The Quote that Taught Me to Do Things Right

Photo Credit: Clem Onojeghuo

Featured on Elephant Journal

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” ~ William H. McRaven

Recently, I was coming home with my family after a day at the beach and had a two-hour drive ahead of me when I noticed the long queue of cars piling up. The dreaded Kasoa Saturday evening traffic that I had heard so much about was now real.

This was not the average “wait in line” type of traffic, but a chaotic roar of cars, trucks and motorbikes coming from the left, right and (I could swear) even from beneath my car. There were no police, and most drivers ignored the traffic lights. We were all fighting for space; it was survival of the fittest at its best.

I quickly got agitated and lost all the good feelings I had stored up while relaxing on the beach.

I was now completely immersed in fight or flight mode. But, just then, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw the anguish on my face.

I quickly remembered several lessons I had gathered in my journey to greater awareness. I realized that this traffic jam was not a big deal in the grand scheme of life. And just like that, I entered my soul self and quieted down. I put on some calming music and reminded myself it was okay to arrive an hour later than scheduled.

No matter what, I would handle this small ordeal in the tranquil manner of the new me.

Now, that’s not how I would have reacted a few years ago. I can still remember what I did on this same route and in the same scenario five years ago. That time, I got out of my car to confront a bus driver his 18 passengers (he had recklessly hit my front bumper to claim one car’s worth of space in front of me), leaving my 11-year-old daughter traumatised over the incident.

That was who I was then. A reactive, almost explosive person who was ready to defend against any attack—even if none was imminent.

Years later, I’m much calmer and wiser. I recognise that getting stuck in traffic is no big deal. It’s not a cosmic personal attack. It’s just one of a trillion events that occur in the world every single day.

Twenty years ago, I met a man from England. He wanted to supply my company with spare parts for one of our products, but since it didn’t represent a massive opportunity for us, I was impatient and somewhat dismissive. He ignored my youthful impetuosity and continued politely.

“You can tell a man by his shoes,” he said.

He explained that a man who takes time to polish his shoes is worthy of doing business. A man who takes time to clean his shoes is not only professional, but also practical, as he is able to take good care of the things he loves. Meanwhile, one who wears scruffy shoes is disorganised and doesn’t take himself seriously. And if he doesn’t take himself seriously, why should we?

I smiled politely. I didn’t care much for his story, but we started a business relationship that lasted for a long while. He was a man of his word—something not so common these days.

A few months ago, I was reading about the legendary basketball coach John Wooden and came across his interview with Newsweek:

“I think it’s the little things that really count. The first thing I would show our players at our first meeting was how to take a little extra time putting on their shoes and socks properly,” he said.

He went on to describe that though putting on socks and shoes correctly and meticulously was a small act, it both prevented many injuries on the hard basketball floor and taught players the discipline and power of doing things correctly, small or big.

A few weeks ago, I came across a quote:

“How we do anything is how we do everything.”

The quote is attributed to many, from T.Harv Eker to Zen Buddhism, but the true source is not verified.

That quote got me thinking. I recalled the Englishman from so many years ago, the Wooden story, and the new me on the Kasoa road.

I saw clearly how this simple quote is a lesson we would all do well to etch into our minds. Indeed, it applies to every facet of our lives:

1) Relationships

How we treat a homeless person on the streets is probably how we treat other people in our lives, even if we camouflage our behaviour so as to fool ourselves. When we are dismissive of the homeless, then we are also dismissive of other people whom we feel we don’t need. But if we are compassionate toward them, then chances are that we are so with everyone.

2) Self-Talk

How we speak to ourselves is likely the same as how we project and judge others. When we are self-critical and only see our mistakes, doubts, and fears, then we probably do the same with other people. Conversely, when we wax poetic to ourselves, we are often full of self-love and thus can radiate good vibes to those around us.

3) Passion

When we are morbid in our outlook on life and disengaged in everything we do, we are unlikely to find any passion in anything. But when we have a passion for someone or something, then it can translate into having passion for all of life.

I’ve seen the “How we do anything is how we do everything” phenomenon at work in my daily experience.

As my passion for the craft of writing grew, I wanted to write good blog posts and books, but I also wanted everything else I wrote to be professional and to the point. That included short emails to colleagues, postcards, and even my journal. The quest for good writing has also affected the way I talk to people, as I now seek to mimic my writing style by being concise, clear and potent when I speak.

As I’ve become more compassionate with myself, I’ve also become kinder to everyone around me. And as I’ve found calm in situations I can’t control, such as traffic, travel and other people’s behaviour, I’ve become relaxed in circumstances that I can control, like my thoughts, my feelings and my actions.

So, after reading this article, please try repeating this quote throughout the day:

“How I do anything is how I do everything.”

The repetition and recognition of this quote might force you to reconcile your actions with your words, as it has done for me.


  • Very true, if you give out your best with the little things, you will give out your best with big things. For the past few years, I have being living on the principle of “if it must be done it must be done well” and it has made me excellent at serving.
    I want to take this moment to say “thank you” for the great articles you have being writing. I’m a writer too and I hope to meet you one of this days. All the best sir.

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