Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #79
This is the second of an eight-talk series on how to find self-realization and fulfillment through our work and career. Three of the talks are missing, so I have only five to offer. This one is about personal excellence. A phrase Eric repeats several times was learned from his mother, May Butterworth, also a Unity minister. The phrase is “Good, better, best. I will never let it rest until my good is better and my better is best.” It’s a great affirmation and this is a great motivating talk about how to achieve your best.
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Before we commence today as a kind of a whimsical prologue, I’d like to tell you of an experience that I had yesterday by way of a confession. As some of you know, I play golf. I was on the course yesterday and I wasn’t having one of my best days. I mentioned to one of my partners, “I don’t think I’m concentrating today.” He said, “That’s understandable. You’re probably thinking about your talk for tomorrow. By the way, what’s the title?” Rather embarrassed I said, “The quest for personal excellence.” Physician heal thyself.
This is the second of a series of eight lectures, which are entitled the Great Intrapreneurial Revolution. Many of you know the word entrepreneur, we hear it a lot these days describing a person who’s going into business for himself, investing his time, his talents, and his money and his energy. He’s taking charge of his own life financially.
We’re using the word intrapreneur sort of taking off of that word. Think of something that goes on in yourself, of changing your attitudes about your work, about yourself, changing your work without changing your job. So often a person who’s very upset about the work he’s in, about his job, about the compensation or about the work environment or the workers that you worked with, it’s very important that you don’t have to run away. You don’t have to go off somewhere to try to find something better. It’s possible to change your work without changing your job.
Using the term revolution sounds rather ominous, referring to what I call a worldwide depression of worker attitudes. We’re going to look at this to deal with it in a personal sense. We’re calling for a process of radical change in people’s attitudes toward their work and for a great reconstruction of economic factors leading to world prosperity. That’s a big order, but if I let the revolution begin with me, I become an influence for change. But the important thing is, it’s also the key to my own prosperity and success.
We noted last week how the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and early 19th century seemed to lead to a kind of dehumanization of the worker, by the transition from the individualized life and work of the farmer to the assembly line work where the workers made few decisions and rarely experienced the consequences of those that he does make.
I pointed out that the alarming low level of worker attitudes could well be attributed to three things. First, the dehumanization of the factory assembly line, which we just mentioned.
Second, the changing values of society, where the good job has come to mean the high salary and career success is judged so often by the bottom line of net worth rather than personal growth and the degree of self-worth.
Thirdly, the materialistic and gadget conscious culture which requires more and more money to provide an expanding list of essentials and the job is the place to earn it. This may lead to moonlighting where the person holds down two or more jobs, laboriously working long hours to keep up with what is usually called the good life and may lead to job hopping where the person would often leave a job he likes to take a better paying job that he does not like.
This confusion of attitudes about work and supply will lead to all sorts of employment and financial problems and sadly, to many physical ills in ourself.
One of the great desires of the human heart is for security. We want to be safe, to be provided for, to be sure. So we invest our money, create safeguards of insurance and so forth, which is all good. But the question is, how far can we go on the road to security without throttling our life, discouraging initiative, inhibiting individuality?
We tend to build around our lives a series of checks and balances which provide security at the expense of initiative, the soft job with the best fringe benefits at the expense of creativity and the challenge of a work that sharpens our skills and fulfills our potential. As we said last week, we work too often in a sense that work is something we have to do to earn the money to enable us to enjoy the good life.
So education and job training, the things that one does to prepare himself to get the job, but not necessarily to grow in it. Sadly, it could be said that all too often, the peak of the person’s education, training, skills, and even motivation is reached shortly after being ensconced in the job.
It’s probably true for most persons that we never get any better through the years of work. You only earn more seniority. It’s never really considered that working so many years in a job one should improve his skills, his performance. He’s doing his job. He’s doing the work he’s supposed to do. And the smug feeling that a person has completed his education, he settles into the work, which he soon admits he could do with his eyes closed.
Even if he persists for a period in the belief that he can be an innovator, more often than not he encounters a choking underbrush of company, customer, and precedent. And someone with seniority takes him aside and advises, “You have to understand how we do things around here. We do them that way because we’ve always done them that way.”
