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There once was a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race. All the animals in the forest gathered to watch. Speedy ran down the road for a while and then paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, ”How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?”
Speedy stretched himself out alongside the road and fell asleep, thinking that there was plenty of time to relax.
Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line.
The animals who were watching cheered so loudly for the tortoise that they woke up Speedy.
Speedy stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late because the tortoise had crossed the finish line.
After that, Speedy always reminded himself, ”Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!”
-From Aesop’s Fables
A few years ago I was moving from one house to another. I drove to the local U-Haul and picked up a van.
I am not sure how it is in other cities, but around Los Angeles there are usually about 25 guys who stand in front of U-Hauls on the street waiting to help people move. It’s the same with Home Depot and other stores. I have not seen this in other parts of the country, like Michigan, where I am from. Most of the people who stand in front of the stores are from Mexico. I have never seen an American. To me this says a lot about the work ethic of people from other countries. It seems they are the only ones doing this work. I wonder what makes Americans think they are above doing this sort of work? It makes me a little angry.
If I had grown up in California I’ll bet I would have been the only American standing in front of Home Depots and U-Hauls happily offering to help people paint, do yard work, or move furniture. You need to work to get ahead! You need to find opportunities where others see obstacles. This is what I want for you.
On this particular day, I gathered three guys to help me. It was the day before Christmas. One of the guys helping me was from an Eastern European country and the other two were both from Mexico. After years of picking people up from Home Depots and other places to do work, this was the first time I’d ever picked up one who was not of Hispanic origin. In fact, it was the first time I ever remember seeing one. The Eastern European guy was acting like a maniac. He was being obsessive about how the furniture was covered and moved. He was moving as fast as possible without damaging things, herding the men he was working with from room to room, and barking orders, although I had not asked him to do so. A few times he pulled me aside and told me the other guys were not as hardworking as he was and he was ”looking out for me.”
On one occasion, the man started screaming at the men in the truck while they were moving something because they were about to scratch something. I think this was more of a show, however. The men continued what they were doing and started laughing at him.
”He’s crazy!” one of the men said to me. That man’s name was Hillario. He was working with his friend David, who kept his head down and walked by.
At the end of the day, I ended up paying the Eastern European guy a lot more money than either David or Hillario. Mind you, the Eastern European guy argued with me that he deserved more because he had done such a great job. I think I paid him probably close to $40 an hour for the work he had done. This was way too much and I might have made a serious mistake. I have always had a place in my heart for people who make their living doing honest work on the street and I wanted to help him. I respected his work ethic and how hard he had worked. Despite paying him so much money, I did not feel good at the end of the day because he actually made me feel I should have paid him more.
That evening I had a wonderful time. My wife and I had just started dating at the time and she brought over a beautiful plant for the new house. We went out for a nice dinner in the Ritz Carleton and listened to music. It was only our third or fourth date and it was one of the more memorable and fun nights I had ever had. We drank a lot of champagne and I remember we danced to an orchestra. We got home quite late and fell asleep on the couch that had been set up in one of the rooms of the house.
The next morning, Christmas morning, my doorbell rang at around 7:15 a.m. I looked outside and, incredibly, there was the Eastern European man. He was wearing a suit. I could not possibly imagine what was wrong.
I opened the door and let him in.
”Hello,” he said. ”I hope you are enjoying your new home. It must be nice to have your own home like you do. Since I did such a good job yesterday, I would like to ask you to pay me some more money today since it is Christmas. I would very much appreciate your generosity.”
I was very disappointed. The man was not offering to do more work. He was not offering anything except a dose of guilt and a request for more money. His attitude got my day off to a poor start. I was not impressed with his request for more money and it made me feel badly. I had felt very good about helping him the day before.
There is an interesting moral to this story, however. Two of the guys I picked up that day over six years ago are still working for me and my companies today. Along the way one of them got a green card. This made it possible for me to pay him legally to work for one of my companies. The other guy has helped me out with small tasks such as raking leaves and so forth from time to time. I also got them jobs with a contractor I know. Neither of these guys have particularly super work ethics, but they are steady workers and they do what they say they are going to do. This is the most important thing. They do predictable work and do not play any games. They have also stayed employed in one form or another for six years.
I went by the U-Haul several times over the years and saw the Eastern European man standing on the street waiting for work. He was always standing apart from the other workers, or even across the street, because the other workers did not want to stand next to him. I am sure this made it much harder for him to get work. In addition, I noticed that late in the afternoon he was often there after the other workers had been picked up. He was a pariah of sorts.
While this example involves day laborers, it is no different at all for the highest paid workers in other industries, and the same sort of logic applies. Just being really good at something is not enough. You also need to be consistent. Being consistent is one of the most important aspects of your work ethic. The people who are consistent are the ones who have the best careers in the long run. Being consistent is something that is important not just for you but also for those around you.
Despite speaking good English, despite dressing well, despite being the best worker, the Eastern European man, I am confident, probably worked less and ultimately earned less money than most of the other men who got work from the street in front of the U-Haul.
