Worthwhile Effort

I am not a hired gun. I don’t work for a company; I work for leaders. I don’t sell a product to another company; I sell a solution or something of value to individuals that need it to get their job done. For me, it needs to be personal and having meaning, it needs to be worthwhile.

I am driven by worthwhile effort in all aspects of my life – work, volunteering, family relationships, sports. It needs to be worth my time, money, and effort. I have mentioned before that going through the motions doesn’t cut it. Worthwhile effort is doing something because I know it’s important. I have even been auditing my charitable contributions based on how worthwhile the value of my contribution means to the recipient, is it just a couple of percentage points needed to meet the goal, or does it change the game? Once when I thanked a Veteran for his service, he shook my hand and said: “Just do what you can to make this a country worth dying for.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s resounding Labor Day speech in 1903 still rings true today, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Worthwhile labor enriches our life, our family, our community, and our nation. Our everyday work lives mean more when we make progress on meaningful outcomes.

I heard of a manufacturing plant where employees would say they drilled holes, ran a CNC machine, or plated parts. Management hadn’t connected their work to the bigger picture. As far as they knew, they were just ‘cogs in the wheel’ making widgets. Then these employees were shown how the products they produced were vitally important and what would happen if there was a failure in the field. Once they understood that their work was important, and it became worthwhile; there was pride in what they were doing. Meaning can make work that might seem dull or repetitive, rich and rewarding. Common everyday tasks and even interactions change when perceived as worthwhile.

Chip Conley, the founder of the hotel chain Joie de Vivre, makes this point in a TED Talk. Conley describes a housekeeper, who found joy and fulfillment in making other people’s beds and cleaning their toilets. She made a connection with the guests of the hotel; making people who were away from home comfortable, because she knew what it was like to be far away from home. In a blog two years ago, I linked Jimmy Buffett and Martin Luther King regarding the worthwhile efforts of a street sweeper.

On a business trip to Minneapolis years ago, I was staying downtown and walked by the Mary Tyler Moore statue that captures the iconic scene of her throwing her hat in the air. As I was growing up, my family watched the MTM show religiously so immediately, the show’s theme song started playing in my mind (and then of course remained there for days!)

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

The word “worthwhile,” is quite often used to denote two concepts: value and benefit – the value we place on our life, plus what we contribute to the benefit of others. Each of us has a worthwhile purpose within, to deliver value in the world from a source of value. “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Chadwick Boseman understood this in his brief 43 years. In a 2018 commencement speech at Howard University, he told the graduates, “When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history.”

A shining example of worthwhile effort is the apostle Paul. He put forth a conscious effort to seriously do all he could to serve God. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Paul was fearful that even he should be disqualified. He required his complete and worthwhile effort for his own salvation.

In our busy ‘earthly’ days, as Christians, we must put forth effort aligned with the true purpose of why we are here – to know God, to serve and love others as Jesus did, and to gain eternal salvation. Effort manifested in wisdom gained by daily study, prayer, and reflection; kindness extended through service to others; witness provided by doing God’s will.

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