A few years ago, a mysterious package arrived at my office doorstep. Inside was a lunch pail containing a handful of new books by Steven Pressfield – one of my favorite authors – along with a nice note. In addition, there were two copies of something called “The Lunch Pail Manifesto“. It was a creed declaring the ethic of the workaday artist and a challenge to approach every single day as an opportunity to apply your craft.
I recently came across the lunch pail while cleaning my office, and the manifesto now has a prominent place on my office whiteboard. Take a few moments to read it through and consider how it applies to your life and work. (I was especially struck by #4 and #9.)
Any of them resonate with you? Comment below, and I’ll choose one commenter to send the extra copy of the manifesto to.
art creativity inspiration persistence the resistance
Last modified: December 1, 2022
Numbers 4 & 5. Speaking and thinking of my work in the proper way…thinking not to little of it…thinking not to much of it.
Oh Number 8 – you are the demon who taunts me every single day.
Numbers 3 and 6 strike me so deeply I was nearly unable to read them the first time. So clearly are my demons illustrated and my lifelong journey eloquently wrapped up in the manifesto. I’m grateful, once again, for your wisdom to speak and report truth.
This story is more than a metaphor for me. My grandfather was a sixth-generation bricklayer in Philadelphia, from a family who’d moved here from Ireland in the 1800s. He was posted to the auxiliary air force in the world war. Each day, he’d see a wagon go by, loaded with bricks, with the name of the brick company printed on the back of the truck.
One day, he “borrowed” a bicycle and followed the truck until it reached the brick company. He was a teenager, and I think he had a dream not to be a blue collar worker toiling away under someone else’s orders his whole life. He got off his bike, walked in, asked for the boss, told him his background, and said that when the war ended, he wanted to come work at the brickyard. He did.
He got married and he worked at the brickyard. My grandmother owned two dresses and one pair of shoes. They saved every penny to buy stock in the company, and eventually he came to own the entire brick company. A different name, the name of his own company, was printed on each of those bricks.
Every day, he put on overalls, although he was president of the company. My grandmother (who, by then, I’m happy to report, owned many more shoes) packed his lunch pail with two sandwiches. One for him, and one that he divided up and threw to some wild dogs that roamed that area. He carried that lunch pail to the yard every workday until he was 92 years old, long after he’d handed the reins over to his son. One day, after a lifetime of excellent health, he didn’t feel well, was diagnosed, entered the hospital, and died quickly two weeks later.
He ignored the naysayers, back when his dream was almost laughable. He stayed true to himself. He made no pretense about who he was, and was proud to wear his overalls. Retirement was not in his vocabulary. He had a saying that every dollar you give away to someone who needs help would come back to you tenfold—and he was a generous man who mentored many people starting and running businesses in the area in which he lived, including people who had dreams that seemed foolish, too. And he died owning a beautiful home that he’d built many decades before, brick by brick.
Wow! What an amazing story! Would you mind if I reach out to you about possibly sharing this story in a different context?
Oops, Hi, Todd! I’ve been busy and suddenly thought, Hmm, I should go back to Todd’s site and see what’s happening. Yes, please feel free to contact me.
Thanks, Carolyn. Also – congrats! You are the winner of the Lunch Paul Manifesto. Please send your best mailing address through toddhenry.com/contact.
For me #7 really resonated. I’ve been both on the giving and receiving end of mentorship and have worked to institute mentorship programs in professional organizations where I am involved. Especially in creative fields, I believe that it is our obligation to mentor those who follow and who are striving to grow and improve.
Couldn’t agree more. I think everyone needs to find someone less experienced to build into. Great thoughts!
Definitely #1. It seems like every day I find myself wondering what the point of my work is. Obviously it pays the bills and allows me some luxuries but I’m running dry on the meaning and purpose. One question that I’ve asked myself lately is when I’m gone from this earth, how do I want to be remembered. (I don’t mean to sound morbid but I have a friend who is too young to be dying of cancer, hence the questions.)
So my journey continues to find what feeds my soul, makes the people and places around me better, and serves a higher purpose than just being all about me.
One of the biggest realizations for me in the past several years is that work has value in itself, even if no one else is watching or noticing. The challenge is always to make that connection, especially if you’re in a draining job. However, the point of a job can simply be to fuel another part of your body of work, like family or volunteer work, etc.
