Better to Burn Out Than Rust Away

Over the weekend, I received an email from the folks at that had some great career advice.  It was a quote from Voltaire, the French philosopher.  Check it out…

“Shun idleness.  It is the rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals.”

I would amend this to say that idleness is the rust that attached itself to the most brilliant minds.  Or as Neil Young says, “It’s better to burn out than rust away.”

Regardless of whether you prefer Voltaire’s original quote, my reinterpretation or the rock and roll version,  there is an important career success idea here.  Idleness is a career success killer.   Career success comes from being active and working hard – not settling for good enough.

Tweet 96 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Good truly is the enemy of great.  Don’t settle for good performance.  Today good is mediocre.  Become a great performer.”

Hard work is the best way I know to become a great performer.  In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins hit the nail on the head when he began with the idea that good is the enemy of great.  He’s right, good is the enemy of great.  There are lots of good performers, but only a few great ones.  To achieve the life and career success you want and deserve, you need to become a great performer – not just a good one.

Good is seductive.  For many of us, it’s not too difficult to be good.  And good has a nice feeling attached to it.  On the other hand, good performance won’t get you to the top of the promotion list and keep you off of the layoff list.  Great performance will.

But great performance comes with a price.  You have to work at it.  In The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame quotes several great performers on paying the price…

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.”  Michelangelo

“When I played with Michael Jordan on the Olympic team, there was a huge gap between his ability and the ability of the other great players on that team.  But what impressed me was that he was always the first one on the floor and the last one to leave.”  Steve Alford, Head Basketball Coach, University of New Mexico.

“If I miss a day of practice, I know it.  If I miss two days, my manager knows it.  If I miss three days, my audience knows it.”  Andre Previn, Pianist, Conductor and Composer.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt.  What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”  Stephen King, Bestselling Novelist

Here are four people – an artist, a basketball player, a pianist and a writer – all saying the same thing: good is the enemy of great; and to be great, you have to work hard.

Your natural talent might allow you to be good.  Great — and career success — however, requires determination and persistence, never being idle, always working towards your life and career success goals.

Jerry Rice is in the NFL Hall of Fame.  He was well known for his commitment to fitness.  He worked out harder and longer than any other pro football player.  When he was asked the secret of his success, he said, “I am willing to do the things today that others won’t do, so I can do things on Sunday that they can’t do.”  In other words: don’t be idle, work hard, prepare, commit to taking personal responsibility for your career success.

It’s simple, really.  Career success is all up to you, and me, and anyone else who wants it.  We all have to take personal responsibility for our own success.  I am the only one who can make me a career success.  You are the only one who can make you a career success

Become willing to do things that others are unwilling to do – and this can be a million little things like working hard, keeping your clothes in good repair; shining your shoes; rehearsing your presentation out loud; proofreading your emails, not just relying on spell check; staying up-to-date on your company, your competitors and your industry, building relationships by doing willingly for others.

If you already do these kinds of things, bravo.  You’re in the minority.  Too many people do only what they have to.  Successful people always go the extra mile.  As Jerry Rice says, they do the things others won’t.

Think for a minute.  What are the kinds of things that you can do that go above and beyond, that demonstrate your commitment to your own career success?  Make a list.  Then go about doing these things regularly.

Activity and persistence will make you an outstanding performer.  And they are the key to putting the career advice in the Voltaire quote at the beginning of this post to work.  Activity – even 1% more than you currently do – and persistence – fighting through problems and setbacks – will yield positive results in the long term.  But you have to commit to both of them.

Some of the best career advice on persistence that I’ve come across comes from Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States…

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan, “press on,” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people are great performers.  They follow the advice in Tweet 96 in Success Tweets.  “Good truly is the enemy of great.  Don’t settle for good performance.  Today, good is mediocre.  Become a great performer.”  Hard work and persistence are the best ways to become a great performer.  If you practice longer, prepare more, make the extra call, rewrite your proposal, rehearse your presentation, you will find yourself creating the life and career success you want and deserve.  Keep at it.  Don’t become idle.  Don’t let your brilliance rust away.

That’s my career advice when it comes to avoiding idleness.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of common sense career advice explaining each of the tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.

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