rest between accomplishments, don’t stop for long. Let momentum drive you forward to the finish line.
“Plan the work; work the plan.” — Anonymous
“Success depends in a very large measure upon individual initiative and exertion, and cannot be achieved except by a dint of hard work.” — Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), Russian ballerina.
“Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for.” — Marian Wright Edelman (1939- ), American activist.
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” — Thomas Edison
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