If a person was not brought up in a home and family of high ideals and spiritual values, along with the old fashioned work ethic, even more with the worth ethic, as we suggested last week, he falls easy prey to the cult of mediocrity where the credo all too often is, “Look out for number one. Don’t stick your neck out. Do your work, but be sure you do no more. It’s good enough. All that counts is that you get by.”
In this series of lectures, which are probably more workshops than anything else, we’re calling for an intrapreneurial revolution. I’m not preaching out there for changes that should be made by others. We’re talking about things that must begin with ourselves, analyzing our work attitudes and our self-image to become a part of a new consciousness. And beginning with you, with your commitment, may spread through your office or shop on out into the world.
Again, it’s idealistic. But more than is generally recognized, the economic balance of the marketplaces across the planet Earth is at stake. And of course, as we say, most important, your own prosperity and success is at stake, too.
The sad thing is that many persons live out their lives in a self-constructed prison. William Blake uses the phrase mind-forged manacles. The average person develops a strong incapacity for growth and change. This is the result of the widely held, but erroneous belief, that life is lived from the outside, outside in. It’s all a matter of what comes to you. It doesn’t happen to me, so what can I do about it?
Sadly, few persons discover their own inner depths and come to realize that life is for growth, for releasing their own inner splendor. If the person does not work and improve in his work, both as a worker, as an artisan, as a positive thinker, as a spiritually developed person, he’s missing the main purpose of work itself.
We’re using the oft-heard term, the pursuit of excellence. Assuming the worker may think that this is simply a ruse by his employers to motivate him to greater productivity and it could be so. But it has a far greater meaning for you personally. Actually, it’s the key to your health, your prosperity, your fulfillment in life. You always owe it to yourself to rise to the highest degree of excellence of which you’re capable. Your emotional and spiritual well-being depend on it.
I grew up influenced by the doggerel, “Good, better, best. I will never let it rest until my good is better and my better is best.” My mother always challenged us with the thought, “If the thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” That’s been an influence in my life. No matter what it is that you do, if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing to the best of your ability. Not because of what other people would say, not because of the compensation you’ll get from it, but because of the growth and unfoldment that comes to you in doing it that way.
I’ve gone into offices and shops, and you probably have to, where you get a sense that the employees are physically present, completing all the tasks that are required of them, but some of them are not really there at all, not totally. They bring only a small part of themselves and operate on automatic pilot. Their spirit, their energy, their creative capacities, their regular ability remains hidden or in reserve. The sad thing is that this low energy performance is so habitual that it is accepted as normal.
So if the person is reprimanded or even dismissed from his job, he may think he’s unjustly treated. He may say, “I don’t understand. I do all that’s expected of me.” But the intrapreneur would ask himself, “Did I expect enough of myself?”
A recent survey of workers taken with a promise of confidentiality, found a consistent and almost universal pattern of underachievement. Only one in four reported that they worked up to their capacity. Nearly half said they did not put any effort into their jobs beyond the minimum required.
Of course, this deals with what economists call productivity. It’s usually dealt with in relationship to inefficiency of production methods. I think that the thing that we have to face up to and more and more people in ministry are beginning to face up to it, that productivity refers basically to standards by which the workers motivate themselves. Collectively, this becomes the efficiency of a corporation. It is right here where the intrapreneurial revolution should have its start.
I’m not saying that workers withhold their efforts consciously. In most cases, it is a long conditioning by beliefs, expectations, and assumptions about the way things should be done, that shield a person’s ability to see things as they really are.
Here’s a simple illustration. A man was watching an elephant tied to a pole with a tiny piece of rope. He asked the obvious question, “How can that little rope hold that powerful elephant? Why doesn’t he break away?” Have you ever wondered about that? The trainer said, “When the elephant was young, we put it on a huge rope. He tried to get away and learned that he couldn’t. As he got larger, we used smaller and smaller ropes. Now the elephant just looks down and sees the rope is there and never pulls on it.” Pavlov called this conditioned reflex.
