Seven Most Important Lessons my Heroes Taught Me
Lesson #5: Whatever it is you do, do it the best you can.
It is better to do one thing right than 10 things half-baked. Always give it your best shot, no matter how big or small the task.
Theodore Roosevelt was all about doing things and doing them as well as possible. He loved nature, so, as president, he enacted legislation to protect and preserve 230 million acres of land—one-fifth of America.
Some argue with his policies – he was bit of a hawk – but by demonstrating that one’s character is as important as one’s accomplishments, he changed the way people in America thought of their leaders. He put good character back in the White House at a time when American presidents were not known for having a lot of integrity.
In his “Man in the Arena” speech, Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts … The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. The credit belongs to the one who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
In 1962, Rachel Carson reluctantly published a book she’d been thoroughly researching and carefully writing for years -- Silent Spring. It was a book that spoke courageously about the irresponsible use of poisonous chemicals.
She knew that powerful chemical companies were going to come after her, so she made sure her research and her conclusions were scientifically sound and verifiable.
In the end, those who tried to argue with her book couldn’t find a leg to stand on. They couldn’t attack the facts, so they attacked the author. Chemical companies labeled her an alarmist, but her book awakened millions of people to the importance of caring for the planet.
Carson’s courage, selfless spirit, and sense of wonder inspired the modern environmental movement. The Environmental Protection Agency was largely created because of Silent Spring. In 1980, 16 years after she died, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, was awarded in her memory.
Rachel Carson was a meticulous, thorough, disciplined author and scientist. When she wrote her books, when she delivered speeches, when she gave interviews, she was always a complete professional.
Walt Disney was told by critics that people would never sit through an animated film more than a few minutes long. “It’ll make you cross-eyed,” they said. “You’d be crazy to try and get people to watch a cartoon full-length movie!”
But Disney understood the story is what makes a movie compelling. Any story could theoretically be told with motion drawings as well as with motion photographs. So Walt Disney invested an inordinate amount of money and time creating the first full-length feature animated film. Critics nicknamed it “Disney’s Folly.” It was way over budget and took much longer than he expected. But Walt and his team of animators took their time to do it right. And in 1937, Snow White was released to the silver screen and grossed $8 million, becoming the highest grossing film ever.
Then there was that other crazy idea of Walt’s.
There were kid’s playgrounds everywhere. “So, why not make a playground that would appeal to grownups, too?” he asked. He and his crew of hundreds worked around the clock to get everything just right for Opening Day. But the whole thing got off to a nightmare start. There’d been cost overruns, a strike, and on opening day, it was so hot, women’s high heeled shoes stuck in the newly paved roads. And none of the drinking fountains worked!
In time, of course, everything was done right, and “Walt’s Folly” as this was known, became and remains, the benchmark for all the planet’s playgrounds.
Disneyland is great because, Walt went to great lengths to build it the best he could.
Walt Disney, always had to do things in the best way he thought possible, no matter how much it cost, which often drove his partner and brother, Roy, a little crazy. But in the end, his obsession with working to the highest standards paid off. Walt Disney received more awards and nominations than any other individual in history. He and his staff were recognized with more than 950 honors, including 48 Academy Awards®.
Whatever it is you do, do it the best you can.