Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Valuable Lesson

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand in the presence of kings. He will not stand in the presence of unknown men.”

Solomon, Proverbs 22:29

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”

“What saves a man is to take a step, and then another step.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

I’m tired.  I really want to go to sleep.  I’ve written four blogs in the last 24 hours.  But if I can do just one more, even a quick one, then I’m that much closer to my goal.  This is the part that is the least fun.  This is the part where I have to keep going now matter how I feel.  It’s also the part that builds my determination.   I have 16 blogs to go in 5 ½ days.  That’s still three a day.  And that’s only if nothing goes wrong.   I’m not being a pessimist, but as Steven Pressfield and I have both said, when the finish line is in sight is when the danger’s the greatest.
God forbid, but the next five days is when anything could happen to keep me from my goal.  So in order to prepare, to create a buffer against potential disaster, I need to fortify now.  Honestly, I wonder if I should just hole up and not come out until I’m done.  But I want some human contact.  This is Wednesday.  I have tonight until Monday.  I think I will write the last blog on July 1.  That will be my victory blog.  But to even say that creates more pressure.  I really need to focus.   I really need to write. 
So I’ve got a cup of coffee and I’m still trying to figure out what to say.  This is as close to writer’s block as I’ve ever been.  So a possible cure to that is to just keep writing.   Sooner or later something will come to me.  Right now though this is hard.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard if I had learned self-discipline earlier in life.  Now I’m teaching it to myself at the age of 53 (almost). 
I remember someone who tried to teach it to me – Larry Matranga, one of my first employers.  I worked for Larry at 7-11.  To this day, I will never understand why he kept me as an employee.  I was whiney, ungrateful, lazy and rude to the customers.  I quit working for him twice and both times he took me back.   He was one of the most patient and kindest men I ever met.  He was like a father to me.  Sadly, I didn’t recognize what an amazing human being he was.   I was immature and selfish and I thought the world revolved around my needs.  I thought I deserved raises simply for showing up to work every day.  Larry put up with me for seven years.  I truly don’t understand why he kept me.  But he did.  There are few things in my life I would do over, but my time at 7-11 is one of them.
Larry was not only the closest thing to a father I had in my 20’s, but in some ways, he showed me the love of God the Father.  Now Larry wasn’t a religious man.  But when I think about how patient he was with me, how he should have fired me several times over, how he took me back (twice!) after I quit, well, I can’t think of a better example of God’s love.  I doubt that I could be as patient with an employee as he was with me.  But that didn’t mean he tolerated my shortcomings.
One day I just happened to be in the store on my day off.  There were some ice cream sandwiches that needed to be put away and he told me to do it.  So I did.  But I did my usual sloppy and rushed work.  When he saw it, he said, “Make this look nice.”
I replied, “Larry, I’m not even working today!”
He looked at me and said, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
I did.  When I finished, he said, “Doesn’t that look better?”
It did.  It was a valuable lesson.  Sadly, it took a long time before I understood what he was trying to teach me.
As I said, I worked for Larry for seven years.  Then I graduated from college and I got another job.  I was also in the Teacher Education Program at UCSD and it was there that my bad habits caught up to me.  Just a few months after graduating from college and with only a few weeks to go before I had my teaching credential, I was asked to leave the program.  I just wasn’t getting it.  My grades were poor.  I rarely studied.  I was too busy being social.  It was completely unexpected and one of the biggest shocks of my life.  Looking back, it was pretty obvious, but back then I thought I could get by on charm and desire.   I couldn’t.
After that I bounced around in different jobs, always taking short cuts, always being lazy.  I didn’t see the pattern of unhappy bosses and teachers that I was creating.  Oh, sometimes I worked hard, but it was not a habit.  Most of the time I took shortcuts and did the very least I could.  But good enough is rarely good enough.
Then my life turned completely upside down and I lost or had to give up almost everything.  I got a job as a file clerk with a temp agency.  I had reached my lowest point.  Then it got worse.  The job didn’t meet my financial needs, so I had to get a second job working nights in a liquor store.  I was a college-educated 30-year-old and I was sweeping parking lots at night.  It was during this time that I decided that I was going to stop taking shortcuts and stop being lazy. I had learned my lesson.
There’s more to the story and I’ll tell it in the next blog.  I’ll even tell the Zig Ziglar story that changed the way I looked at work and thus changed my life.  My work habits were not completely changed, but I was now far more diligent than I had ever been and this enabled me to Get Started and to Keep Going.