Here’s one theory about the origin from Wikipedia:
The origins are uncertain, but a common theory is that the expression arose after Conservative Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (“Bob”) appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1887, an act of nepotism, which was apparently both surprising and unpopular. Whatever other qualifications Balfour might have had, “Bob’s your uncle” was seen as the conclusive one.
Salisbury is widely believed to be the Uncle Bob that the expression refers to. “Bob’s your uncle” is said to derive from the supposed nepotism of Lord Salisbury, in appointing a favorite nephew, Arthur Balfour, to several political posts in the 1880s.
“Bob’s your uncle” is an exclamation that is used when everything is alright and the simple means of obtaining the successful result is explained.
Here in America, we’d say, “a piece of cake” or “easy as pie.” But I rather prefer, “And Bob’s your uncle.”
Today’s episode was prompted by something that happened one year ago. I recorded the event on my personal Facebook page. Here’s what I wrote.
Grandson #3 (Easton) and grandson #4 (Cason) went with us to see my parents yesterday. On the ride home Easton sees something and the obsession begins. It’s the little marking on the side pillars of the car indicating that there’s a side curtain airbag.
He’s reading out the letters and asking, “What does that say?” All the letters are capitalized though, presenting a new challenge for his reading skills. From the backseat he’s announcing the letters. “S, L, D, E, C, U, R, T…” No break or pause, just reading the letters in straight succession. I quickly realize the problem. The L isn’t an L. It’s a capital “i.”
Me: “That doesn’t spell anything. S,L,D aren’t the first letters to anything.”
Easton: “Yes, it is. That’s what it says, S, L, D, E, C, U…(he goes on to announce every letter for the umpteenth time).”
Me: “That says, ‘Bob’s your uncle.”
Easton: “No, it doesn’t. Bob’s your uncle doesn’t start with S.”
Me: “Sure it does.”
Easton: “No, Bob’s your uncle doesn’t start with S.”
Me: “What does ‘Bob’s your uncle start with?”
Me: “Very good.”
Me: “That second letter isn’t an L, it’s an “i.”
Easton: “But it doesn’t have a dot.”
Me: “It’s a capital i. All those letters are capitalized.”
Easton: “But it’s S, L, D, E…” (again reciting every single letter)
Me: “It says, ‘Side Curtain Airbag.” (I go on to explain what that is)
Then comes a 10-minute conversation on how those airbags deploy. And I interject “Bob’s your uncle” some more along the way.
Me: “When the airbags come out they say, ‘Bob’s your uncle’ on them.”
Easton: “But I’ve never seen them say, ‘Bob’s your uncle.'”
Me: “Because you’ve never seen airbags. They don’t come out until you crash the car. You never want to see ‘Bob’s your uncle’ unless you crash.”
To add confusion, Rhonda inserts, “Cale is YOUR uncle.”
Easton: “Then why does it say, ‘Bob’s your uncle?”
Me: “To let you know the airbags are out. And uncle Cale answers to, ‘Bob.'”
This goes on for about 5 more minutes with Easton growing increasingly skeptical. Rhonda finally tells him I’m “pulling his leg.” Of course, that means she has to explain what that phrase means.
Easton: “I thought so. I knew it didn’t say, ‘Bob’s your uncle.'”
Now, I’m Googling for Bob’s Your Uncle t-shirts in kid’s sizes! I’m also coaching him to call Cale “Bob” the next time he sees him!
I smile every time I think of that car ride.
I wish Bob was my uncle, but I do have a cousin named Bob.
Easy peasy. That’s our hokey American equivalent. Much less clever than, “And Bob’s you’re uncle.”
That’s that. Kinda sorta the same thing.
I don’t know if the story is the correct origin of the saying, but I hope so because that makes it funnier to me. Some ner-do-well fella gets a high position and everybody stands around questioning, “Who? Who? Who got it?” Then some lone voice says, “Arthur. Arthur got it. Bob gave it to his nephew, Arthur.” Then some crusty old politician says, “And Bob’s your uncle!”
So many ideas rush through my punny brain. So many different directions to go with all this, but a few that I don’t want to pursue are nepotism, having a leg up because of family ties, or getting advancement because of who you know, or who knows you.
