Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slow Down and You'll Go Faster

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I love being in thinking mode, when it's productive. But some problems that need thinking require a significant amount of time and energy, and until you crack the code, it can sort of feel like a tragic entanglement of inertia. Wrapping my head around an idea or direction to take often does this to me. Once inertia sets in, you just have to stop thinking about it for a while and do something else. But we all know that is not how inertia works, at least I know that is not how it works for me. Normal people might accept their fate of not knowing and tackle what they do know. That is not me, that is not how I work. I tend to fall into the obsessive compulsive category and that is when I start trying to do more than I could ever realistically accomplish. I attempt to be the superhuman, but inertia always wins. It creeps into all of my other thoughts and my simple tasks. Nothing feels successful, not until I take a few steps back and just deal with the problem I have been meaning to solve all along.

My friend Kim wrote an intriguing call to action that I agree wholeheartedly with- SLOW DOWN!

When I was in high school I had this job at a mom n' pop restaurant called Charlie Mike's. It was a ridiculous job in the best ways possible. I had the most loyal customers; people who would come in everyday and order the exact same thing, comment the exact same thing about the weather or time of day and use all the same jokes, but who always made sure they had a different story to tell me. I loved them and I loved their stories.

It was my first job and it was hard. I was 16 and I was often training women older than my mother who absolutely hated me. It's no secret that middle-aged women aren't fond of acknowledging that a 16-year-old can show them how to do anything, but I did. I showed them how to carry the plates, set the tables, write tickets, deal with customers, run the register, you name it. The younger girls I worked with were the worst kind of unreliable and half the time no one showed up to work at all, not even the dishwasher. Why? Our boss. He was terrible and down right mean! He was so awful that no one ever stuck around to put up with him. His turnover was out of control. Other than Rosa who ran the floor in during weekdays, I was his longest lasting employee. If they didn't quit he found a way to make them quit. He never fired anyone, because he didn't want to have to pay unemployment and I knew this about him, and I knew he would never fire me. We tested one another daily; that man put me through hell. Customers would hear him yelling at us in the back and when we would return to the floor wiping away tears or red with fury, they would always do their best to console us. But, I had a job, I loved my customers, and I made more money than all my friends without working nearly as much.

One day no one came in to work. It was just me and Mike. Mike was preparing for the day long before I showed up at 5:45 am. By 6:00 am the customers poured in, all of them! I had never seen the place so packed and it didn't slow down until after lunch. The others were supposed to start showing up around the second breakfast rush. I did everything. Mike and I were washing plates just as fast as we could get food on them. I couldn't make coffee fast enough. I was even helping him cook! I was learning how to make omelets and prep food. I felt like I couldn't stop moving. It was so important for me do it all and make sure that our valued customers could rely on us just as they always had. I learned very early on that customers are the most important thing to your business, without them you can't function.

Finally, I could do no more. Mike was yelling at me the whole time and he could tell I was just about to burst into tears. So he stopped me and apologized. Then he said, in a very calm voice something that I had heard him say a thousand times before.

"Slow down and you'll go faster."

I didn't argue with him this time. I stood still a moment and caught my breath. I waited for him to finish the breakfast I needed to serve and you know what? By the time I got out to the floor, one of our regulars was serving everyone coffee with a smile on his face. He was happy to help, and the help felt good. The rest of the day went smoothly. I worked an eleven hour day on my feet, but it was all worth it. I didn't walk out on Mike or my customers and they respected me for that.

The world doesn't slow down, it probably never will. I am a competitive person, but there are some things you just can't defy and time is one of them. There is no way we are going to accomplish everything we want to in life on our own, because there will never be enough time. And that is just how I feel about ideas. People tend to keep them all to themselves out of the fear that someone else might solve an important problem before them and take all the credit. I truly believe that the best ideas are shared and that if we want them to grow, we need to put them out there. It's about helping people and letting them help us. We are competitive creatures, but I think we can fulfill that need by building one another up. It is ironic that we must slow down to speed up, but I think what it really means is to just take care of each other first and the rest will work itself out.


Laura Webster said...

This is so true! Wonderful post. :)

Tiffany Cruickshank said...

I loved reading this - you've told me so many stories about your first job, but never this one.

Catherine Hughes said...

"It is ironic that we must slow down to speed up, but I think what it really means is to just take care of each other first and the rest will work itself out." Amen. Loved it! :) said...

amen amen amen!