It’s a very important aspect of the lives of many of us because we’re much like that elephant. We attempt some innovation at work. Perhaps it’s a threat to other workers, or it’s resisted by the inertia forces of the establishment. Like the growing elephant, we say who ourselves, “I can’t do that. I know I can’t. I’ve never been able to do it before. I’ve tried.” In time, we never make the effort at all.
The elephant is trapped by his belief that the tiny rope will stop him from getting what he wants. The belief is a relic of an earlier experience and it’s no longer true. So often, we trap and limit ourselves by hanging on to old beliefs rather than testing them and perhaps changing them. We become chained in a self-imposed prison of mediocrity. We justify it usually by saying, “Well, that’s just the way it is around here. You can’t do this. There’s no way.” You just accept it.
In a book entitled Psychology and the Promethean Will, Dr. William Sheldon’s says, and I quote, “Somewhere in the deeper strata of human awareness, a voice persists which continually whispers, “No, this is not good enough. There is somewhere something better.” At moments, there comes to every human being a sense of the better possibility. In some, it is a passing momentary and quite unimportant mood. In some, it never breaks through to full consciousness at all. But in a few minds, it becomes a dominant mood, a splendid urge. It is the voice of Prometheus.”
As most of you know, Prometheus was a Titan, fabled to have made people out of clay and looking on his handiwork with compassion, he longed to give them something that would bring them nearer to the immortal gods. So he gave them fire stolen from Mount Olympus, the fire of creativity, love, and light and wisdom.
The word Promethean has the connotation of creative, vivifying, boldly original. And the Promethean voice is the inner spark and spirit by which everyone can transcend his human frailties and achieve even greater heights of creativity. It is the voice of the universe that forever cries, as Kipling puts it, “Something hidden, go and find it. Go and look behind the ranges. Something lost behind the ranges, lost and waiting for you, go.”
An important discovery of human growth is that we always have a choice. You can decide whether to listen to the Promethean voice, the urge toward excellence, which is always at the heart of you or whether you listen to the voice of tradition, of human consciousness, and settle into the rut of mediocrity.
William James used to say that, “Even the mature mind may not have developed the functional possibilities of the mind.” Perhaps the problem is in the word maturity. We have accepted arbitrary standards, such as the peak of physical growth, the legal age of maturity, the academic achievement of graduation, or the completion of the job training program. So we’re finished, it’s all over.
We started out on the growth crest as a child with enthusiasm and curiosity, eager to learn, to be accepted as mature. And for some reason, at a certain period of our growth, growth levels off. We begin to coast. We become creatures of habit. We join churches and political parties, as Emerson says, “To save us from the vexation of thinking.”
The difference in the lives of people in the fourth, fifth, and sixth decades of life is not one of metabolism or heart action or cell function. It’s a matter of the gradual deadening of responses to the Promethean voice that calls us to grow onward instead of just growing old.
No one ever really understands himself till he realizes that he contains within himself the wherewithal to surpass himself. Think about that.
You always contain within yourself the wherewithal to surpass yourself. It would never be given to any one of us to reach that which cannot be surpassed. Very important thing. There’s nothing that can come to you this day, any day, that you cannot surpass that which you reached today.
The Bible, which is both historical and personally symbolic, depicts the process of maturity carried over into a spiritual frame of reference as exemplified in the person of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed the good news, that man is a divine creature, created in the wholeness of life with built-in possibilities of fullness of God within him, which he called the kingdom of God within. He refers, in effect, to the upward pull of the creative process when he says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is the Promethean voice.
Last week, we mentioned that a person’s job is often dull and boring, something that he has to do. So the person gets the feeling that his work actually prevents him from achieving his personal goals. He could do so many things in life if he didn’t have to go to work. In other words his work is an adversary that he must overcome. There’s a tremendous loss if he holds this consciousness and many of your hooks do because he feels that he’s being picked on if he’s expected to work exceptionally hard.
