An homage to work ethic: “You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.”

We are all so impatient.

And, growing moreso. Advances in technology have exponentially expanded markets for both traditional goods and services as well as more personal exchanges like dating. We have far greater choice than any point in history, and our brains are still deeply incapable of the cognitive processing of so much choice for so many things. Biology is in the process of adapting itself to the new environment that our technology revolution has created. In the meantime, we have greater access to a greater number of options, which means that more things are more attainable at a more rapid pace than we can process choosing them. In other words, we are in a symbiotic relationship with instant gratification.

In a way, not having to work for something has made the pay-off of getting somewhere or creating something less valuable… it’s the law of diminishing returns. Basic economics. We seem to have lost much of our patience for hard work and delayed satisfaction. And yet, history shows that figures of true achievement tend to rely heavily on a superior work ethic. A clever piece called “How David Beats Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell summarized the power of hard work:

“David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life.”

And so, as both inspiration and reminder, below are some examples of  the determination and effort and patience that operating at a high level in life requires….

Jerry Seinfeld, comedian

For Seinfeld, whose worth Forbes estimated in 2010 to be $800 million, his touring regimen is a function not of financial necessity but rather of borderline monomania — a creative itch he can’t scratch. “I like money,” he says, “but it’s never been about the money.” Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”

When he can’t tinker, he grows anxious. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.

[New York Times]

Jiro Ono, sushi chef

“Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”


Brandon Stanton, street photographer

“For the first year and a half, I photographed every single day. The time I was most devoted to it was the time the least amount of people were paying attention. And that’s really what you’ve got to do to be an artist today. With so many people competing for attention — everybody has a digital camera, everybody has a Tumblr account — you’ve got to be willing to do a lion’s share of the work before anybody notices you. I didn’t leave New York. I photographed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, I was on a train at midnight on New Year’s Eve. That’s really what it takes, and a belief that it’s gong to be good. Even if your parents don’t like it, even if your friends don’t believe in it, you’ve got to believe it’s beautiful. And you got to do it over and over and over again before anybody’s going to care.

[New York Magazine]