#1 Last Aug, I was battling an extremely difficult illness and my professional life came to a halt. I just started back at work again. This time round, I am extremely focused and purposeful on choosing works that are meaningful and that I am passionate about at work and off work. Simply because life is finite. “Start your day with a sense of purpose and end your day with a sense of accomplishment. ” Like someone really thoughtful said,”Die Empty.”
Love this, Germaine. Sorry to hear about your illness, but so glad to hear that you’re back in the trenches. It’s easy to forget that you never get another chance to get today right. That doesn’t mean perfectionism, but simple focus and intentionality about where you spend your focus, assets, time, and energy.
For me it’s #7. My growth as an artist has largely been due to mentoring from other professionals who were secure enough in themselves to share their learnings and insights with me. Each of them possessed an “abundance mentality” and that makes me want to do the same.
That’s a lesson I’m still learning as well. It’s easy to slip into a silo when doing creative work and to fail to connect with others who can help you see the small ways you’re getting off course.
#9 is the big one for me. I struggle a lot with the existential pointlessness of my work: if I stopped, would anyone but my nearest notice, and what difference would it make? I’d prefer to have control and KNOW what my work is for. 😀
Most people wouldn’t notice if any of us stopped doing our work. And, that’s OK. Your work isn’t for everyone, and it’s not just your job.
I like #8 and #10. I’ve experienced bosses who do expect perfection and then turn around and make the same mistake and brush over it. The work never ceases which I’m over it but the way it is to earn the income I desire.
Yep – and they breach trust along the way, which is critical in creative work. No trust = no risk-taking = mediocre work = losing clients = no job for anyone. I don’t think a lot of leaders consider how those little actions will come back to haunt them when the pressure is on.
This manifesto alludes to and reinforces many of the key points made in Pressfield’s ” The War Of Art” I thought this book was a tremendous insight. How do we as human beings transcend this level of satisfaction we seek out in our everyday lives, it is certainly a manufactured ideal of our species as we no longer have the luxury of fighting for our mere survival (for those of us in developed countries), Instead we long for meaning and purpose that can only be brought about through Art. The connection with humanity through ultimate vulnerability. I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s “The Icarus Deception” where he shows us how the industrial revolution has programmed us to think and behave for maximum subservience which is no place for an artist wishing to connect, how connection in our era has become a highly sought after and valued part of our everyday lives and what we must do as individuals to break out of this mold, so we can reach the high mountains that only the bold daring artists fearfully climb in order to connect with humanity. It’s all just a very tough thing for us to do as we’ve grown up to embrace the safety of following directions instead of living ever moment in that fear and uncertainty. All that said, if we understand this tremendous value we must be ever working to overcome it. #5 is true because the Ego doesn’t exist in Art it lives within the Self, Steven really opened my eyes to everything we struggle with as artists that we’rent defined until now, such as the Resistance he describes pervades out lives destroying our motivation and leaving us restless. Do the work, Art is work, which brings me to #10. I think about the idea of “Retirement” and it sounds like such a miserable thing, I understand it’s purpose, however, I believe Pressfield is correct, our work will never cease If we stop we have given up, If we make the commitment to changing the world, that commitment doesn’t end because we’ve finally saved up enough money to not care anymore, that idea depresses me. There’s a world out there engulfed in inequity and it’s our DUTY as a human being to work endlessly to improve our condition. Our lives must not be taken so casually, our consciousness is a miracle, we must use it to its potential, I know strive to, some prefer a simpler existence that’s perfectly ok, but those of us who are driven to make the world a better place must understand the responsibility and appreciate the work that must be done for the greater good. Big fan of your show Todd, thanks for arming us with the tools we need as creative professionals to become the best that we can be.
Wow – fantastic thoughts, Armond. Agree about the retirement thing. Work never ceasing doesn’t mean that we have to punch the clock for the rest of our lives, but that we should always seek to be adding value to others, connecting, mentoring, and putting things into the world until we’re buried six feet under.
#1 speaks to me as I remind myself daily to find meaning in both my professional and creative life.
3 and 10 are great reminders that doing great work/improving yourself will not happen overnight. It is the long term that truly matters.
#11 Work must not think our work is this God Damn Important!