Easton sat by me during a recent church service. He and his little brother often sit with us Sunday afternoons or Wednesday evenings during worship. As he settles in he shows me a folded-up five-dollar bill. My wife unfolds it asking him which president is on it. He correctly answers, “Lincoln.” She then proceeds to look for where it was printed. We have a U.S. Mint here in Ft. Worth so she was looking to see if it may have been printed locally. While she’s doing that I told him, “In very fine print somewhere it says, “And Bob’s your uncle.” He proceeds to point to every line of fine print and act as though he’s reading, “And Bob’s your uncle.”
I’m pretty determined to keep this bit going as long as possible. Or until I can get him a T-shirt. Or maybe until I can get myself one.
Eventually, he’ll be old enough to understand an explanation of what it really means. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the quirkiness of his confusion.
And of course, I’m adding to the confusion at every turn. Like this past Sunday, I asked him and his little brother, “You know what Bob spelled backward is? It’s Bob.” Cason, his little brother who I nicknamed Road Rash Roy because the kid always has scratches and skinned elbows and knees, says, “No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it does. Bob forwards is also Bob backward…”
“And Bob’s your uncle.”
It’s just that easy to confuse 2 little boys who I love dearly. I mess with them so much they know it. They’re learning how to discern it all. Little do they know how important this training in sarcasm will be to their successful future in navigating the world. But I know.
I also know that everything is hard…until it’s easy.
I’m about 20 years into a mild fascination with minimalism. If only I’d discovered it 40 years ago my fascination might be wild, not mild. By the time kids were in college I was too far down the road to clutter and accumulation. Now that it’s just the two of us parts of it seem less daunting, but other parts more so. There is nothing about decluttering that seems worthy of uttering, “And Bob’s your uncle.” It’s insanely hard.
My wife took three days a few weeks to paint the inside of some of the kitchen cabinets and reorganize things. This included purging lots of things. It also included numerous instances of, “Hey, look here at what I found.” There are so many items in a kitchen that haven’t been used in years, if ever. Begs the question, “Why do we have that?” No need to ask, “Why don’t you get rid of it?” because until you dig it out of the back of a cabinet, you have no idea you have it.
Permit me to coach myself through this, with you serving as witnesses. Invisible accountability partners of sorts.
The world tells us lies. Lots and lots of lies. In fact, I dare say most of what we’re told, exposed to, and the stuff that gets shared on social media are outright lies, phony ideas and falsehoods.
For instance, it’s the journey, not the destination.
No, it’s not. It’s all about the destination. Why do we get in the car and drive hours and hours? To get someplace where we’d like to be. Somewhere other than where we were. We endure the journey so we can get to the destination.
Another lie, it’s about the process, not the outcome.
No, it’s not. It’s all about the outcome. Why endure the beating of the process unless we’re pursuing the outcome.
I read an article entitled, Why People Who Focus More On Processes Than Outcomes Gain More In Their Life. There’s no proof that this title is correct. But it sounds good. To some. Maybe to many. The article speaks of people who want to lose weight. Okay, just stop and think about this. A person sets out to lose weight, but that’s not the reason (motivation, a’hem “inspiration”) for it. Oh, really? Well, then why do they want to endure the process of losing weight? Because they just want to experience another area of self-discipline that requires sacrifice? No, dummy. It’s because they want to be thinner, lighter. They want the outcome. Just like when I get in the car, there’s someplace I want (or need to) be. Otherwise, I’m staying home! And staying fat!
…and Bob’s your uncle.
Here’s an aside, but it’s important. Do you know the difference between motivation and inspiration? Many people confuse them as synonyms, but they’re not remotely the same.
Motivation is the energy you bring with you to get it done – whatever it is.
Inspiration is the too-often-short-term-excitement resulting from an external source.
Can I inspire you? Maybe. Mostly, here at LTW, I’m working to provoke thought. You can determine whether I succeed or not, but suppose I do inspire you to lean more toward wisdom. That inspiration won’t last unless or until you summon up the motivation – the inner energy and dedication – to do the work. I can’t want it for you enough. Nobody can either. You have to do it for yourself. That’s motivation.
