If you want to find the secret to a happy work-life, here’s a story you will find interesting.
It was Jan 17, 1938. The Great Depression era. A 15-year-old Brazilian boy started working for Renaux S.A. to support his family.
Fast forward to 2022, the alleged Great Resignation era. The boy, Walter Orthmann, turned 100. And yes, in the meantime, he also set the world record for the longest ever tenure at a single company — 84 years!
Let me put it in context.
He worked for the same company throughout:
✓ World war II
✓ Cold war
✓ Dot com bubble burst
✓ 2008 Market crash
What more? He is still there. And he is happy!
Yes. You heard right.
Now, make no mistake. We are not covering the richest executive ever. Instead, what we have here might be the world’s happiest employee. That too after serving the longest time ever.
But how is it possible?
It just doesn’t make any sense.
When most of us are so sick with our lives that we struggle to even stay functional, how did Orthmann keep getting better at his job throughout political disruptions and multiple socio-economical shifts?
Be prepared. What you are about to find here might go totally against what we hear from all those colorful self-help junks.
Apparently, Worrying Less Makes You Less Worried
Saying that Orthmann has seen his fair share of shaky world-ending events in his career will be a massive undersell.
As a result, he knew better than to worry over the future.
Instead, he focused all his might, doing the best he could each following day.
Now that wouldn’t be a great life strategy if he didn’t back it up with a proper routine, daily exercise, and calm life for mental clarity.
I can’t say if Orthmann had ever heard of stoic philosophy, but his approach lines up well with this statement from Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor:
You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Not only that, but Orthmann’s tactic also seems to have its roots in Adlerian psychology.
The Freudian school of psychology taught us to blame our past misfortunes and conditioning for our current emotions.
Adler, on the other hand, approves of the notion that you can choose how you want to feel at any moment.
You can sense the same vibe in Orthman’s words when he says:
All I care about is that tomorrow will be another day in which I will wake up, get up, exercise, and go to work; you need to get busy with the present, not the past or the future. Here and now is what counts. So, let’s go to work!
The Courage To Say No to Entitlement and Yes to Purpose
Don’t tell me it has never occurred to you. A great deal of our emotional distress comes directly from our unchecked entitlement.
The more we have, the more we take.
The more we take, the more we want.
And when we don’t get what we want, we start throwing tantrums — sometimes at ourselves.
That’s a far cry from the life a teenage Orthmann had.
Back in 1938, kids were expected to work to help support the family. As the oldest son of five, my mother took me to find a job at the age of 14.
And in this hardship, the boy found his purpose. As Orthmann notes:
Having something productive to occupy your mind with is food for your physical and mental health. I derive pleasure from working because it makes me feel alive.
Shockingly enough, even these words by Orthmann has a basis in psychiatry.
Austrian psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl echoes the same sentiment in his acclaimed memoir Man’s Search for Meaning.
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.
A Healthy Dose of Commitment Goes a Long Way
“When we do what we like, we don’t see the time go by.” This particular quote by Orthmann can easily be taken out of context. Consequently, you can look at it and chalk it off with any other ‘follow-your-passionish’ life advice.
However, that cannot be further from the truth.
Here’s what you need to remember about Orthmann. He was a mere minor when he took the job. Needless to say, he didn’t have the luxury (or time) to figure out his passion.
And the fact that he is still in the same company proves that he learned to love what he does and not the other way around.
And he took the best possible route to make it enjoyable. He committed to being damn good at what he did.
I was given the opportunity to work as a salesperson. I traveled to São Paulo and in less than one week I filled the production with orders equivalent of three month of work.
Again, his approach has been substantiated by the leading minds and business tycoons alike.
For example, let’s see what Mark Cuban has to say about it:
If you put in enough time, and you get really good, I will give you a little secret: Nobody quits anything they are good at because it is fun to be good. It is fun to be one of the best.
A concluding note:
Want me to summarize it in one sentence? Here it is.
It’s not really about what life throws at us but how we react to it.
The more you stress about things outside your control, the more you lose grip on what you can control. This understanding itself is the secret to a happy work-life.
Walter Orthmann comes from an era where caring about what other people thought of him wasn’t in fashion yet.
So, unburdened by all complications that today we tend to create for ourselves, he kept on doing what mattered the most — his job and living a healthy life.
Are you doing the same?