Study the Greats: Lyndon Johnson's Obsession

Study the Greats: Lyndon Johnson's Obsession

Maybe it's because I re-picked up Kobe Bryant's Mamba Mentality my brother gave me a few Christmases ago, but there's been a re-occurrence of studying greatness, whether from a historical figure or a contemporary one. One of Bryant's mantras was study the greats. There is a reason he highlights so many mentors in his book, from Bill Russell, to Jordan, to Ali. My desire to study the greats ebbs and flows – which is not good Mamba Mentality – but few actions excite and inspire me more than when someone is living their craft and perfecting it daily.

One of my all time favorite Bryant quotes:

"You have to work hard in the dark to shine in the light."

Working hard in the dark is done differently by each successful person. Some rise early, others stay up late, some are always on, others burn out, rest, and repeat. Regardless of how it is done, it gets done. Robert Caro's The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson I, provides two concrete examples of working hard and perfecting the craft in the dark to shine in the light.  

The first example is when Lyndon Johnson was a teacher at Sam Houston High School. He taught debate.

Students could see that he was working himself as hard as he was working them. When they handed written assignments, the assignments were handed back the following day, always. And they were handed back with their margins filled with comments. For some months, another teacher, Bryon Parker, roomed in the same house as Johnson. He remembers that sometimes when he went to sleep, Johnson would be sitting at a little desk piled high with his students' papers, and sometimes when he woke up the next morning, Johnson would still be sitting there, correcting the last of the papers; he had not slept that night. He did that job as if his life depended on it. - Robert Caro - The Path to Power p. 207

The second example comes a few years later after Johnson made it to Washington, not as a Congressman yet, nor a Senator. This was years before when he was Congressman Dick Kleberg's secretary and had recruited two former debate students to work for him.

A routine was soon established for that staff that office. It began before five, when Johnson shook Latimer awake and started him on his way up Capitol Hill. Not long there after, he would awaken Jones. Pulling on their clothes – Johnson had taught Jones his trick of taking off his necktie still knotted so he wouldn't have to waste time trying it in the morning...
...(Johnson) tried to perform perfectly – even minor tasks that no one else bothered with. For such a man, congressional mail, which consisted so largely of minor details--of small, unimportant requests—was a natural métier. Doing everything one could do with the mail meant answering every letter--and that was what he insisted his office must do. And not only must every letter be answered he told Latimer and Jones, it must be answered the very day it arrived. The early morning mail was only the first of three--and then four, and then five--made during the day, and still the bundles of each delivery grew heavier.- Robert Caro - The Path to Power p. 237-239  

Work hard; be successful, is one layer here. Another revolves around the greatest in business, sports, politics, name your field, set a vision for their life and nearly every action they take is towards building their cathedral. It is here where actions demonstrate more about who you are and how you're dedicating your mind, body, and spirit. LBJ did not stop after being a successful teacher or secretary, or Congressman. Kobe Bryant did not stop after his first Finals Championship or MVP. These are results of "working in the dark" which is where one also finds the true meaning of Cervantes quote: “The journey is better than the inn."  

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