As a teenager, I had a summer job. I was a lifeguard at our local Elk’s Club swimming pool. It was a country-club atmosphere and most of the people of our small town of Griffin, Georgia, were members. Everyone knew each other and during the summer, we all had a great time at the club pool.
Because I was so young and it was one of my first jobs, I really didn’t know much about what I was supposed to be doing. I thought my main job was to get a good tan and look good in front of all the girls. Occasionally I would walk around the pool and pick up a piece of trash, if I happened to see it.
I also had the responsibility of cleaning out the baby pool every morning. Sometimes that could be a real challenge! On a few occasions I saw things floating in the baby pool that were questionable. I always used the pool “scooper” to pick up items I was afraid to touch!
The pool supervisor was a man by the name of Coach Joe Bell. He was a local, high school coach with a fairly serious approach to life. I remember being a little bit fearful of him, although he was a very nice man and was always kind and gracious to those who visited the pool.
On one particular day, I was standing at the gate of the pool where people entered to sign the daily register. I was talking to a group of my friends, and of course, entertaining all of them with my latest story or joke. I had not been paying attention to the details of my job, so Coach Bell was a bit upset with me. He walked by, grabbed the broom that was leaning against the fence, and in front of all of my friends, said to me, “Having you for help is like having no help at all!” Well, needless to say, that sort of hurt my feelings, but I honestly did not know what he was talking about! I know that sounds naive, but I really did not know what he wanted me to do.
Being so young at the time, I had not yet learned much about personal responsibility or what it meant to be responsive on a job. I was totally unaware that I should be looking for things to do, not waiting for him to tell me what to do. If I had been more responsive, I would have been thinking more about what needed to be done. I had not yet learned that when you are employed, you should not make people beg you to do what you are supposed to do in the first place! However, it is one of the most important lessons that any person can possibly learn. There is absolutely no way to exceed or excel in a situation without learning that basic lesson!
You must look for what needs to be done, rather than making people ask you, or worse yet, beg you to do what you should have been doing all along. If you are not sure whether or not you did a good job, it is very easy to ask. Simply go to the person you are working for and ask, “Did I do this job to your satisfaction?” Or, “Did I do this job to your expectations?” If you did, then you will get an affirmative answer. But, if you did not, then it gives you the opportunity to find out what you did wrong so that you don’t make the same mistake again in the future.
In my travels, I have occasion to observe many people working in many different vocations. I am not trying to be unkind or cruel in any manner, but I have noticed that most people do only what they have to do to get by. It is very rare or seldom that I see someone going the second, third or fourth mile. But, that is where excellence and success usually wait to appear. They do not come easily at the outset, but only after additional time, effort and labor. It is the nature of excellence. If it were easy to achieve, then everyone would do it.
Recently I had a shipment of products going from one city to another. The individual at the shipping company, who was responsible for it, accidentally shipped my product to the wrong location. Had I not had additional product shipped to the place I was headed, I would have wound up empty-handed.
When I called to find out what had happened, the person who had promised me that he would be responsible for my shipment said, “Someone on my staff accidentally sent the product to the wrong location.” Though everything worked out okay, I did not hear any responsibility in that gentleman’s sentence. All I heard was blame.
The reason we send these Tips out every week is to help your life to become better. Yet, I can assure you that it will not become better unless you learn to be more responsive in every area of your life. This includes being responsive to your mate before they must beg you for attention; being responsive to a child before he starts acting out so that you are forced to acknowledge him; or on a job before you lose it because you were not responsive enough in the first place.
Ultimately, being responsive is the mindset that a person must develop in order to see their dreams come true. Life is a proactive experience, not a reactive one, or one that can be approached with a careless attitude. If you do not get involved in your life, then who is supposed to do it for you? I think you get the point.
This week, why not raise the bar for yourself? Ask, “Am I being responsive?” “Am I waiting for someone to tell me what to do?” “Did I do this job to the satisfaction or the expectation level of the one who assigned it to me?” Those are some excellent self-help questions that will allow you to assess your approach to your relationships and your work.
I know this Tip has the potential to rub you the wrong way, but as my grandmother used to say, “If the fur on the cat is being rubbed the wrong way, then tell the cat to turn around!”
Robert A. Rohm Ph.D.
Personality Insights, Inc.
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