This is an attitude that needs to be changed. Your work, no matter what it is, is your opportunity to grow. Even if it’s challenging, even if it’s painful, even if it’s work that you don’t like, it’s where you are now. It’s your opportunity to grow. When you put your whole self, spirit, soul, and body into the work, you lay hold of universal powers by which you will tend to move from mediocrity to excellence. It’s true you can outgrow your work, and out form in your life new things and new experiences and be attracted to greater opportunities elsewhere. But for now, right where you are is the place you need to be. And you’re not fulfilling the purpose of that place that you are right now, unless you’re giving your all to it and doing everything you can to grow in it.
Anne Roe, in her study of so-called gifted scientists found that one of the most striking traits of these people was their willingness to work hard and for long hours without thought of compensation. The energy that they bring to their work is not only intense but is sustained.
Most of the great creative performances grew out of years of arduous application. If you have a look at people who are at a certain pinnacle of success, we say to ourselves, “I wish I could be like that. I wish I could be there. I wish I could do what he’s done.” We tend to overlook the hours and hours and hours and days and days of hard, arduous work, self-discipline, overcoming, to get to that point.
A favorite story of mine is about the great Polish pianist Paderewski. After a command performance, before some of the crown heads of Europe, a princess said to him, “Ah, maestro, you’re a genius.” To this, Paderewski replied, “Oh yes, Madam, before I was a genius, I was a clod.”
That’s invariably true no matter who it is that you’re looking at. The pursuit of excellence is on the path of hard work, which becomes easy and fulfilling when it’s engaged in the right spirit. But there’s no way of bypassing that hard work.
One of the most amazing statements of the entire Bible is Jesus’ emphatic declaration, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Perfect. What on earth could Jesus have meant? Striving for excellence is one thing, but perfection?
Was Jesus challenging weak, confused, limited people with an unreachable goal? Certainly this would be cruel and unkind, tantalizing people with laying frustration on them, a challenge to make people work hard and die in the attempt to scale some unattainable moral and spiritual Mount Everest. When Jesus says, “Be perfect,” the words from the old English actually mean you must be perfect. You are perfect. That’s what you really are intended to be. It is proof positive of the ultimate perfectibility of man. When Jesus achieved his own overcoming, he was simply demonstrating that which all persons must ultimately prove for themselves.
We’d like to turn away from that. We say, “That doesn’t refer to me because I don’t have the right background, the right opportunities, the right education, enough money,” and so forth and so forth. We must look at ourselves honestly. One of the secrets of the quest for excellence is to be in constant competition with yourself.
Many years ago, I went to work in Silent Unity. It was a lot of years ago. I started out working in the Silent Unity files. This was before computers. Everything was done in a very basic rudimentary way. We had card files on all the persons who wrote to Silent Unity for prayer help. So the very first activity of Silent Unity was a letter came in, and the person who was given the letter simply read the name and looked up the file in the card files.
Some of you remember times before computers when this was common in many industries, many offices and organizations because their whole work was letters from people. You can imagine the card files were voluminous.
At that time, I remember there was some two and a half million cards in the file. There was a whole room and you had to move around almost on roller skates to go from one place to another to pick out the cards. It was dull and tedious work. Few people stayed very long because all you did all day was look at a name, fill out a card and attach it. And at the end of the day, you’d go back and refile all the cards that they’d used from previous time after the letter was answered.
One day as I was going to work, exhausted before I even went there, just thinking about what I had to do, and the thought popped in my mind. Where it came from, I don’t know, but it was a revealing and health producing thought. “I am a very important link in the chain.” On the top of each card they had printed, “God is your help in every need.”
I thought, “I’m the first and important link in the chain in bringing people’s help to our help in Silent Unity.” I’d take the card with the person’s name, attach the letter to it, “God is your help in every need.” So I was giving them the first step and it was very helpful. That little thing made a change in my work. I began to feel a sense of joy in finding the cards and clipping them to letters. I made a game with myself. It’s always been sort of a tendency of mine anyway, but it was a challenge to see how many of these cards I could attach to letters in the daytime.
They had a practice of keeping a number, a total of the number of letters that you’d handled that day. I’m sure it was purely a matter of record keeping, but I made it as a personal challenge in self-competitiveness. Everyday, I tried to exceed the number I did the previous day. First day, maybe 120 letters, then 300 letters, then 500 letters, then 1000 letters. Every day, I tried to exceed the previous day. It made the work exciting. I could hardly wait to get to work in the morning. I could hardly wait till the end of the week to see what my number was of production that week.