In my younger days there was a family that lived by my house that never had any money. They often came over and my mother would loan the mother money for food and to buy basic necessities (when she had the money). The father of this family was a plumber, and in the 1970s in Detroit most plumbers did very well. The father never seemed to be able to hold on to a job very long. He also had a difficult time with unions. He simply refused to join one. He thought he was smarter than all the other plumbers. Despite this guy’s brilliance, his family never had the money to eat. If he could have just held a job and done things in a consistent manner, everything would have been fine.
So many people are under the misconception the most important thing in their job is being brilliant and outstanding, but they’re really missing the point. Being consistently good at something and doing the job day after day is much more important.
There is a certain type of person I have seen in the world of work over and over again. This person comes to the interview unbelievably enthusiastic about work and being part of the company. He shows up for work and his work product is much better than that of others around him. He may even get a quick raise or two. People around him start to notice, and the level of insight he puts into his job is incredible.
-If the person is in sales he is the highest-performing salesperson.
-If the person does a manual job he works harder and faster than others.
-If the person is in writing he writes more material that is more insightful than others.
In whatever this person is involved, he puts an incredible level of insight into it and does the very best he can with it.
However, the problem I’ve seen countless times is that when someone performs at such a high level in the beginning, it almost always leads to troubling and often bizarre behavior later.
I once worked with a man who started out being extremely enthusiastic. Then he stopped working every day and made strange excuses for missing work. Then the man started disappearing for hours at a time during the day.
The more extreme someone’s performance is, the less likely they are to maintain it over time. Issues like always showing up for work, always doing the job, cooperating with peers, and more are important characteristics. These are the people who contribute to companies and allow them to continue over time. These are the people companies want on their team. These are the sorts of people you need to emulate, who hold on to their jobs and continue their long and prosperous careers.
A one-shot performance is in no one’s best interest. Companies and organizations need people who are consistent and are consistently ”good enough.”
I’ve spent most of my career in the legal recruiting field. I have seen something occur in legal recruiting so many times it is incredible. Because it’s been quite destructive for our companies and something I have learned to recognize, I would like to share this pattern with you.
When we are looking for legal recruiters, it is often important the person have an outstanding educational pedigree. For that reason, we love people who went to places like Harvard Law School or Yale Law School and who have worked at the very best American law firms. People with experience working for the best American law firms are also typically the most motivated people. Most of the resumes we see from people who have these outstanding backgrounds involve short, one- to two-year stints working in a law firm. Several years ago I would never have questioned this, but now I do.
When men and women with this sort of background start at our recruiting firm, one of the first things we notice is how they will work very hard at first. However, they often ignore the rules others in the organization are following. Instead, they decide they can start making up their own rules. In one case, I remember one of our Harvard Law School recruiters deciding that instead of following the rules she was going to spend all of her energy concentrating on moving a large group of attorneys over to another firm in one big swoop. She worked for months on this and our company loaned her tens of thousands of dollars. When this did not work out she did not earn any income. Instead of following the rules, she was trying to be brilliant.
Another recruiter (also from Harvard Law School) believed she did not have to work the same hours as other recruiters as long as she pulled a few nights a week. Though this might have worked to get her very good grades, it missed the boat because it didn’t allow her to interact with people looking for jobs during the day.
Over and over again, I have seen people who feel like they do not need to play by the rules in the companies where they work and, instead, can do whatever they choose. They feel like they can play by their own rules and that a single performance trumps consistency. Consistency is the most important thing. Sustained effort over time is what really matters.
One of the best metaphors for consistency is the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon has stood for millions of years and it started out as just a stream. The power of this stream cut through the rock and over millions of years has created a giant swath through the earth. This is the power of consistency. Consistency over time will change the world.
The other day I was interviewing a very nice girl for a position unrelated to practicing law. Her resume was filled with nothing but one public interest job after another. It looked to me like her entire life had been devoted to helping other people. She was also an attorney and had the sort of pedigree I felt meant she could be a very highly paid attorney. In interviewing her, though, I quickly realized the last thing she was interested in doing was making money. Deep down she really wanted to help people.
When I asked her why she wanted to help people she recounted how her father had never held a job for very long and because of this the family had grown up quite poor. She said growing up poor made her realize how many people suffer in the world. She told me she wanted to help the people who were suffering. The more I thought about this, the more I realized she would not have suffered like this had her father simply been able to be consistent. Being consistent is the most important thing in a job.
The benefit of consistency is that it constantly involves the application of measured pressure to a task. Over time, like with the Grand Canyon, measured pressure can break down barriers and make everything go forward. You need to consistently apply measured pressure in your work.
I am not trying to be critical of brilliance and hard work. The point I am trying to make, however, is that life responds better to work that is done in a consistent manner over time. Concentrate your efforts on what you can accomplish over time. This is the path to success. Nothing happens overnight.
Read More About Getting Promoted and Moving Up Often Depends on Doing Unassigned Work:
Filed Under : Advancement
Tagged: benefit of consistency, best careers, career advice, eastern european country, eastern european guy, extreme performance, grand canyon, great job, Harvard Law School, highest paid workers, highly paid attorney, hold a job, job search guru | a harrison barnes, legal recruiting field, los angeles, prosperous career, sales person, steady workers
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