My wife and I were driving back home last Sunday after a restful weekend spent doing nothing in particular. Mainly, we sat on the deck of our cabin and watched the creek flow by. On the way home, we stopped at the donut place to get our allowance of three Boston Cream beauties to share with our daughter. When it was my turn to order, I slowly and clearly stated my desire for the three identical donuts. I paid, and only when Mrs. Freelancer opened the bag to check the contents did we discover only TWO donuts. We returned the bag, pointed out the error, and received our missing pastry. No problem, right? I mean, this kind of stuff happens all the time. Chill, dude. Take it easy. What’s the big deal, anyway?
For the remainder of the ride, we were discussing just how inured we’ve all become to mediocrity, and how pleased and surprised everyone is when something “goes right.” My wife works in a big office, in the Human Resources department. She happens to be, by nature, a friendly, capable, intelligent, and extremely well organized person. From what she tells me, she gets these “attaboy” emails all the time from people who are incredibly grateful to her SIMPLY BECAUSE SHE HAS DONE HER JOB CORRECTLY. Not because she went beyond the call of duty, or saved someone from a terrible fate, but because she did whatever it was that she was supposed to do in the first place. That which she is paid for. You know, the stuff in her job description.
We are all used to poor performance every day, in every walk of life. I just went through some home renovations that involved carpentry, plumbing, masonry, and concrete work. And in EVERY case, had I not been working at home anyway and been able to see the guys on the job, mediocre work would have been performed and mistakes would have been ignored. Instead of doing what I needed to be doing in my studio, I found myself checking up on these bozos and making comments like “Hey, is that pipe supposed to be leaking like that?,” or “I’m pretty sure that tile has a huge crack in it.” They would always say something like “Oh, right. Yeah, I’ll take care of that,” with absolutely no embarrassment whatsoever in being found professionally lacking. Whatever happened to Old World Craftsmanship? People almost never get what they order the way they order it at restaurants, either. And if they really want to eat what they want, they have to be prepared to make a huge stink about it. Generally, I’m not going to do that.
So where am I going with this? My point is that we are all completely numb to mediocrity. It’s all around us, everywhere we go. THE BAR HAS BEEN PERMANENTLY LOWERED. And we are all pretty much used to it.
I don’t know what field you’re trying to operate in, but if you just make it a point of personal pride to sweat the details, people will actually take notice. Show up early and stay late. Stay on schedule. Do the work correctly. Try to have a personality. It’s amazing how grateful people are when they realize they have found someone who they don’t have to micro-manage. You will actually get work from them simply because you are reliable…..one less person to worry about. Note that I’m not talking about doing anything great at this point. This is the most basic kind of stuff. But the bar is so low in our daily lives that there are significant opportunities for advancement for those who can simply “take care of business” reliably. Just ask anyone who deals with their company’s interns and you’ll hear it chapter and verse. So when you get extra pickles instead of no onions on your burger, remember to set your own personal “bar” nice and high. And order nuggets next time.