This is sixth and final in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.
If you’ve read earlier posts in this series, it should come as no surprise then, to learn that we the importance of work ethic was passed on from my grandfather. His lessons were largely by action, and that may have been the most meaningful way to both teach AND learn. Pops did what he said he would do, and we saw the value in that. There were two primary ways we realized, mostly in hindsight, that Pops was encouraging us to flex our discipline and develop a strong work ethic. As a kid, all of this seemed like a natural part of life, not that we were necessarily learning anything.
The first method Pops had was to set up opportunities, not only to spend time at his house, for success. One example was to do homework or projects in an optimal quiet setting. His living room coffee table book was an enormous, maybe eight or ten inch thick, antique dictionary. Even though my parents had already bought me a thesaurus, Pops bought another one at Building 19 (a now defunct discount store that he loved to visit) so that I had what I needed immediately available. By providing the resources for homework (though the graphing calculator was on my own!) in a environment conducive to study, Pops made my homework experience actually relaxing. I could even finish most of it in the time before dinner was served.
The opportunity and setting he created established the atmosphere I needed to succeed in producing high quality assignments and projects, which ultimately led to good grades and learning what I should have been. What I learned from Pops was that in order to get desired results, it was important to create the setting to get work done. If there is too much noise, or you don’t have the right tools, it is impossible to complete the job and all you have are excuses. At work, I sometimes need to close a door. Before I had an office, I would borrow conference rooms or work from home or come in early to have quiet time for solving complex challenges.
If you are going to work hard, work smart about making work productive. Other ways we saw this was saving painting for sunny, dry days, making sure you had what you needed in advance to prepare for the holidays, and having a plan for what you wanted to accomplish, especially if it involved being out in the world in busy environments – like Building 19.
The pride of a do-it-yourself (DIY) project was something we learned from Pops. He was not one to hire out, and whether for financial or ego purposes I never sorted out, but he had developed the skills he needed to do all of the work on his own house. Pops was not just mowing his own lawn, but fixing and manipulating the collection of lawn mowers that he had picked up off the side of the road or purchased over the years. Even when a push mower became too difficult to use, he found a way to buy a John Deere rider mower so that he could continue to mow the lawn.
A World War II Navy veteran, he seemed to show a preference for “battleship grey” in painting anything that didn’t move and might benefit from a coat of paint. Household repairs were another one, and he and my mom created the dream team of wallpapering back in the 90s. The wallpapering install quality was so high that it took almost three days to remove it from one room 25 years after the installation in a small bathroom. Never mind the thrifty money saving ways that DIY-ing can help with, outside of buying a John Deere mower of course, but this showed us that we could actually complete a task ourselves. It solved simple problems like boredom, but it also encouraged development of skill sets that take time and practice to get right. A lot of times Pops experimented with his motor fixing skill set, but it showed me the importance of making the initial effort. If you don’t even attempt to try something, you will never get it done. What better time to learn how if not now?
In a similar vein, my own dad, Pops’ youngest, intensified the importance that not just work ethic mattered, but to do it, do it well, and do it right, the first time. Mom, of course, also expected this, but Dad was usually the “enforcer”. This was a message that I just couldn’t comprehend as a kid growing up, though finally as a teenager I became sick of having to re-do a task that was already done. Within this lesson, I learned to pay attention to the details of a task and that when we do something for someone else, from chores to favors to assignments, we need to understand the standards and expectations of the other person.
The way this lesson pulled into life has paid off in a lot of ways. One way I saw this manifest itself was putting the effort into getting the resume “just right” instead of good enough. The extra time needed to choose the best action verbs, proofread, and accurately yet succinctly provide in detail the experience I wanted to present as valuable to a prospective employer paid off. This extra work and focus on getting it right from the start helped me earn job interviews right off the bat in college and when I transferred careers. I believe this also help set me on my course of being a strong believer in continuous improvement because there was always the expectation that you could continue to do it better next time. Dad’s approach was, even if you had to re-do the task, you have learned this lesson now and it should be applied to each and every next time. This isn’t about being perfect, but meeting or exceeding expectations. There is a difference!
I was talking with my sister recently about the difficulty, still, eleven years later, of Pops not being around anymore. We didn’t expect the pain and sadness to carry on like it had over time, but we had (thankfully) never lost anyone so close to us before (or since). But we reminisced the good times and always appreciated what he taught us. We are thankful to have had Pops as long as we did in our lives, and he lives on in our memory with happiness.
With these lessons memorialized, I realize even more the impact Pops had on our growth and development and who we turned out to be long after his physical presence was here. These lessons are not just to help with your career or improving your life, but I hope you understand the value of relationships with loved ones, whether it is family or friends or some other collection of meaningful people. We all have something to offer in helping each other grow.
What do you have to offer, and what opportunities do you have to learn? Who has made a lasting impact in your life? What are some of the lessons you learned from this person? Have you noticed yourself teaching any themes or lessons to people around you?