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PAPERWORK: Warning: Be prepared to feel guilty

Lonny Cain
Lonny Cain


Now the guilt-nag is plugging in.

You know how when someone says something you don’t want to hear … but you know they are right?

Or it’s something you read. Like I just did.

Damn. This guy Ryan Holiday now has me thinking about the faceplate in our bathroom.

It’s a perfect example of what he preaches in an article I found online at

This might seem trivial. But that’s the whole point.

I recently repaired the light switch in the bathroom (major accomplishment).

When I inserted the three switches and outlet, one of six screws was not lined up perfectly and is not in all the way.

The tiny screw sticks out a fraction of an inch. Probably not noticeable to anyone.

But me. Yes, it bothered me. But not enough for me to take the faceplate off and start over.

Then along comes Holiday, author of "Ego is the Enemy" and "The Obstacle Is The Way."

He is slapping me upside the head. With one simple sentence:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Damn. I don’t have to read the rest of his article to know what he means.

And that he’s right.

But, you know what? Misery loves company. So I’m going to share as he pounds more righteous nails into my work ethic.

“We are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now,” he says. “Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life.

“Or we think, this is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.”

He tells a couple stories about famous men.

President Andrew Jackson was a tailor before politics. When campaigning someone suggested his working background was embarrassing.

His reply: “That does not disconcert me in the least; for when I used to be a tailor I had the reputation of being a good one, and making close fits, always punctual with my customers, and always did good work.”

President James Garfield worked as a janitor in exchange for tuition at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. He ended up also teaching there and by 26 he was the dean.

“These men went from humble poverty to power by always doing what they were asked to do  —  and doing it right and with real pride,” writes Holiday.

“And doing it better than anyone else. In fact, doing it well because no one else wanted to do it. …

“Everything we do matters  —  whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar  —  even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best.”

Yeah. Like putting on a faceplate.

Holiday tells another story about Steve Jobs, who insisted the inside of his products also be beautifully designed. He was taught by his father ,who also finished the backs of the cabinets he made.

“An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority,” said Holiday.

“Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.”

Good advice for how you live your life, he notes.

“To whatever we face, our job is to respond with: hard work, honesty, helping others as best we can. …

“We should never have to ask ourselves, but what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.

“Whether anyone notices, whether we’re paid for it, whether the project turns out successfully  —  it doesn’t matter. We can and always should act with those three traits  —  no matter the obstacle.”

Then he shares some wisdom from psychologist Victor Frankl, who survived three concentration camps.

Don’t be asking others, “What is the meaning of life?”

Instead, be aware the world is asking you that question.

“In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well,” says Holiday.

“Right action  —  unselfish, dedicated, masterful, creative  —  that is the answer to that question. That’s one way to find the meaning of life. And how to turn every obstacle into an opportunity.”

Well. Enough said, I guess.

I don’t expect to uncover any more secrets to a meaningful life if I fix that screw on the faceplate.

Or, I should say, when I fix that screw. Because I expect I will.

I confess it has bugged me even before I read Holiday’s lecture.

But it was a tiny guilt nudge prompted only when I saw the faceplate.

Now it’s a wall poster with audio, speaking to me.

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”


  • LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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