I was working out of my home office this week. When I stopped for lunch, I found that the water had been shut off.
I went outside into the 96 degree afternoon and saw a backhoe and work crew several houses away. One of my neighbors was standing there, so I walked over.
The water-main had broken and the 3-man crew was attempting to fix it. There was a young man standing knee deep in muck at least 10 feet in the ground. The hole was huge – about 10 feet across, 6 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. That worker was calling out things like “scraper,” “clamp,” “pump it out,” etc. It sounded like an old episode of MASH.
My neighbor, Tracy, works on hospital AC systems and is pretty handy with most things mechanical. He pointed out how impressed he was that these guys were able to dig such a huge hole and not destroy the sidewalk or adjacent driveway.
And we were pretty surprised that the “fix” for a busted water-main was simply a large metal collar that had the young man contorting his body in order to bolt down. When he climbed out, I asked if it was any cooler down below. He laughed and said, “Man, its worse down there. There’s no air.”
Tracy then commented about how impressed he was with their backhoe work. The young man smiled, “You’re lucky we had Joe today. Lots of guys would have torn that sidewalk up, and you’d be waiting for weeks for the city to repair it.”
I turned to Joe and said, “We appreciate that Joe!” Joe smiled and said, “I try not to create work for other people.” (What a concept!) They told us that the current drought had pipes bursting all over town. They had patched eight the day before.
Before leaving, Tracy told them, “You may not hear this very often, but you guys are real heroes.”
All three guys seemed genuinely appreciative of that comment. The young man who had been underground said, “You’d swear that some people think we tear up streets because we’re bored. You know, for everyone that yells at us for doing our job, it’s good to know that some folks appreciate what we do. Thanks for saying that.”
I walked away reflecting on the lesson Tracy had reminded me of. There are folks on our own teams (seen and unseen) performing jobs each day that we greatly rely on but too seldom acknowledge. Let’s take a minute or two this week to do that.
Every now and then, I have to laugh at how old I’m starting to feel. I find myself getting pretty worked up about things that some of my younger friends seem to think are no big deal. The latest thing stuck in my craw is the poor sportsmanship so often on display these days. And I see it everywhere from athletics to inter-company sales competitions.
A recent well-documented example had me fuming, even though I really didn’t care about who won the event. When LeBron James walked off the court without shaking hands after being defeated by the Orlando Magic, I wanted to throw things at the TV.
When he later skipped the mandatory interview, I think I said out loud, “Classy.” And when he gave that bizarre press conference the next day and explained that he was a “winner” and didn’t think it was necessary to shake the hand of someone who had just beaten him, I think blood shot from my ears.
Believe me, I’m not a LeBron-basher. It’s just the most obvious example of this behavior that I’ve seen lately. And when a guy that is so idolized sets that example, it makes me cringe. Coaching many different youth teams over the past few years, there have been few things that get me actually riled-up. But the increased amount of chest-thumping and trash-talking and decreased amounts of humility on display often makes me just a little nuts.
In our world, I’m frequently a bit disappointed about how some folks respond to the recognition of the success of their peers. Too many belittle others' achievements by making excuses for themselves or suggesting “luck” (or worse) by their peers.
I’ve half-joked with folks in the past that they should instead try to be the first to sincerely congratulate a peer whenever he or she gets acknowledged. Hey, it’s usually those top performers who move up the ladder, and folks have a tendency to remember who has been gracious with them in the past. And those are the very folks you’d want thinking highly of you.
Sure, any honest competitor will tell you that “luck” plays a role from time to time. But Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
We need to be more concerned in recognizing and learning from what folks did to succeed than in making excuses about why we didn’t. Sportsmanship and showing class are more than just good manners. They're smart career moves as well.