Words to Live By

Posted on August 28, 2014 by Bruce Campbell.

When I was growing up, my Dad had two favorite sayings that he’d frequently use whenever we were working on something together. I loved helping my Dad (who was very handy at making, building, and fixing things) work on projects in and around the house, in the yard, or in the driveway (working on the older cars my family always drove). In the process, I gained a lot of specific knowledge and skills about car maintenance and repair, carpentry, painting, plumbing, electrical wiring, and even roofing that have served me well over the years. I also gained the confidence to tackle and successfully complete quite a few major home renovation projects that I wouldn’t otherwise have even attempted. But there were general principles captured in his favorite sayings that I now realize fundamentally shaped who I am, and that affect what I do on a daily basis in virtually every aspect of my life. His sayings truly became words that I live by.

The first saying, used most often while doing carpentry, was “Measure twice, cut once.” I find myself mentally repeating these words whenever I am about to cut a board, a sheet of drywall, a piece of pipe or most anything else for that matter. And on more than one occasion following that advice has saved me from making a mistake I would really have regretted. I realize, however, that I apply the principle to more than just cutting things. I have generalized that saying into an ingrained habit of being careful about everything I do. It is why I carefully proof every email before I send it – why I triple-check my math before submitting my tax returns – why I carefully check my facts and information before making any important decision.

The second, more general (and much more profound I think) saying was “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I have generalized this saying into a life-long habit of doing the best I can at everything I do. It is why I persevere at difficult tasks until they are successfully completed. It is why I care deeply about the quality of everything I do or produce, whether at work, at home, or in any other aspect of my personal life.

I am particularly likely to remember and repeat these words to myself when:

  • performing tasks I don’t particularly enjoy (like washing the kitchen floor)
  • I am tired and running out of steam (like when shoveling deep snow after a long day at work)
  • I hit some sort of real obstacle and feel like giving up (like when trying to remove a nut that is rusted, rounded off, and just won’t budge)

I have a son of my own now. He’s a senior in college. Growing up, he didn’t show nearly the interest in working with me as I did in working with my Dad. I wish I’d had more opportunity to pass along  my knowledge and skills about making, building, and fixing things. But I have tried over the years to instill in him the wisdom of my father’s words, and I think I can see them at work in the things he does and how he conducts himself. I hope that I am right.

  • Measure twice, cut once
  • If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right

Are these words that you also live by? Are there other words of wisdom that you live by? If so, who did you learn them from?


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