“America was not built on fear,” President Harry Truman once said. “America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to get the job done.”
When we examine the last part of that quotation—“an unbeatable determination to get the job done”—we may recollect some of the enormous tasks undertaken by Americans in the past century: the building of the Hoover Dam, the winning of World War II, and the Apollo flights to the moon.
Certainly, we can all take pride in those grand accomplishments. They came at a great cost of effort, money, and in the case of the war, of lives. Those involved in these endeavors deserve our everlasting gratitude for what they achieved.
But what about our everyday workers, the unnoticed men and women who toil at various jobs? The loan officer at our bank; the guy who builds brick walls; the mechanic who comes home with grease under his fingernails; the library janitor who cleans the restrooms, empties the trash, and pushes a mop; the nurse at the hospital; the stay-at-home mom: What distinguishes some of these folks and millions of others from their fellow co-workers?
Pride and initiative.
I once happened to observe a volunteer at our public library shelving books. As she moved the cart down the fiction section, she not only inserted each novel into its proper place, but took the time to straighten all the books, arranging them so that their spines touched the edge of the shelf until they stood side by side like companies of soldiers on a parade ground.
That’s taking pride in your work.
The attorney who reviews her client’s defense in the solitude of her office multiple times in preparation for a trial, the chef who aims to serve his customers the most mouthwatering meal they’ve ever tasted, the homeschooling mom who keeps looking for better ways to teach her fifth-grade daughter mathematics: These people seek to give their best. They take pride in what they do.
They’re also the ones who generally go above and beyond the call of their duties, showing initiative in the tasks demanded of them.
In his wildly popular 1899 essay, “A Message to Garcia,” Elbert Hubbard told the story of Lt. Andrew Rowan and his mission to Gen. Garcia during the Spanish–American War. Summoned to the White House to “carry a message to Garcia,” Rowan asked no questions—“Who is Garcia? Where is he? How long do I have to find him?”—but instead simply took the packet, headed for Cuba, spent three weeks in the jungles looking for his man, and delivered the president’s message.
And that’s the sort of get-up-and-go that marks great workers today. The software salesman who phones his client even when all hope of a sale seems lost is “carrying a message to Garcia.” The McDonald’s employee who makes certain the kitchen is mopped and the sinks are scrubbed is showing enterprise and drive.
Here’s the thing: No matter what our job, no matter how seemingly insignificant are our duties or obligations may be, taking pride in our work and showing initiative speaks of who we are to others. They’re signs not only of our abilities and our desires to do a job the right way, but are also indicative of the importance we place on work itself.
At the end of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” he wrote, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Those words sum up the pride and initiative many workers bring to their tasks today.
And those are the folks who keep this country running.