Thursday, April 09, 2015

My Core Motivation for Work

What's your core motivation for work?

The first legit job I ever had was in nearly 20 years ago, when I was 13 years old. I say legit because I had to fill out paperwork to get the job, but I don't know if it was legit to hire a 13 year-old. I'm outing myself on the Interwebs here, but that's fine (statute of limitations?).

It was the summer of '95 and I was visiting loved ones in New Mexico for a month. Everyone thought it'd be great if I got a job at the restaurant my sister-from-another-mother was working at. I remember so much from that job:
I loved the fact that I got to eat the restaurant's food on breaks. For some reason the crisp of the lettuce and ranch dressing dominate my thoughts. 
I learned how to fold linen napkins in the way that makes them stand up on the table like a triangle. I can still do it. 
My job was to bus tables for the light lunchtimes and get the restaurant ready for dinner service in the evenings. 
It was out in the middle of nowhere. Lamy, New Mexico, near the train station. Look it up. You should see dirt and tumbleweeds on Google Maps. 
The name was Legal Tender. 
My shirt was a "this should be for Shaq" button-down jean shirt. 
I worked a double-shift on my third day. 
I worked there a total of four days. 
I felt like a millionaire when I got my check for $127.50 -- net pay baby! 
But the memory that's the strongest is that double-shift. I not only worked my normal late morning/early afternoon shift, but also the evening/night shift, when we were the busiest. Everything was fine and normal, until I was asked to do a task I never thought I would have to do or ever thought I could be prepared to do.

They asked me if I could serve coffee to a patron.

Can you picture this? I'm only a generous 5'7" now and I don't think I had a growth spurt since I was five or six years old. I was a little punk kid who could barely stand even with an adult sitting at a table and now they were asking me to serve coffee? Weren't they afraid someone would call the police to report child labor laws being broken?

I freaked out and asked everyone and anyone I could for help, but all they did was tell me to do it. I'm sure I actually had to have someone pour the coffee into the mug for me because I couldn't reach, but I might be exaggerating here, probably not though.

Now here's the best part. I rightfully put the coffee mug on a saucer and grabbed a spoon, but then I put all of it on a massive servers tray. "This is how they do it, right?" I asked myself. I wanted to do this thing and show I could serve like all the growns up people. Baller.

So just picture this tiny little guy carrying a tray that's probably only half the size of him just to serve coffee. The table was outside, so I had to walk from the kitchen through the dining area and head outside. I turned left and found the table. A gentleman had ordered the coffee and he was pleased to see it arrive, though I'm sure the look on his face was one of shock and perplexity when he saw who was delivering it. I just kept telling myself as I was shaking, "don't drop it, don't drop it, don't drop it." Thankfully, I didn't drop the coffee, but here's why. When I got to the table I realized I couldn't hold the tray and take the coffee off at the same time; the tray was too heavy and I couldn't balance it. After deliberating for what felt like an eternity I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I asked the guy I was serving if he'd be willing to hold the tray so I could take the coffee off for him.

I was mortified. The next day ended up being my last day. I reasoned that there was no way a 13 year-old should spend his summer vacation working like that. Totally valid.

Why am I telling this story? I see now that, for nearly 20 years, ever since that night I fumbled my way through serving coffee, I've been attempting to do one thing for people in all my work: Provide value. In so many ways I am still that shaky, nervous, unsure kid who's called on to serve someone and tries so hard to get it right, but my intentions are just as pure and I think I'm getting better at it, especially now that I hit that growth spurt.

I want to get a delicious cup of coffee in your hands. I want to serve because when I boil it down, the world we live in should be about the value we can provide others. It happens in a myriad of ways and models, but strip all of those components down and we should always be coming back to this one question: "What am I doing that provides value?"

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