Easy Peasy. Bob’s Your Uncle.
But more accurately, everything is hard until it’s easy.
As I was making notes in preparation for this episode I wrote down three words: create, play, perform. I was thinking about musicians and how that process of making music translates to just about anything else. We create art, music, math, or athletic competency. Then we play or do. We practice the art, the music, the math, or the athletic endeavor. We do it. Over and over and over. Some of us do it well. Others of us, not so much. And we perform. Sometimes, like musicians, it’s in front of people, live or recorded. Like athletes, we have games, or matches, or meets or tournaments. People watch us perform. They look at the results of our work.
There is no “Bob’s your uncle” moment in these endeavors because, unlike a political appointment, nobody can bestow these on us. We have to earn them. It made me wish I had an uncle named Bob. I wish some things – like learning guitar – were easier. But I realized if that was true, then it wouldn’t likely be as remarkable as I know it is. It might be relegated to common, ordinary, and uninspiring.
Another truth appeared as I considered these 3 words (create, play, perform) — excellence isn’t in those outlier performances, but in the ordinary. I was watching (again) that Michael Jordan documentary series. MJ had some extraordinary performances, but as I watched his story – one I was able to see in real-time since I’m so old – I realized that his greatness was in the consistency of his performances over time. His level of performing at his ordinary level was so vastly more consistent than many players, and his remarkable moments were so much higher…he achieved superstar status. Rightly so.
Everyday. Consistent. Discipline. Dedication.
Got nothing to do with Bob being your uncle. Bob can be your uncle and it won’t matter!
Here’s the thing. Some people are waiting for Bob or somebody to bequeath to them success. Or achievement. It could happen in some things, like politics. Or a lucky inheritance. Some other form of chance. But it’s got nothing to do with merit. Instead, it’s favor. It’s getting something easily.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of getting something easily if you can. It’s just a horribly unreliable way to get anything. To wait for somebody to give it to you. It’s the life of folks who embrace that “if only” philosophy. If only I could win the lottery. If only I could get that promotion. If only that company would hire me. If only I had my master’s degree. If only I had their luck. It’s an endless stream of “if only” excuses.
Well, you’re a loser and life isn’t going to magically get better for you. And Bob’s your uncle! 😀
I heard a musician wonder if high achievement were the norm…would creativity lean toward awful? If everybody were bent toward creating remarkable work, would unremarkable work be deemed innovative and creative? Thankfully, we’re not beleaguered with such things because most of what’s produced isn’t all that good. I’ve even heard it argued that the universe rewards mediocrity. Maybe we can’t handle too much remarkability. Maybe average makes the world go round ’cause it’s everywhere all the time! 😉
And Bob’s your uncle.
The phrase evokes a smile. Every time. Because it’s funny to me.
But there’s another side that’s slightly serious. “And Bob’s your uncle,” signifies it’s easy. Effortless even. And in spite of the historical context of the phrase, most things worthwhile require a degree of dedication and hard work. Unless Bob’s your uncle.
Smooth paths. Easy decisions. They’re mostly roads to nowhere, but not always. For example, surrender is a smooth path, an easy decision. It’s not something I’ve done much of when it comes to trying to make a positive difference, but as I’ve leaned toward older age…it’s become increasingly more tempting. More so in the past few years than at any other time in my life. Especially when it comes to groups where people are clamoring for power and authority. My lifelong battle against tyranny has taken a toll I guess. I find myself not caring quite as much as I once did. I’ve had my bouts battling resignation (surrender), but that seems to demand a degree of apathy, which I just don’t have. To any degree.
