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The 21 Words That Can Revitalize the American Work Ethic

Oddly enough, the U.S. Postal Service is the key to revitalizing the American work ethic.

Photo Credit: USPS

One hundred years ago this past Memorial Day, the massive New York City Post Office on 33rd Street opened its doors to the public. Above those doors, etched in stone, is one of the most famous quotes in America:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

This sentence, selected by one of the architects involved in the project, has become the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service thanks to that very building. The quote, however, has its roots in a time and place very far removed from the here and now.

Herodotus, the father of history, dedicated his life to chronicling the wars between the Greeks and Persians (500-449 B.C.). Within his tomes of history, he wrote about a Persian courier service that was so dedicated to their mission and that served with such fidelity that they earned the immortal compliment now seen above the USPS building in New York City.

This poetic quote, seemingly inapplicable to much of today’s society, describes a group that is so devoted to their mission that absolutely nothing will deter them from it. This kind of passion for your vocation is what should be celebrated during Labor Day, and so I began to wonder what it takes for someone to be so committed that nothing will keep them from doing their job.

Photo Credit: USPS Photo Credit: USPS

Pride.

I’m not talking about boastful pride or arrogance, but pride in your work. I’m talking about a pride that comes from knowing your work and the product of your efforts are a reflection of yourself and your character. This is a pride that is mainly focused inward and does not require others’ attention or recognition to be fulfilled. This kind of pride only comes about when one has…

Humility.

I believe that this level of devotion requires great humility to know that your task, even though it may not always seem vital or grandiose, is bigger than yourself. Being a part of a wide and grand vision lends importance to even the most menial of tasks, but you will never see the whole picture if you do not have the humility to look beyond yourself.

Perseverance.

That quote above starts with nothing but hardship and obstacles – snow, rain, heat, darkness. Perseverance is what makes us try that second time, that third time or however many times it takes to get through those obstacles.

These are three key ingredients to such an intense devotion to a job or task. But how often do we approach our own job like that? Would that wonderful, poetic compliment be appropriate to chisel above our own office door? Would our own work and work ethic be worthy of the words penned 2,500 years ago?

Far too often I have found that we measure our success at work in terms of money. In nearly every case, it is the exclusive reward we seek for our job. But read that quote again – there’s no mention of money or monetary reward. It doesn’t say “…from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, as long as they get overtime pay and hazard pay during the snow and heat.”

Joanely Carrero restocks shelves at a Target store where a week ago she became a full time employee after being hired initially as a seasonal worker on January 5, 2011 in Miami, Florida. According to the latest ADP National Employment Report private-sector employment increased by 297,000 from November to December on a seasonally adjusted basis.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Joanely Carrero restocks shelves at a Target store where a week ago she became a full time employee after being hired initially as a seasonal worker on January 5, 2011 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

There is no mention of money because the reward is already there. What is their reward? Being the best at what they do; getting the job done no matter what is in their way; recognition of their awesome dedication. These rewards are often far greater and more fulfilling than money could ever be, but how often do we seek them?

I think I can safely say we love the Olympics, right? Do you think those athletes train and train and bust their butt for years to make it to the Olympics for a few weeks in order to possibly get an endorsement deal and make a lot of money? No, of course not.

They train to be the best, to win, to take pride in their hard work and effort and to shine as a representative for their country. They stand on the peak of the podium, gold medallion resting on their chest as Old Glory is raised on high and the anthem of their country is played. So many times we see them mouth the words and tear up, emotions spilling over into salty droplets that run down their cheeks.

Do you suppose they’re thinking: “Yes, I will finally be on the Wheaties box, this is the best day of my life” as they struggle to maintain composure? Of course not, their pride in not only themselves, but hopefully the country they represent, swells within them. Their years of hard work and training have paid off in knowing that they accomplished something great.

They have pride in themselves and in their work. They have humility to understand they are part of something much bigger. They have perseverance through the countless hours of training and the myriad of setbacks that inevitably happen along the way.

Too often we have the order of things all wrong. So many of us simply work to the salary that we are paid. If the company wants more from me then they can pay me extra. If the company would promote me, maybe I would take care of that issue.

The US Halfpipe Skiing team (L-R) Aaron Blunck, Angeli Vanlaanen, Brita Sigourney, David Wise, Lyman Currier, Maddie Bowman, Annalisa Drew and Torin Yater-Wallace pose during a press conference in Tolstoy Hall at the Main Media Center in Sochi on February 7, 2014 ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE        ( JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images) The US Halfpipe Skiing team (L-R) Aaron Blunck, Angeli Vanlaanen, Brita Sigourney, David Wise, Lyman Currier, Maddie Bowman, Annalisa Drew and Torin Yater-Wallace pose during a press conference in Tolstoy Hall at the Main Media Center in Sochi on February 7, 2014 ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE

These types of attitudes tell me that we’ve got it all wrong.

The reward doesn’t come before the work. If you want that extra pay or that promotion, then work for it.

We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” Well, the very same thing should be applied to our work ethic as well. You might not get that raise or promotion, but you’ve done your best and you’ve honored yourself and your character in the process. Take pride in that! It is truly a worthy reward.

Too often we expect the reward before we look to the responsibility. We want freedom of speech but lack any self-regulation in our words. We want the government out of our lives but are unwilling to take their place to make them unnecessary. We want and demand our rights without even looking to the responsibilities that inherently come with them.

That famous quote doesn’t sound like this ancient courier service got a promotion or a pay upgrade and then decided to be absolutely dedicated and unstoppable. They did their best and history took note, engraving them in stone for millions to see well over 2,000 years after they had been written about.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The revitalization of the American work ethic is as simple as those 21 words above. This is the message that should be given on Labor Day:

Take pride in your work and in the reflection it has on yourself. Be humble enough to be a part of something so much bigger and greater than yourself. Persevere through the snow, the rain, the heat and the gloomy darkness. Understand that money is not the ultimate reward, and work for the job you want, not the one you have.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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