Glory

This particular piece has been knocking at the doors of both my heart and mind for quite some time now. I’m admittedly inexperienced and young, so please feel free to grin at the earnest naiveté of my delivery, but today, the understanding flooded over me: who am I to ignore this longing to write?

And so tonight, I find myself in the company of an almond milk latte and many mental puzzle pieces, trying to clarify this picture for myself and perchance for others. The topic that I’ve been turning over in my head is that of glory, specifically, the ageless notion that glory flows from the courageous human effort to undergo a present sacrifice in the anticipation of something greater in store. I invite you to buckle in and join me on the expedition, as my pen (well, keyboard, but that doesn’t sound as nice does it?) records this common thread of glory from the ancient Greeks, to Humans of New York, to Walden, to True Grit, and to the novel Unbroken.

If you emerge from this discourse with one thing, let it be this: glory requires sacrifice. What seems to be a one-time grand display of valor is always the logical fruition of a long-time habit of little courages. I think that’s the piece we forget a lot; that our short term decisions inevitably build the long term outcome. For those who don’t shy away from power and responsibility, this is great news. It means that there is an unseen weight to our everyday actions, a chance to conquer some tiny, new territory.

The ancient Greeks rooted their idea of heroism in the attainment of kleos aphthiton, literally, undying glory. This means that (rightly considered) every hardship encountered presented an opportunity to gain immortal fame, for if such difficulties were overcome by great manliness, the story would be sung for generations to come. This was the only kind of immortality the ancients believed that they had a fighting chance for– so fight they did. In fact, the great classic epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey are simply records of these very songs: through them, the Greek heroes truly did achieve kleos, and their memory lives on even today. Consider this resolution of the Trojan prince Hector, from Homer’s Iliad:

Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

The blueprint for glory did not allow for a peaceful, comfortable life at home, but rather required that they seize ever opportunity to prove their courage. The prize of immortality was won by remaining in the minds and hearts of their lineage and would hopefully inspire the young men of women of ages to come to do the same. Only then, do the words of Homer’s later epic, The Odyssey, ring true:

Even his griefs are a joy long after to one that remembers all that he wrought and endured.

I remember first encountering kleos aphthiton in my favorite high school class as a freshman, history, like it happened just this morning. It was an interesting concept, but just that, a far-off notion accompanied by monsters, cheating warrior husbands (same thing), and goddesses whose vanity and jealousy put my high school clique and I to shame. It took me some time to realize that kleos was relevant to my life for the very reason the classics themselves are still relevant: they reveal fundamental truths about human nature. Tonight, I’m interested in the way this reminds me of a Humans of New York post that I read on Facebook my freshman year of college:

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Wow. I remember reading this for the first time and being hit hard. “And if you’re only true to your short term self, your long term self slowly decays.” So every day and night that I spent screwing around, I could have spent those hours progressing towards the woman that I want to be. Instead, I had been guilty of letting so much time slip away from me, and thoughtlessly becoming a woman that I did not want to be. In fact, what dawned on me was that little economic notion known as opportunity cost; I wasn’t just staying contentedly in place, no, I was forgoing opportunities to grow, opportunities that others had the decency to utilize. The real kicker is that not only does only living for the weekend cheat your future self from someday realizing your full potential, but the world loses a great person, a great mind, and a great example for future generations as well. 

Anyone can hit snooze, grab a triple latte, online shop during class, hit up a party and repeat. Now this is not to say that any of these things are necessarily bad, on the contrary, they’re very good, but the key is not to be caught consistently chasing after the little goods at the expense of a bigger great. It’s an unfortunate reality of our human condition, great things will require sacrifices. If I want to save up for that vacation in France, I can’t buy every dress that catches my eye; if I want to run a half marathon, I can’t indulge in ice cream every night of the week; if I want to become a diligent businesswoman, I can’t just stop learning when the classes cease. There is no glory in the path of least resistance. It takes grit to “reawaken and keep ourselves awake” as Thoreau triumphs in his book, Walden. One can imagine that this is what the Greek bards would have advocated for; this life lived in light of the perpetual future rather than the short-term gratification. Life is made of strong stuff, yes, but we must not water it down, as this washes away the good with the bad and replaces it with a cloudy, lukewarm existence. In the same passage, he later expands upon the glorious task of beautifying each day through our vigilant character:

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

Our first obstacle to glory, then, does not lie in a foreign enemy, but rather we encounter it when we are tempted to choose the short-term over the long-term, the good over the great, the path of least resistance over the extra mile. Therefore, we embark from our comfortable homes, our very own Ithacas, to pursue our life’s mission (though our deepest hearts remain at the familiar hearth.) For the Greeks, their glory-reward only came after facing death undaunted. I would argue that a far superior form of glory, that is unseen by the outside world, comes daily by the thought well thought, the word well said, and the deed well done. An uphill battle, the little sacrifices turn to joys as we soon see them building the sure foundation for a great life work, a corporeal form of immortality. It will take true grit (fabulous book, by the way) to become the hero of your life. And we all know that the world desperately needs heroes.

