This is a principle I took to heart early in life and then seemed to forget until years later, even though it would have served me again and again.
When I was 12 I wanted to start babysitting to earn money. I was a natural worker and saver, but as the youngest in my family, babysitting was something that had to be done elsewhere. Unfortunately — for me — my sister was four years older and an established babysitter. If someone thought to call the Moore family, they would automatically call the older, wiser, more experienced Nora. They never thought of me.
As my sister became more interested in school and dating and less in spending weeknights with someone else’s kids, she volunteered to offer her babysitting jobs to me. But first, she gave me a learning experience. There was a woman in our neighborhood who had three boys. Every Sunday morning Nora babysat for her — free of charge — while she attended church planning meetings that occurred before our regular church time.
I jumped at the chance. Who cared if I didn’t get paid, it was still pretty cool to be in charge!
The woman agreed to give me a trial run and the next Sunday I showed up anxious to please. I fed the boys breakfast, got them bathed and dressed for church, did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, made the beds, picked up the house, vacuumed the living room, and then settled down to do some activities that I had brought in my “Kiddie Care Kit.”
It took exactly one morning to earn my first dedicated client. She never called anyone else again. And, of course, she also called me on non-Sundays when she paid. I mean, if you came home to happy smiling kids and a sparkling house — for 50¢ an hour — wouldn’t you call me back?
Now I wasn’t stupid. I knew cleaning the house wasn’t part of my job description. But my mother was s fastidious housekeeper and had taught me well. I had the homemaking skills. If I was on the job, it just seemed wrong to spend any down time watching TV, talking on the phone, or eating my clients out of house and home. So, I worked.
From that time going forward, there were hardly any people I worked for who didn’t call me back on a regular basis. It also allowed me to pick and choose my clients. When one couple constantly rewarded their kids for ignoring me, I could afford to politely decline the work. When another family (with five, rambunctious kids) paid me 35¢ per hour, I could firmly tell them I charged 50¢ and let the chips fall where they may. (They fell on the side of them never calling me back and paying some other chump 30% under the going rate.)
I even had one client — a couple in an ultra clean house with only one young child still at home — who paid me 75¢ an hour. I was thrilled! (Years later, the woman threw me a wedding shower, to boot.)
If I could go back and live my life again, I would have carried that same work ethic to all the crap jobs I held. When I worked at Burger King, I should have busted my backside to use downtime to clean and organize — or even learn more about the food on the menu or the business operation. When I worked at landscaping and mowing, should have checked to see that the sidewalks were swept up and everything was left tidy.
There is no job that can’t benefit from a little extra effort. And while none of them were jobs I hoped to make life-long careers, giving my best efforts in them would have benefited both my clients/employer and me as well. Meeting expectations is good; exceeding expectations is amazing.
Superior performance is not, and never has been, the by-product of ordinary efforts.
Are there areas of your life where you can ramp up your deliverable? Can you surprise those you work with by going above and beyond the call of duty? You may be surprised at how far this can take you.
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