Saturday, June 2, 2007

Get 'er Done

Its interesting how hard life’s lessons are to learn. It most cases if we just listen we would learn them quickly and painlessly. Most of us, myself included, prefer to take the circuitous route through impatience, frustration, and distress to get there. One of life’s more important lessons that I learned was from my father. Keep in mind during my teenage years my father was clueless. He learned a lot during the third and fourth decade of my life.

I grew up in and around farm communities. Walking beans, bailing hay, detasseling corn and construction were my occupations between 13 and 18. I enjoyed it. It was outside and physical. Most of the time it gave me time to think. But the greatest lesson I learned didn’t include these. It included high school football. In a small country school all you had to have was a steady heartbeat to play on the high school team. Don’t get me wrong, we had some great players (we were conference champions and a couple of guys went on to play college ball) I just wasn’t one of them.

My dad had a rule that if you start something, you must finish it. Every late summer, fall football practice would start. It had been a full year since the last experience, so as a budding adolescent it was ancient history. Virtually every guy I hung with played sports. We all went to the first practice together. This is where my dad’s rule comes in. The first few days of practice were pretty much the same. We had three-a-day practices in 90-degree heat and almost 100 per cent humidity. We used to consume salt pills like popcorn. We ran laps in full pads. Coach Scott had this general rule about exercising until you threw up. Everyone had to do it. It’s how we got into playing shape. I usually remembered this about noon the first day. Now I liked to play in the games. Once the season started practice was easy to take, but the first six to eight weeks were next to impossible. So around noon of the first day I would announce I was through. Dad’s rule kicked in: If you start something you must finish it. I played high school football four years. Four years I started in August and four years I finished in November. I never learned.

It was a great lesson for life. It has served me well. I’m careful what I start and I always finish. I am a lot better at the “careful what you start” part. I don’t commit to things I’m not sure I can finish. If I do take on a project that I may not have resources to finish, to my liking, I make sure to set that expectation up front. Sometimes people want you to do something knowing there is a chance it won’t work out. I’m OK with that. I treat it as an idea or concept, not an action item. I make sure we are all on the same page from the beginning.

Recently as part of a management review, our consultant stated, “Don’t ask him to do something you don’t really want done.” That is part of what my dad gave me. It’s now part of my DNA. Your family, friends and co-workers should see you as a person of character. A person they trust will follow through and get it done. If you’re not, you need to fix it. Don’t over commit or under produce.

The memory should be specially taxed in youth, since it is then that it is strongest and most tenacious. But in choosing the things that should be committed to memory the utmost care and forethought must be exercised; as lessons well learnt in youth are never forgotten. - Arthur Schopenhauer

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