Perhaps you had the pleasure of reading the book Unbroken (movie, anyone?). If older brother Pete Zamperini’s advice was written off as too dramatic to challenge you personally, I’m convinced that you should think twice:

“A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”

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The Intern To-Do List

Whether you’re looong past your interning days or just about to make your interning debut in the flourishing business ecosystem, it does one good to step back and put yourself in the shoes of an intern: essentially a paid observer, learner, and most importantly value-adder. To get really metaphorical (you’ve probably picked up on this annoying theme throughout my writings), who among us is not an intern in the business of life, where we observe, learn, and add value until we hopefully pass onto something better? Here are ten internship best practices, in my humble opinion:

1. Always say hi to the girl in line next to you. 

Maybe you both have a passion for delicious salads, or maybe you could both go on for hours about your favorite historical sites, but definitely find a way to make a friend out of all those new faces. Everyone will most likely be on the overwhelmed side of nervousness on the first day, so finding an ally in the room can work wonders.

2. Develop birdwatching skills.

The business world is loud, competitive, and busy with started-from-the-bottom-now-I’m-here mentalities. Here’s a way to stand out: be quiet and simply watch (not to be confused with having a glazed-over-I’m-bored sort of expression.) Absorb! Never have I ever regretted paying attention and being observant. Remember names like they’re the words to your favorite song. Watch carefully how people treat each other, since it reveals their true colors every time. And especially, be open and curious to learn about whatever crosses your path.

A great way to exercise intelligence is to gather it first.

3. Never be afraid to speak up and give a compliment.

I’ve had my heaping share of shy days (when I get this itch to drive far away and melt into the background of some obscure diner) but this is a fabulous people-rule that will never let you down. Genuine compliments are (almost) a foolproof way to initiate conversation and plant the seeds of respectful and trusting relationships. People love to feel noticed. In case that’s not enough to spur you to action, just think about how great you feel when on the receiving end of a meaningful compliment. Hello, walking-on-sunshine type of feelings!

4. In general, take care of your team work first and then begin your personal projects.

Pretty soon into the internship, a lot of offers to work on projects both in teams and individually will begin to flow in. In most cases, tackling your portion of the teamwork is a best practice as there are others relying upon you. Don’t be lured by the short-term buzz of flying through personal projects while sacrificing the valuable experience and trust gained by learning to work on a team.

5. Read industry-related articles– and pass them along!

An insight is not an insight until you share it. A mentor just flat-out told me to sent him interesting articles one morning, and it’s definitely been mentally filed under top 3 pieces of professional advice I’ve ever gotten. Not enough people take the time to educate those around them, much less begin a conversation about things that matter. Instead of going for the easy small-talk pieces, engage your coworkers by discussing ideas that really matter to you both.

6. What’s your story?

It’s inevitable that people will be asking you a little bit about yourself, and so being able to tell your story is a paramount ability. I definitely still rehearse mine in the mirror from time to time 🙂 Be concise, show your character, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

7.  You are your best teacher.

Sometimes I really pity those that are on the opposite end, delegating tasks to the interns. While some instruction is obviously necessitated, it’s a huge asset to be able to find the answers yourself. This means know the tools you have at your disposal, which are essentially unlimited given the internet. You are not above YouTube tutorials!

8. Read. And be proud of it. 

My parents brought me up to love this nerdy thing called reading, and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thanked them for sharing that passion. Turns out that the business world is indeed inhabited by adults (for the most part), thus two of the coolest attributes one can have are a love of reading and a natural curiosity for the world around us.

9. Everything about you is a direct reflection on you. 

By now you probably know the power of each little thing when it comes to first impressions, but don’t gradually backslide into laziness each day after. Excellence is a habit. And if you screw up once in awhile– which would only make you human– remember that each day is a new start.

10. Develop a vision that transcends the work week.

Internships are a lot like dating (now that I think about it, so are a lot of things.) It is not enough to only focus on the short-term, rather, allow a long-term vision to be the guiding star in your behavior and it will save you much heartache. Is this a company you’d want to work for permanently? If so, are you being cognizant of the little ways of building rapport, respect, and going the extra mile? If not, how do you want to be remembered?

Here’s to coffee galore & endless opportunities!