30 Rock at dusk.

To Live like Rockefeller, Must You Care For Yourself like Rockefeller?

Or is it ok to work yourself to the bone?

My days were filled with one activity: meditation. Stillness was my objective. For in that stillness, I hoped, would come a surge of ideas newly unlocked. And it worked. Each day my mind filled with increasingly wiser suggestions. Chapters for a book, insights into philosophical problems, and more. But boy oh boy was it boring. So, so boring.

I got much done, but at the expense of enjoyment.

As a response to that boredom, my days today are filled with one activity: work. Action is my objective. For in that action, I hope, is the promise of results. And it too has been working. Each day I write things like this, I talk with evermore businesses about my speaking for them, and more. It’s a lot of fun, but boy oh boy are my days busy. So, so busy.

I get much done, but at the expense of leisure.

Recently I read through my notes on productivity. In doing so, I noticed that I had inadvertently stumbled across two historical figures with entirely different approaches to the matter. I will now share both of their stories with you in the hopes that, together, we may uncover which is best for the sake of productivity – leisure, action, or something in between.


Take care, says Rockefeller

In the book, Titan, by Ron Chernow, the following is described of Rockefeller and his perspectives on work:

“(Rockefeller) worked at a more leisurely pace than many other executives, napping daily after lunch and often dozing in a lounge chair after dinner. To explain his extraordinary longevity, he later said, doubtless overstating the matter, ‘I’m here because I shirked: did less work, lived more in the open air, enjoyed the open air, sunshine and exercise.’

By his mid-thirties, he had installed a telegraph wire between home and office so that he could spend three or four afternoons each week at home, planting trees, gardening, and enjoying the sunshine.

Rockefeller didn’t do this in a purely recreational spirit but mingled work and rest to pace himself and improve his productivity… ‘It is remarkable how much we all could do if we avoid hustling, and go along at an even pace and keep from attempting too much.’”

Rockefeller believed that taking care of oneself is imperative to longevity. To be equally productive in the short and long term. Is he right though? His contribution to history is certainly secure as is his financial legacy, but does that mean his way is best? That forced-leisure is necessary in order to get things done?

Let me provide a different point of view.


Care for nothing else, says Moses

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro tells the biographical life of one Robert Moses. If you’re not familiar with his work, Moses was the figure responsible for “658 playgrounds in New York City, 416 miles of parkways, and 13 bridges.” The New York Times described him as the person “who played a larger role in shaping the physical environment of New York State than any other figure in the 20th century…”

Robert Moses got a lot done. And he did so by never stopping.

When someone got in his way, he used manipulation, blackmail, cajoling, and bullying to get what he wanted. Questionable ethics aside, though, Moses was surely productive. And he worked constantly. That’s not to say he never took time for leisure, but it was quite different from that of Rockefeller. If Rockefeller’s motto was take care of yourself, Moses’ was care for nothing else but work.

And so now we must decide: who did it better? And, more importantly, which way is better for us?


Care or carnage?

Let’s look at two factors to help us decide:

  1. What did they get done?
  2. What kind of life did they lead as a result?

In the case of Rockefeller, “(He) founded the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust… He made possible the founding of the University of Chicago and endowed major philanthropic institutions. Rockefeller’s benefactions during his lifetime totaled more than $500 million.” (Source) And in the case of Moses, well, I already provided his resume above.

That said, it’s hard to weigh the importance of a bridge versus a pipeline. What we can agree on though is that both individuals achieved a great deal. And so, from that viewpoint, it’s a tie.

But what kind of lives did they lead?

Rockefeller realized a tremendous amount of wealth. So financially, he was a success. Yet his personal life was lackluster and he didn’t seem to become truly fulfilled until his later years. Moses, on the other hand, relied on the state for much of his money. And, with it being tied up as such, he did not have the freedoms that Rockefeller was allowed. Further, while Moses did have a personal life, it was but a sliver compared to his working life. Still, his working life was one that he drew a tremendous amount of fulfillment from.

Therefore, from a financial angle, Rockefeller gets the point. But looking at fulfillment, it goes to Moses instead.


What do you choose?

Put aside the shaky ethics of both men and instead, let’s focus our attention on the matter at hand: productivity. In terms of output, it’s a tie between Rockefeller and Moses. They both did much. In doing so, Rockefeller gained wealth, Moses gained fulfillment.

But remember, the question is, which method results in more productivity? Pacing yourself like Rockefeller, or burning the candle at both ends like Moses? If output is what we care about, the answer is simple: either one will do. And with both options being equal, you are free to choose the path that resonates most.

A bit of a boring answer if you ask me though. And so, to add a little spice, I will give you something extra to consider. Call it a parting gift. Productivity alone cannot decide your fate, but it can speed up the ship. Whether that’s towards Rockefeller, Moses, or some in-between, we exist in the present but are shadowed by the future.

Therefore, ask yourself: if I maximize my productivity, will I be going in the right direction?

Take care. Or should I say, keep going?


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