“In order to perform exceptionally, you must work intentionally.” – Ken Coleman
My First Job
When I first came to the United States I had very limited options. I was fresh out of high school and my resume was so thin (it only had a computer course I had taken right after high school), McDonald’s was my best option. To be honest, I did not enjoy what I did. For eight hours, I either cooked in a hot kitchen or wiped tables and scrubbed floors in the dining area. One important life lesson I learned from my parents was to work hard at whatever I have, for the time I have it. I was there on time, gave my all, and left it all on the floor so to speak. I went home dead tired and smelling like french fries and hamburgers but never in regret because I gave my best.
My motivation to work hard was intrinsic. At the time, I made minimum wage. But I did not allow the fact that I did not like what I did to be expressed in my job performance. I realized that the job was simply a stopover and a stepping stone on my way to fulfilling my purpose. When you know where you are going, you learn to see the big picture, not just the little details. It’s been years since that first job, but from those humble beginnings, I learned two important lessons that have served me well even today when my range of options has increased. Here they are:
See Purpose Over Preference
There can be an erroneous expectation placed on what we do. This expectation can relegate us to poor job performance simply because the work we do does not bring us joy. In my experience, it is not what you do but what you bring to what you do that determines what you get out of it. Those early days at McDonald’s could have been my most miserable if I had allowed them to be. I would have left a broken bridge there. By bringing a good attitude and a work ethic that showed I appreciate being able to work, I realized that preferences should never be an excuse for poor performance. We all have preferences, that is, what we would rather do instead of what we are currently doing. A verse in the Bible reminds me that preferences should never get in the way of purpose. “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as working unto the Lord, not to men.” Walt Disney saw it similarly when he said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” Dig deeper than your preferences and ask, “Am I giving my best in whatever I am doing right now?” It echoes this observation from Martin Luther King Jr:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper. He should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth pause to say; ‘Here lives a great sweeper who did his job well.’”
As you bring your best to whatever you do, although not preferable, your productivity will automatically rise.
See Productivity Over Perfection
In waiting for everything to be perfect we can end up doing nothing at all. This was true for me when writing my first book. I kept looking for the perfect writing environment, the right inspiration or feeling of writing to come over me. But all that came and went was time with nothing to show for it. I had to sit down and write. And keep writing. With or without inspiration. In waiting for the perfect opportunity to write I was missing out on the productivity that comes by simply sitting down and writing.
Do you ever find yourself saying, “I am waiting for _______.” Or, “When________, then I will________. Sometimes waiting for perfection can keep us locked in procrastination. Try this instead. “What can I do now as I wait for ____________. I believe waiting should be an active posture, not a passive one. This is how productivity wins over perfection. Beethoven, Michelangelo, or Shakespeare didn’t wake up and create masterpieces of music, art, or poetry. This came years after consistently being productive with consistent action. Stop putting off what you need to do because of the excuses you have been giving. Step up and act on what you can do now because you never get back the time you waste. You can only use the time you have now. Use it well.
Final Thought: Giving your best at whatever you are doing is a core trademark of excellence which can be defined as being consistently diligent over a long period of time. The quickest path to poor performance is comparing what you do to someone else. Stave off complacency by seeing purpose over preference and productivity over perfection. Stop wishing you could do something different. Apply enthusiasm in what you are doing. Your best effort is key to unlocking your greatest potential.
Keep on Keeping on!