Last week, I was working one of my last days at my part-time job. There was one co-worker there, we’ll call him Sam, who I’d seen a couple of times but never really worked with closely. Sam and I found ourselves in a conversation that day that I won’t soon forget. He knew that I had a full-time job as a security officer, and asked me how it was going. I said it was going well, and that I’d actually be switching roles there soon. That led into me telling him that I’d be leaving the part-time gig, and he asked how I felt about it. That’s where everything went exactly opposite of how I planned. Normally, I get to inject some pity story about how I have no time, and I never see my wife, and I’m tired all the time, and boohoo, my life. People feel bad for me, I feel justified for being cranky all the time, and life goes on. Not today, though. Today, God was going to hold a mirror up to my life in the form of this guy Sam, and I was not going to like the reflection.
Right after I told Sam that I was excited to be back down to 40-hour work weeks, he agreed with me. “I know the feeling,” he said. “I’m working about 60 hours a week–” and as I was nodding and commiserating, he added, “at my full-time job, and then another 15-20 a week here.” Wow. This guy works a lot. And then he asked what time I started every morning at my full-time gig. Thinking I’d for sure be able to win this one, I said, Well, we start at 7:00, but we have to be in the building by 6:45 to get the handoff and shift briefing from the previous shift’s officers. His response? “Yeah, early morning jobs are rough. I start at 5:00am every morning, and it’s tough to get going some mornings.” Dang it!! His next question knocked it out of the park, though. “Do you have any kids?” Uh-oh. Not yet, it’s just my wife and me for right now. “Oh, you should be thankful for that. It’s really tough with kids; I’ve got three, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of their lives because I work so much.” Hoo, boy. I feel bad for being away from my wife, I can’t imagine what adding three kids into the mix would do. But he wasn’t done yet. “And right now, my dad’s in the hospital, so after working from 5-3 or so at my other job, I come here and work until 8 or 9, then I go and spend a few hours with him every night. I think spending time with family is really important. That’s why I told the managers here not to schedule me on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. That’s my time with my kids and my wife.”
Sam. You’re a rock star. You win this little “contest” hands-down. But what really struck me is that he wasn’t trying to “win” anything. He didn’t have the same self-pitying undertones that I knew I had when I talked. He didn’t speak with an air of “woe is me, why does the world suck so much?” He was just telling me that he understood being tired. He understood working a lot. He understood being away from family. He wasn’t fishing for pats on the back or compliments on how awesome of a guy he is. He’s just doing what he can do in order to provide for his family. Sam is grateful to be able to work and earn an income for his wife and his children to enjoy. He’s not focused on how hard he has it, or how tired he is (though I’m sure he’s painfully aware of his need for sleep at times). As a result, Sam is one of the cheeriest guys on the planet. With every reason to complain, he actively chooses not to.
I went home that night and talked to Rachel about my attitude, and how I’d just been smacked in the face by probably the nicest guy I’d ever met. I’ve had some time to reflect on our conversation a little, and I’ve come up with a few takeaways I want to share with you all.
When Your Focus is Strong, Your Complaints Get Weak
Sam was so focused on making sure that his family was taken care of, there wasn’t any time to complain. Why would you whine about being tired if it means your kids can go to school and your wife can be with them? Sometimes, I feel like I had lost sight of what we’re working towards as I turned my focus back to myself and how unfair I thought I had it.
Short-Term Discomfort for Long-Term Gain is a Solid Trade
Most of the time, when we make decisions that will benefit us in the future, there is some sort of short-term discomfort associated with the choice. It could be as simple as having less money in your checking account after you purchase an item, or it could be more involved, like having less free time and being more tired when you take on a second job. Whatever the conditions, making sacrifices now for a better return on investment later is almost always the right choice. Thinking through these decisions and remembering that long-term goal is key to keeping your focus strong.
Attitude is Everything
At the risk of sounding like a Nike ad, this is something I’m learning more and more. No matter what your position in life is at this moment, someone is noticing you. Whether it’s your boss, a recruiter on social media, or a friend of your cousin’s ex-wife’s dog, someone with the power to help you achieve your goals knows who you are. What kind of live resume are you handing out? Are you someone who can get the job done, do it well, and inspire those around you? Or are you doing your work with a grudge, with the stench of complaint and laziness following you wherever you go? It doesn’t matter what you do, since every paying job is something that someone feels needs to be done, but it does matter how you do it.
Sam, if you’re reading this, thank you. I needed that punch in the gut you gave me last week. I hope we keep in touch, and I hope you keep on being awesome. Everyone else, be like Sam. Do your work thankfully, wholeheartedly, and with an eye towards the things that really matter in life.