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Working out: The virtue of industriousness

“We work to become, not to acquire.” -Elbert HubbardBill Porter was born with cerebral palsy, in a world that is forever underestimating the power of the human spirit. Fortunately, his parents did not. They valued their son’s dignity, as well as the dignity of work. So when the time came for him to get a job Porter got busy looking. He never considered going on disability a viable option, although he certainly met the medical requirements. He had great difficulty walking, struggled with chronic pain, and spoke with a speech impediment. His greatest obstacle, though, was not his physical health, but the perceptions of would-be employers.So after years of hearing the message that he was unemployable, he naturally chose to be a door-to-door salesman. I kid you not. The Watkins Company in Portland, Oregon gave him a chance, and that’s all he needed. For forty years Porter walked seven to ten miles a day, five days a week, knocking on doors, cold-calling potential customers, selling a variety of home care products…for forty years. That in itself is worthy of celebration; the fact that he became the company’s top salesman is icing on the cake.Bill Porter will tell you on his website that at almost 80 years-old now he is no longer able to walk his route, but is still working and growing his business thanks to the internet. There’s this strange confusion that exists for many about work; that it is a curse, a burden we must all bear until we finally reach retirement and can afford to stop working. But the virtue of industriousness redefines (or better, reclaims) what work really is. Industriousness says that work is about starting and finishing tasks with diligence.With diligence? At first this sounds a bit compulsive, but consider what diligence means; “to love, to appreciate, to choose after careful consideration and attention.” Love through your work, appreciate through your work, and carefully consider and attend through your work. The virtue of industriousness is about working to become, not just to acquire. And the virtue of industriousness insures that our work, in our professional lives and in our personal lives, will give us a sense of dignity and true self-worth.Bill Porter did not have to “work,” in the narrowest sense of the word. He could have sat at home and collected disability checks. He had several built-in excuses. But he understood that he needed to work, not to survive but to thrive. So do we all. Work is the arena where all virtues can be developed, where we can change, and where we can change the world.If you’re seeing work as a 40 hour a week grind, and part of a 40 year prison sentence, consider the industrious life of Bill Porter. And then truly get to work!  -Ross Porter. Ph.D.Questions for reflection: What does “work” mean to you? Who models the virtue of industriousness for you? How? What is one thing you can begin doing to practice the virtue of industriousness?

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