Long Obedience In The Same Direction

A prominent 20th century theologian, Eugene Peterson, translated the word ‘faithfulness‘ as ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ That is precisely what Walter Orthmann, age 100, has demonstrated as he wins the ultimate GOAT prize: the Guinness World Record holder for the longest employment at the same company – a Brazilian textile company Reneaux View. Can we all just take a second and appreciate that 84 years is a pretty good run!

A key attitude and purposeful mindset seems to drive this man forward into his second century. On his long-time role at Reneaux View, he said,

When we do what we like, we don’t see the time go by. I don’t do much planning, nor care much about tomorrow. 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!”

It would be naive to think that every day of Walter’s 84 years was a day filled with ‘what we like’ – surely, Walter would acknowledge that every job has less than ideal elements and disappointing moments. The most remarkable thing about Walter’s run – a run that predates WWII, mind you, is that this gentleman found a way to get up every day and turn the crank of his mind to find the right setting that stacked eight decades of continuous labor one atop the other. This guy knows how to get his mind right! Others in Walter’s life appreciate this kind of dogged, repeatable excellence. His coworkers seem to enjoy and respect him: “now a sales manager for the company, Orthmann is described as an ‘enthusiastic and eager learner.’ On 19 April 2022, he turned 100 and celebrated his centenary with his co-workers, friends and family.”

This ARTICLE in the Guardian that highlights Walter’s all-time-greatness award fails to acknowledge two groups of people who are also worthy of celebration in Walter’s epic success story. The various executive teams that cycled through this company kept the organization together, viable, and on a trajectory toward multi-generational success. That isn’t easy. They had to anticipate, then navigate market trends, shifting priorities, disruptors, and technological progress. Their success enabled Walter’s success. Finally, the middle managers that cycled through (and there must have been so many!) had to value Walter’s commitment to their organization, recognize his value, and honor their commitment to their workforce. More than that, they had to recognize Walter’s experience and age as assets, not liabilities. 

I can’t help but wonder whether Walter would have enjoyed the same career longevity had he worked in the US where age is most certainly coded as a ‘liability’ rather than an ‘asset.’ Forty year old professionals are considered ‘too old’ in certain parts of California [ahem, looking at you: Silicon Valley]. We are not a culture that appreciates gray hair around the temples or smile-lines, much less liver spots.

But both Walter and his work culture remained ‘faithful’ – obedient to a set of values, all in the same direction for 84 years. We’re taking serious notes over here! 

Stay gold, Walter.

image from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/longest-career-world-record-holder-b2071470.html

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