Paul Butler: Earning a living

Paul Butler

One of the best life lessons our daughter ever learned didn’t come from me or my wife. This quantum leap in thinking didn’t come from the school system or from social media but rather something she learned on a softball field in Newbury Park.

We love living in America but one of the many cultural aspects we found quite strange was when we went to watch youth sports. We were shocked when a kid had just been struck out in baseball to then hear all the parents in the bleachers call out words of encouragement such as, “good job” or “nice effort” or “you nearly hit it.” America has a reputation for being a pretty positive and upbeat culture but when the kid strikes out, he has to know he didn’t do a good job regardless of his effort because he didn’t actually make the play.

In the workplace, people appreciate being recognized for what they’re doing well and being told straight when they’re not. One of the attributes of great leaders is they talk straight.

So, what did our daughter Brodie learn as a life lesson, which serves her well almost eight years later? Well, she joined a travel softball team based out of Newbury Park. It was a very tough team to get on to and it was a significant commitment for all of the family, to make the practices as well as all of the games in and out of state.

The baseball coach was an ex-Marine. He had a phrase he’d recite: “Ladies, if you’re less than eight minutes early, you’re late!” His logic being, it takes a few minutes to get yourself ready before you’re fully present to practice. Relating this to the workplace, I’m always amazed when I see people turn up at work either late or at their exact start time to then spend 15 minutes getting themselves fully ready to start work.

On the first day of practice they didn’t even play ball — instead he taught them the history of the game. He wanted the young ladies to respect the heritage of the sport they had the honor of playing today. I’ll never forget when he asked the gathered group if they knew who invented softball. Some of the girls looked at the floor. Some of the girls looked to the hills of Calabasas perhaps wondering where the Kardashians lived. But one girl offered a response that pierced the awkward silence: “Was it Jesus?”

After recognizing her contribution and saying in the big scheme of things, “He likely did,” the coach went on to explain how the game started; how it changed and how the game can help develop their character and their competences if they chose to give their all.

Relating this to the workplace, I’m always aghast when so many organizations have such a poor onboarding and orientation program. They have such a wonderful opportunity to explain how the organization was formed. In doing so, they may be able to engage these new hearts and new minds as they stand on the shoulders of those who came before.

Perhaps the most profound lesson I recall from the ex-Marine coach was when he told the young ladies to buy themselves a plain white T-shirt and to wear that same T-shirt for every practice and never to wash it. He reiterated his instruction they must pay for the T-shirt themselves — as parents, we were not to buy it. He wanted them to realize the sweat of the last practice will carry them upward and onward.

For the first few games his team would walk out in their stinky, sweaty tees while their opposing team would prance out on to the pitch all looking pristine. They were finally awarded their team jerseys when he decided they’d earned them. I’ll always remember the day when Brodie received the shirt, she knew she’d earned it.

In the workplace, the only time the word “pay” comes before “work” is in the dictionary. We earn a living. We’re not owed a living. I think so many of the disgruntled, dissatisfied and disengaged employees we see in today’s workplace would be much better workers if they’d have learned some better life lessons as children.

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