Updated: Jun 25
The other day, as I was flicking through YouTube, I came across a bunch of videos about folks working in obscure little businesses (I've scattered a few throughout this article). None of these jobs were what would generally be considered important, prestigious, or even desirable, yet in each case, the people doing them seemed to take great pride in their work. They uniformly seemed to see their job as being worth taking the time to do it well. I watched craftsmen hand-painting Swedish Dala horses, folks in San Francisco lovingly maintaining a mechanical printing press, and a multitude of small restaurants who undertook their work in obscure restaurants with dedication and care. Later, when I took the train to the city, one of the ticket stewards approached me just to see if I needed some help. On thanking him, he observed with a smile that people often seemed surprised when he offered to help, but to him, that is simply good service.
Thinking on this later, it appeared to me that there was a common thread that united these people working in disparate industries and separated by oceans. All these people saw the importance of each task no matter how small. They did not seem to see dipping wooden horses into paint, helping customers, or preparing food as a distasteful task to be got through. They saw these tasks as important and took care to do them well.
Due to this recognition of the value of the small task, these people also shared another rare trait. All these people were happy in their work. None of them were rich, or what is termed successful, but nevertheless, they were happy. It seems to me that we could learn much wisdom from these people. For they have understood the great secret of the world, that there are no unimportant jobs. Each job from sweeping the floors to running a country has inherent value.
Consider the work of a domestic cleaner. There are not many less glamorous or prestigious jobs in the world than this. Yet consider the value of this role. Firstly, it feeds and supports the worker and their family. Next, it creates opportunity for the entrepreneur who can start and grow a business. Finally, it frees someone else from cleaning. This person freed from cleaning through your labour can spend their time differently, perhaps they can spend time with their children and partner. Perhaps freed from cleaning, they will work on a personal project, write a book, invent something, paint a picture, or just relax. Perhaps by you freeing this person from cleaning, they will have time to think of an idea that will change the world.
When we realise the value in our work, we will inevitably put more effort into it. By doing a good job where we could do just ok, the job will, as if by magic, become less of a chore. We will be happier and start to notice the good things we would have missed. It’s easy to feel that the work we do is unimportant, but we would do well to remember that from small causes, great events are decided. Or as Benjamin Franklin famously said:
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, For the want of a shoe the horse was lost, For the want of a horse the rider was lost, For the want of a rider the battle was lost, For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”
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