“If you want the best, you’ve got to be the best and work at it.”

-Bill Molesley, Downton Abbey

“If you want the best, you’ve got the BE the best.” Life lesson from #DowntonAbbey (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

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I’ll admit that I am a sucker for British dramas. There are only two shows my wife and I actually watch and both are British dramas (Sherlock being the other).

Thankfully, there is some redeeming value to the show, such as this advice from Bill Molesley to his downtrodden son, Joseph, during Episode One of Season Four last week.

If you want more…

Years ago, a good friend of mine worked for me as my assistant. But this kid (I call him that because he was five years younger than me and it makes me feel older to refer to someone else as “kid”) wanted to be much more than an assistant. He had ambition and drive to be more, but he looked down on his position.

As we sat in our one-on-one meeting shortly after his first year working for us, he expressed frustration at his lack of advancement. Isn’t that adorable? He’d been with the company all of thirteen months and had received only one pay raise and only one promotion. Can you imagine our grandparents acting like that?

He was angry. With me. With the company. With himself. He wanted more out of life and he wanted it now.

That’s when I told him what he needed to do.

“If you want to no longer be an assistant,” I said, “you’ve got to first be the best assistant we have. You’ve got to come in early, stay late, and work like no one else here works. Then, your potential here is limitless. Stop looking down on your current circumstances and embrace the opportunity to shine.”

Embrace where you are and be the best at whatever it is you are now.

If you aren’t being promoted beyond the mailroom, be the best mailroom clerk in the company.

If you’re frustrated at not being married, be the best friend a friend can have. Make the most of the relationships you do have.

If you’re struggling to have children, be a phenomenal aunt or uncle or big brother to a child in need.

If you’re writing a blog and only a few people are reading it, engage with those people at a new level. Make new friends.

Keep striving for something more, but never look down on yourself or be angry with others for your circumstances.

No matter what it is you want to be, first be the best at what you are now.

Nothing less will do.

What do you need to be the best at today?

14 thoughts on “If You Want the Best…A Valuable Lesson from Downton Abbey

  1. brentmkelly says:

    Great thoughts Matt. I know I have aspired to for greater things without focusing on being the greatest at my current position. It’s amazing what opportunities seem to arise when you put your heart and soul into your current task at hand. Thanks.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Absolutely. I’ve found myself going down unexpected (and very profitable) paths as well.

  2. Lily Kreitinger says:

    I’ve found this to be so true. I’ve had people stop talking to me at work because I got a full-time position, a promotion and a raise in less than 10 months. They had the same opportunity to apply for the job and kill it. The “corporate world” has taught us that progress is upward. You can grow into your own job and be the best at what you do. There are only a few management/leader positions. They are many more opportunities to excel and be the trusted go-to person an organization needs. That is job security, because you can sell yourself well and replicate everywhere you go. It’s all based on relationship. If people sense you are out to benefit yourself, you will never advance in your career of your life. If you are out there to be the best exactly where you are, doors will open that you would have never imagined. [End of soap box reel]

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      Critics always hate rockstars–because try wish they could do what they do, be who they are, experience what they experience. You, Lily, are a Rockstar!

      1. Matt McWilliams says:


    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      Anytime you want to stand on THAT kind of a soap box, go right ahead!

  3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Couldn’t help but laugh at your story…I’ve been at my current job only 8months, have gotten a pay raise and promotion and I’m pushing hard for another within the next 10 months…I totally identify with your friend. I’m not frustrated or angry about it though. Just driven!

    I need to be the best at time management and prioritizing tasks. I also need to work on being the best husband and father I can be.

    Great post!

  4. That only works if the environment is a meritocracy, which I think is rare.

    (1) If you are too good, the boss benefits from keeping you there. You make him or her continue to look like a great team leader, and you give your manager someone to dump more and more stuff onto.

    (2). Being great means that you are actually doing the work, you do not have the time (or inclination) to wander around and chit chat and party off hours to build and develop the office political relationships needed to be promoted.

    (3). When the rare opportunity opens up, the hiring manager will NOT care who is the best at their job. They will want the best for the position, which means that a mediocre person seen as having potential (usually defined in part as “knows a bunch of other people”) will win handily over the expert worker and leader who does not desire to develop drinking buddies and the like.

    One book on leadership explained it well, by giving the example of two workers. One was a lazy woman who budgeted only three hours daily on her real job, then spent the rest of her time making herself known to others. The other person was a man who dived into excelling at his position. In the end, she was seen as a rising star, and he was an unknown drone.

    Perception promotes, and perception does not always align with reality.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      First off Gg, welcome to Matt’s blog!! I hope we’ll see you commenting more and more! We all love a good discussion.
      I think you’re right–if you’re working in a toxic work place and culture. And while I agree that, to an extent, perception I also believe that perception without substance is short lived. You can only keep up the facade for so long before the truth comes through (reference every chick flick movie since…forever).

      I still believe this advice is sound. Your best opportunity for success lies within being the absolute best and working to continually improve.

  5. Tammy Helfrich says:

    So true! “Embrace where you are and be the best at whatever it is you are now.”

  6. Joshua Rivers says:

    “Engage with those people on a new level.” That’s great advice for a small blog, a large blog, or any other area in life. Digging deeper into the relationships you have will also broaden your reach and sphere of influence.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Exactly. While we all want to “blow up,” a small audience is an opportunity to build great relationships. Who ever thought @marksieverkropp:disqus and I would be the friends we are today? All because we invest in each other at a level neither of us could have if we’d had 100k readers in month two.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        That is the biggest regret I have for not having a large audience…I didn’t have a good reason to avoid @Matt McWilliams!
        Haha. No, you’re exactly right Matt! There are soooo many things in screwing up right now that I’m glad I have a small, forgiving audience!

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