Yeah – I got that from #5. (Though, you put it a bit more concisely…) 😉
#2 – I find myself doing work where most of it must follow branding guidelines. It’s easy to fall into the trap that just because there’s guidelines we can’t stray outside of the lines. Not true. It’s rewarding to find the areas within the boundaries where I can play and be true to my muse.
That’s so true. In my new book I wrote about the tensions between stakeholders, the work, and your own vision for where it needs to go. It’s a challenge to maintain effective boundaries around creative work while pushing into new territory. That’s why many creative leaders tend to clamp down and control – it takes a lot more effort to lead by influence and allow minor deviations from course in order to get to a better end product.
#8 has great significance for me. Accepting that my work will never be perfect is really only something that I’ve just started to come to terms with this year. As an adult child of an alcoholic, I strive for perfection, and anything less has a tendency to create great anxiety within me. While pushing myself this way, I wasn’t doing my overall well-being any favors. I now recognize that not only does perfection not equal progress, but it isn’t realistic. I am much happier and more relaxed about my work now that I’ve come to terms with this.
I’ve found that perfectionism can be an excuse for not pushing to the limit of my ability, too. At times it’s easier to live with perceived invulnerability than to stretch and discover your true limits.
1,2,7,8 catch my eye … especially 1 & 2, and the interplay between them.
They are definitely intertwined.
Resistance….always battling it. Glad I’m not alone. 🙂
The fight is always on! (I just spent 18 months battling resistance to write a book. It’s like walking uphill the entire time, but the journey is worth it.)
#8 is the one that haunts me consistently. More so in my work than in the rest of my life. Always been that way, but I”m trying to overcome it!
Yep – perfectionism is a tough one. (It’s especially true when you know what’s possible but incredibly difficult, or when you have eyes on your work.) Did you hear my recent interview with Seth Godin, in which we talked about this?
Not yet, but I’m woefuly behind on my AC podcast listening. 🙁 I’ll make it a priority while I’m driving FL to GA this afternoon…
Numbers 3 and 9 resonate deeply with me right now. They also feel intrinsically linked; without fighting the Resistance, my creative work languishes undone thought it is intended to be released into the world. Fighting the Resistance in order to create work that has merit is like advocating for my child who has Asperger’s so that she can thrive, shine, and become her best self.
Love this, Judy. I agree they are linked.
#6…What does it mean to “not covet the fruits of our work”? What is wrong with wanting to see our work make a difference? Am I just getting lost in semantics?
My opinion on this: there’s a difference between working solely for the fruits of your labor, and working to create value and the fruit being a by-product of great work. It’s like working hard to get a promotion or a raise, and once you get it hedonic adaptation kicks in and you need the next raise or promotion to be satisfied because the work itself isn’t fulfilling you. However, when you pour yourself into doing great work and mastering your craft, you often get the fruit of that labor as a bonus to the satisfaction of the doing of the work itself.
First number 2, and then number 9…to work from the trilogy of purpose, truth, and authenticity means there will always be some morsel of merit in the result…so these two act as the reminder to not be lazy, in deed or in thought.
We forget sometimes that the product we are ultimately making is ourselves. As (somewhat) corny as that sounds, what will matter in 20 years won’t be the widget we crank out today, but the resolve and ethic we develop inside of ourselves to persist, carve ideas, and commit to something bigger than ourselves.
(Somewhat) corny, maybe – but also quite profound. It would be a good #11 on the Manifesto, as it brings a deeper framework to the importance of items 1-10. It particularly sharpens the meaning of #2 for me – that our offerings are actually a glimpse of what’s being created within us.
#10 is a fun and intimidating thought for me. I have just recently started to “consistently” write about an adventure my wife and are embarking on in October. If you would have asked me a year ago if I thought the Resistance was in the consistency of writing, I would have said “no”. I believed at that time it was in the “having enough ideas to write about”. I am just now starting to experience the full weight and excitement found in #10.
Agree, RJ. That can certainly feel intimidating. As you said, the work fuels itself once you are moving, no?
I find it interesting that the graphic invokes a blue collar construction worker, the blog text applies the list to creatives when I see it as applicable to every endeavor or task. I can “see” this having its origins in a one room schoolhouse written on the chalkboard as both a penmanship lesson and a civics standard.
So true. Steven is a big proponent of the “blue collar creative” ethic. You show up, you do your work, you don’t complain, you grab your lunch pail, you clock out, and go home. So many prolific producers seem to embrace this “just show up and do your work” mindset.