This carried over when I eventually became a Silent Unity letter writer, where you’d have the letters and actually write the person letters to the people. They also kept the number of the letters that you did. I had this constant self-competition of trying to improve and get more and more letters done. They had also had a way of balancing it so you’d take off a certain number of points if you had made mistakes on the letters.
It was an exciting thing. I’ve never forgotten that because I could see it as a means of making a very dull job interesting by getting some excitement and interest in what you do by competing with yourself. This is not to be confused with feeling a sense of competition with other people. As the Easterners say, “The goal should not be being superior to others, but to be superior to your former self.” That’s a very important key.
So I say, “Never sit down to a day’s work without challenging yourself for a way to do it better. The job may be routine like sorting mail or inserting bolts. You may not be able to do anything different in the task, but you can do it with new enthusiasm and love and conviction. If you have no great conviction about what you’re doing, then you’d better find something you can have great conviction about. The job can’t do it for you. It’s what you do for the job.”
Maslow coined the term self-actualizing referring to special people who are passionate, successful, and creative in whatever form of work they did. He said, “The only happy people I know are people who are working well at something they consider important.” There’s one single reason why 99 men and women out of a hundred never become leaders in business, never excel in anything, always seem content to settle into the habitual uninspired performance of a job, one reason, they’re unwilling to accept responsibility. They have what I call soft shoulders.
They may say, “Why should I do it? It’s not my job. I’m not paid for it.” This person may pray for prosperity, even for a better job, which you may confide to another person, “This is a soft job,” maybe unconsciously looking for a miracle, but the only a miracle can save me syndrome is extremely limiting. As I say so often, God doesn’t deal in miracles. You’re a spiritual being normally frustrating your inner power. So when you release that power, it’s not a miracle. It’s the fulfilling of the law of your being. If the ancient Israelites had said, “Only a miracle can get us into the Promised Land,” they might still be out there in the desert waiting for the magic out working.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “Man must sit in the chair with mouth open for a long time for roast duck to fly in.” I’m sure you can see that many workers sit in the chair for a long time hoping for a good job to fly in.
Interesting thing is that every person has those admittedly rare occasions when he works at the height of his creativity, when he seems strangely motivated to pitch in and do what needs to be done, when he feels a limitless surging of energy and amazing flow of new ideas. At such times you may surprise yourself with your inspired level of performance. Sometimes we do that. We’re volunteering our services in some great crisis, such as an earthquake or a flood or during wartime, and we feel the commitment to giving ourselves. We surprise ourself with the tremendous productivity we can achieve. And we say, “But that’s just one of those things.” Recalling these times, realizing that what you have done you can do, this can enhance the chances of them happening again.
We can never realize the great dream of fulfillment that we have of ourselves in life unless we let that time happen again and again and again, until it becomes a way of life. Instead of seeing yourself as a mediocre worker with a very average resume, hold up before you the image of success and inspired creative performance, then actively pursue a program to cultivate the skills, the attitudes and responses that will keep you on a course leading to continued inspiration and achievement. You can keep the flame of excitement alive, but you’ll have to work at it.
Important thing, never become discouraged by setbacks or obstacles or difficult times. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that a good, true student should never have a defeat. So we have some setback. We feel awful. It’s terrible. This is erroneous that we should never have a defeat. Even Jesus had defeats. The important thing is never to be defeated. I’m not talking about something that happens. We’re talking about your attitudes toward it. What happens may be a defeat, but you can’t be defeated unless you let it happen inside you.
Too often, we pray, particularly pray, “Let this cup pass from me. This is too much. Take it away.” We pray for the smooth road, the easy job. It’s important to recall that Jesus who said, “Let this cup pass from me,” came to his senses and modified his prayer. He said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”
Now God’s will is not that you have hardships, but that you fulfill your uniqueness in spite of them or within them. The hard road is often the way of greatest growth.
