Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Same thing every day
Today’s story is modern, but it’s also 84 years old.
It starts in Brazil in 1938, middle of the Great Depression. Our hero was just 14 years old at the time. His mother told him to find a job and help support his family.
So, he got one: shipping assistant at a company called Industrias Renaux S.A. in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. He was happy to have the position—happy enough to stick around, in fact.
Through World War II, he stuck around. (He was promoted to a sales role.)
Through the Cold War, he stuck around. (He became a sales manager.)
Through political upheaval and social change, he stuck around. (He traveled farther and sold more than he ever might have imagined.)
Through the Space Age and the dawn of the Internet, he stuck around.
Believe it or not, he's still there. Last month, the Guinness Book of World Records announced that Walter Orthmann, age 100, had set a new record for the longest tenure at a single business.
The record he broke? It was his own, certified a few years back.
(Apparently if you keep going once you have a record like this, you can re-certify every now and again to add to your streak. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I don’t make the rules.)
Regardless, I think the reason so many people noticed this story is that it’s basically the opposite of the trend we see now, in the midst of what we call the Great Resignation. About 4.5 million Americans left their work in March, the most recent data available. I know Orthmann isn’t American, but it still stands out.
So, what makes one person stay with the same company so long? According to Orthmann, it came down to three simple things:
First, he says he taught himself to be happy in the moment, and embraced the routine. "I don't do much planning, nor care much about tomorrow," he told Guinness. "All I care about is that tomorrow will be another day."
Second, he found purpose in the job. Remember, this is something he discovered almost randomly at age 14; it wasn't as if he searched for his passion and then made it his job. Instead, he found the job and then learned to attach meaning to it.
Finally, a bit paradoxically, he embraced the notion of commitment itself. I think he just liked the idea of keeping the streak going. As he put it: "When we do what we like, we don't see the time go by."
I know this is just a single story; a single data point in a universe of billions. (I’m aware some readers might have seen parts of Orthmann’s record elsewhere, but I wanted to share it before more time went by.)
It also might contradict to some degree—or at least offer an alternative position to—the study I wrote about here recently, suggesting that passion is the most important mental attribute for top performers (above grit and mindset, at least in one narrow context).
I don’t know that I can point to a single grandiose takeaway. It might just be more that the exception proves the rule, and that some of us enjoy learning about longevity and consistency for their own sake.
As it happens, we have another consistency story in the news: the saga of the man who broke the record for most Big Mac hamburgers eaten in a lifetime.
Donald Gorske, 68, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin who was feted recently for reaching the milestone of having eaten at least one McDonald’s Big Mac nearly every single day for 50 years.
This one, I can’t begin to account for. He missed one day due to a snowstorm, and another due to his mother’s funeral.
The record he broke? Again, it was his own—certified a few years ago. I don’t make the rules. But like records, I guess they’re made to be broken.
it's incredibly refreshing to hear two historians talk about things that have shaped the world we share, without soaking out a political position. "The Rest is History" podcast needs to be part of your regular listening! (Link)
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7 other things worth knowing today
A formerly convicted child rapist who served nearly four decades in prison and proclaimed his innocence from Day 1 was absolved Friday, in a case of mistaken identity. As his mother Agnes wept behind him, Edward Clayton Taylor robustly hugged the 40-year-old woman who was his accuser back then (when she was 4) but who testified Friday that she now knows it was a case of mistaken identity. The Keystone Cops level mistakes in this case were astounding and tragic. (Florida Times-Union)
Australia’s center-left opposition party toppled the conservative government after almost a decade in power, and Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese in his Saturday election victory speech promised sharper reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while he faces an early foreign policy test. (AP)
The first of a series of foreign planeloads of baby formula landed in Indiana yesterday. The Biden administration—which has struggled to address a nationwide shortage of formula, particularly hypoallergenic varieties—has dubbed the effort “Operation Fly Formula.” The crisis follows the closure of the nation’s largest domestic manufacturing plant in Michigan in February due to safety issues. (PBS)
How to make new friends as an adult—and keep them. Are there earth-shattering tips here? No, but it's still some good advice. (Quartz)
Hottest trend in New York City (maybe)? Piano bars. “The city is experiencing a golden age of nightlife and everything that’s old becomes new again,” a hospitality consultant named Jason Kaplan told the New York Post. “There’s plenty of bars that have entertainment, but now there’s a trend toward a more upscale piano bar experience with modern touches.” (NY Post)
I didn't publish yesterday so I couldn't commemorate what's known as Bitcoin Pizza Day: the 12th anniversary of the day in 2010 when programmer and bitcoin miner Laszlo Hanyecz bought two pizzas from Papa Johns for 10,000 Bitcoins. They were worth almost nothing then; today even after tanking sharply since last fall, they'd be worth $301 million. (Biztoc)
Engineering students from Johns Hopkins University created the breakthrough product you didn't realize you needed: they prototyped an edible adhesive tape, called Tastee Tape, to keep burritos and other wrapped foods sealed up during consumption. (BoingBoing)
Bonus. No reason except that it’s kind of awesome.