Apathy may not always be bad though. And it may not really be apathy – not caring – as much as it may be caring less than you once did. Priorities change. Objectives do, too. I think my apathy isn’t true apathy, but my caring less than I once did. And that’s absolutely true about many things, including some group dynamics where I see people wrangle to propel themselves and their opinions forward at the expense of the group. I find myself not caring so much to benefit the group with experience and insight because wisdom has taught me I’m not able, capable or even the right fit all the time. Sometimes, as older and wiser heads always taught me, it’s best to be still and quiet so things can play out. That’s been difficult all my life…until now. Now? It’s not that hard. In fact, it’s my preferred course. And Bob’s your uncle! 😀
We’re now about 4 months into 2021 and I’ve made a number of key decisions for moving my life forward. This phrase has been part of the process as I’ve carefully examined my natural abilities, my opportunities, my challenges, and my ideal outcomes. Sir Ken Robinson wrote The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
Sir Ken defines being in your element as finding that place where natural aptitude and what you love intersect. It’s not about simply pursuing what you most love because what you most love may not be what you’re good at. Both natural aptitude and passion (what you love) are important.
At my age, I know what I’m good at. I know the very few things I’m great at. And I know what I most love.
Professionally, I’m doing it. Coaching executives and leaders in high-performance careers, teams, groups, and organizations. I’ve spent my life learning these things and now I’m able to pass them on in a non-judgmental way. I challenge my clients to examine their natural abilities (including their personality, their communication styles/preferences, and what they prefer), their opportunities, their challenges, and their ideal outcomes! It’s not easy work, but clients know it’s the most worthwhile professional work they can do – to invest in themselves so they can be a more positive influence for their employees. The bottom line is making the most positive difference possible.
Enter the phrase, “And Bob’s your uncle!”
Last fall I began to wrestle with, “What’s easy? And likely the best course of action?”
I had one specific situation of my life in mind – a group I’ve been part of for over 30 years. I concluded that being still and quiet was now easiest, and likely best. Maybe you can relate because you may be in a group that just no longer has the value it once did. Or one where your contributions aren’t needed any longer. Not a group you’re going to walk away from, but a group where you’re simply going to be a more quiet member. In my case, a very quiet and still member. And it’s fine. Fact is, it’s more than fine. “And Bob’s your uncle!”
It easy. And that’s the point. It wasn’t always the case, but today things have changed. My mental and spiritual health matter. They’ve always mattered, but today there’s a renewed focus on those that I know I must pay close attention to because the damage to those can be high if we don’t protect them. For me, stillness and silence are terrific tools of protection for spiritual and mental health.
Fact is, I’ve never been better.
Never been as fit for the work before me. Never been this patient. Or this skilled. Or this knowledgeable. Or had this level of understanding. Or had this much ambition to want to focus on helping others. Because the window is closing and I want to benefit others with what I’ve learned. They can do with it whatever they will, but generations should never pass away without sharing what they’ve learned. Whether the next generation wants to learn it, that’s up to them. Some will. Some won’t. Either way, I don’t get too fixated on that because it doesn’t remove my urge or responsibility to do my part. This is exactly why I’m continuing to grow my coaching practice and lean more heavily into my professional pursuits more than ever. And that seems weird perhaps, given that I’m in my early 60s and not in my early 20s or 30s. But it’s completely true.
For one important reason that I must convey before I finish today’s show. You have to invest yourself where you matter most. As Harry Callahan, aka Dirty Harry, said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” When you reach my age, hopefully, you’ve learned your limitations.
But I think I’ve known all along. My limitations. They’re easy to spot. Learning what I’m best at has been a slog. Much, much tougher to figure out. But I’m there. I’ve been there for the past dozen years or more. Helping people reach new heights in their leadership is my talent. Helping leaders build high-performing cultures is my gift. Shining the spotlight on others while I remain in the shadows is most comfortable. And Bob’s your uncle. These are easy things for me. And at this age, I’m tired of doing hard.
So for me, today, Bob’s your uncle means it’s high time for me to lean more heavily into helping people who most want my help. Serving people who are anxious to achieve new levels of success in their own lives and in helping the lives of those they lead. And to help people who are struggling through issues in life. It’s what I do – and what I’ve done all my life.
I recently posted this diagram, a progression I’ve used almost all my life. I posted a podcast about it here at GrowGreat.com. And I referenced it in a little article at RandyCantrell.com just this week.
I encourage you to think about what you’re good at – really good at. What others see you being good at, not what you most want to be good at, but aren’t. The things where your natural aptitude shines. Easily. And the things you most love. If you’re as lucky as me, they’ll be things that benefit others in some way.
And Bob’s your uncle!