Phillips Brooks once said, and this gives us a new insight into prayer, “Pray not for tasks equal to your powers, but pray for powers equal to your tasks. Pray not for easier lives, but pray to be a stronger person.” In other words, we need to see every difficulty as an opportunity to demonstrate growth and lead us on to greater success. And we only undertake that which we feel perfectly competent to handle, I mean accomplish but indifferently or poorly. If we really took this seriously, we’d be looking for opportunities to expand our potential, to challenge ourselves, to do things we’ve never been able to do before, keep working at them until it becomes easy.
You may say, and you have a perfect right to because it’s your own life and your own consciousness, you may say, “But I’m only human, what can you expect?” It’s only human syndrome is born of a self-image of mediocrity. You’re not only human. You are human, but the human of you is a shell that covers the divine of you. There’s always a greater potential within you through the Christ of your innermost being. When a person is determined to meet the challenges of life and rise from mediocrity to excellence, nothing can stop him.
Look into the lives of all the world’s truly great. You’ll find some kind of challenge or handicap that spurred them on in an almost insatiable quest for excellence. Cripple the person, you have an FDR. Put him in prison and you have a John Bunyan. Have him born in abject poverty, and you have an Abraham Lincoln. Stab him with rheumatic pains and you have a Charles Steinmetz. Put him in the grease pit of a locomotive roundhouse, and you have a Walter P. Chrysler. Make him second fiddle in an obscure South American orchestra and you have an Arturo Toscanini.
But the important thing is that right where you are all your handicaps and past failures and job resume notwithstanding, you could turn your life around and set new high standards for yourself. Reach for more and keep on reaching. As the poet says, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or else what’s a heaven for?” But to keep reaching.
Someone else said, “Reach for the moon. If you miss, you might hit a good sized star.”
You’ll be an influence in your office or shop if you set new high standards for yourself, what Thornton Wilder refers to as, “The incredible standard of excellence.” You’ll set off a new drive for excellence with those around you. You’ll dramatically affect the efficiency and the productivity and prosperity of the company you work for. At the same time, you’ll be setting the stage for your own experience and personal growth and the attendant manifestation of prosperity and success.
Let’s be still for a moment. What we’ve dealt with this morning, if we’ve been self-honest may actually have been a little disturbing, perhaps even painful. It’s so important that as we look at ourselves, we look beyond the limitations, the hesitancy, the backwardness, and see the greatness that is in us. Each of us is a perfect child of God. Perfect in the sense that we’re perfectible. There’s something more in us, more than we’ve achieved, more than we’ve ever done. More than we’ve ever known. If you could just sense the need to a greater sense of the quest for excellence and make a commitment today to go forward.
As the Greek philosopher said, “Never cease working on thine own statue.” Take at least a part of that doggerel. “I will never let it rest till my good is better and my better is best.” I won’t have you say this aloud, but whisper this to yourself. “I’ll never let it rest until my good is better and my better is best.”
Go forth today with that commitment, challenge yourself, your attitudes about your work. Make a commitment to be an instrument for growth, for change, in your office or plant or place of work. You’ll set into operation in that place a new consciousness. You’ll be a part of its initiation and rejoice in its fulfillment. Work at it honestly and you’ll see tremendous changes take place in the work around you.
If by any chance it doesn’t work in that way and never question it. Things will happen. You’ll find new opportunities open up for you in other places. You can continue in the consciousness of, “I’ll never let it rest until my good is better and my better is best.”
I’m going to bless each one of you. Bless your hands, bless your mind. I see you going off to work, whatever it may be, whether you’re working for yourself or working for other persons, or even looking for a job. As we said last week, if you’re looking for a job, you have a job. It’s the job of finding work. Work at it in the same consciousness, the same enthusiasm, the same commitment.
This will be a wonderful work week for you. You’ll find that as you start your work each day, you get that sense of, “Aha, there’s a new way I can do this.” There’s a new attitude, a new consciousness, a new spirit, a new enthusiasm, a new commitment.
The job will be more exciting. The work would become more productive. You become a more important cog, even if you think you’re just a cog in a big engine, you become a more important cog and important things will happen to you. Greater responsibilities will be given to you. You’ll accept them in the sense that this is your way of growth. The most important thing, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Amen.