I learned about taking pride in my work in the back of a 1970s station wagon. That just sounds wrong, I know. But it’s true, and I apply what I learned there to copywriting, content development and dozens of other tasks for my clients every day.
It was my Uncle John’s old wagon, a Chrysler, I think, or maybe a Dodge, and I was tasked with cleaning it. Well.
If you’ve been around long enough to recall what was on the roads in the ’70s, you can picture it. Big as a freakin’ boat. Drove like one, too, floating on struts and shocks that made the huge, heavy car feel like it was rolling to and fro over waves. Faux wood paneling down the sides over that awful, dull pea-soup green that was so popular at the time. If my uncle had been a family man, this baby would have been the epitome of the fabled Family Truckster.
I was a broke teenager. Uncle John needed his roadster cleaned. He said he’d pay me $30 to clean it. I figured it would only take a couple of hours. Yeah, the car was big, but how hard could it be? Remember, this was the early 1980s; $15/hour was doggone good money.
A couple of hours later, I called it. And my uncle called the job what it was – crap.
I hadn’t vacuumed out the crevices, cleaned the insides of the windows, wiped down the dashboard… I thought he’d never get done pointing out all the things I hadn’t done, or hadn’t done right.
You’re not finished. / What? / The deal was you’d clean my car. It’s not clean. / But…
I whined. Kicked a couple of stones out of the dirt driveway. Uncle John stood firm.
“No use whining about it,” he said, “If you want to get paid, you have to finish the job and do it right.”
No one has better summarized work ethic, taking pride in your work and good customer service since.
I finished some time later, irritated as only a teenager can be. But I got paid.
I think of the old wagon and my uncle’s lesson every time I get shoddy, careless service. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Like recently, at a home improvement store –
Excuse me, I’m looking for some plumber’s tape. / If we have that, it’ll be down aisle nine. “If,” I thought to myself. What “if” I go there and don’t find the plumber’s tape. Then what?
Or the thousands of times I’ve called a store in advance to find out if it stocks a certain item – Um, yeah, I think we have those. / You think? / Pause. Yeah, I’m pretty sure. / Pretty sure? / Pause. / Can you check, please? / Harrumph. Yeah, hang on….
One of the worst examples unfolded in front of my wife and me at a local grocery store over the past holiday season (and this was an exchange with the manager on duty, for cryin’ out loud) –
Hi. I’m trying to find the Keurig machines you have on special. / We don’t have those. / But I called earlier today and was told you have several on display and more in the back room. / Oh. Well…
She walked away, but stayed in our view, pushing empty carts toward the stacks near the front doors. She didn’t bother to call anyone to ask or send anyone in search of the Keurigs. Finally, I went searching myself, not for the Keurigs but for a stockboy. I was a stockboy once, so I knew that the stockboy knows or can find just about anything in the store. The young man I lassoed looked up and down several aisles, then went in the back and found a stack of about a dozen of the machines. Cheerfully. He’ll have her job in no time.
The manager on duty was the face of the store. Her service was crap. She was the face of crap.
If you want to get paid, finish the job and do it right. I always keep in mind that the result of the work I do will be associated with me forever. I want to be able to take pride in it.
To put it another way, I don’t ever want to be the face of crap. Who does, right?
Doesn’t matter if it’s copywriting or cleaning out a car, always do the best you can, and you won’t be.
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