How You Do Anything

How You Do Anything

We’re moving later this month, and that has sort of put the pause button on home decorating, but when we’re into our new place, one thing I am itching to do is frame and prominently display some quotes that inspire me.  One that has stuck with me as 2013 has faded into 2014, is this:

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

I came across these words as the cornerstone of the editor’s letter in Real Simple magazine’s current issue on balance. The RS editor writes that sometimes, when we feel so overwhelmed that we’re not sure we can do anything well – like we just don’t even know where to start – we need only to choose ONE thing, and do it well

For her, one harried, hurried morning, that meant spending 15 minutes she really didn’t have (know the feeling?) making her son the exact home-cooked breakfast he wanted.  Schedule and to-do list be damned, that morning, for that 15 minutes, she focused on making her son an exceptional breakfast.  And you know what I think?  I think her son, and his mom, will probably remember that breakfast more than they’ll remember what was on the news that morning, or who forgot to put the trash out, or how many minutes they may have been late to school or work.  She made that egg dish as if, by it, her life’s work would be judged.

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

My husband is really, really good at this.  He is the type of person who will respond to each of the hundreds of emails that come through his inbox each day.  He’ll make time to call his mother on his drive home.  If he’s making us a meal, he often takes time to make me these perfect little bite-sized “snacks” of whatever he’s cooking, so I don’t get hungry while I wait.  He is extraordinarily generous and kind in the way he treats people, be it his employees, his neighbors, or a homeless man on the street. Aaron is someone who typically pushes just beyond what any given situation calls for.  He chooses to do ANYTHING the way he wants to do EVERYTHING.  I believe all those little “anythings” will add up to the big “Everything” that is the legacy of his life.

I have been meditating on why I have felt so compelled by these words.  To me they have felt like a call to action – consistent, character-molding action.  And I have questioned whether such a seemingly tall order can co-exist with my “Sometimes you just have to buy the cake” philosophy.  I’ve decided, it can. 

For me, this challenge isn’t about striving for perfection, or pouring 110% into all we do to the point of exhaustion.  It’s about being fair.  Fair to ourselves, fair to all of those around us, and even in our character.  I think there are several realms in which this challenge is particularly engaging:

One is in our public vs. private lives.  How many of us are guilty of talking, acting, ignoring, neglecting in private, in ways we would never dream of in public?  They say that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our character.  What a challenge it is, to behave as if others are watching, even if they’re not. 

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

Secondly, it makes me think about how unequally we treat the people in our lives.  For example, I might be bitterly rude to the barista who’s “making me late” for an appointment, then two minutes later be all smiles and easy breezy “life is good” as I float into that salon.  Or I might reserve all my patience for my baby, and none for my dog. 

This idea brings to mind a passage from the New Testament, which implies that, as Christians, our character is judged not by how we act in church, or on Facebook, or with the people we find easiest to be around, but with the most difficult, inconvenient, downtrodden, burdensome people in our lives:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:40

So if I’m rude to my barista, it’s basically like I’m being rude to God?  Yep, she’s His child.  He’s offended.  And Lord knows I could go on and on with examples…. You get it. 

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

So this year, I strive to be consistent with my character, with the effort I put into my words and my actions that mean something to others. 

Now, we don’t always have 15 minutes to spend cooking an egg.  And for that I have another quote I refer to often.  This one I want to put next to my bed, so it’s the last thing I read each night before I go to sleep:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Finally, never forget that no matter how you fill your days – by being a lawyer, or an egg chef for a 4-year-old, or a teacher or a CEO – the work you do matters and how you do anything is noticed by the people in your life. You have a chance, every day, to be GREAT at whatever it is you do.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” 

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