I first heard this quote on “The Go-Giver Podcast” and am taken with it.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
It’s a simple idea, but profound. If I do basic tasks, like sweeping the floor, half way, I will be more prone to do everything that way. The same is true if I do my best work. I want to do all things to the very best of my ability, making sure that flows from menial tasks all the way to the important ones.
There is a church with a large parking lot across the street from my kids’ school. To make drop off easier, each morning many parents will opt to park there and walk their kids to the door rather than going through the long carpool line. The parking lot is directly across the street from the sidewalk to the school, and when standing at the entrance to the parking lot looking at the school, there is a crosswalk less than 50 yards to the right. The crosswalk is complete with yellow flashing lights and the stripy (yes I’m making that a word) crossing lines that indicate a walkway. What is fascinating to me is how few people use the crosswalk (did I mention it’s less than 50 yards away)!
Instead of using the safety of the crosswalk every morning I see parents (usually dads) dart across a busy street with a ton of traffic (and buses) going back and forth, holding tightly to their child’s hand and coming closer to getting hit than I would like. Every time I am amazed. I often yell at them (as if they can hear me with my windows rolled up) and genuinely wish that would value their child’s safety and the lessons that they are teaching their children more than they do in that moment.
But, here’s the thing, I think these are good parents. They are good parents making a bad decision because it’s the easy thing to do. No parent would put their kid in danger on purpose, but because of the allure of getting across the street more easily, they do. No parent would be a bad example of their kid on purpose, but because of the ease of just running across in between cars they do.
I don’t do this; I cross at the crosswalk. However, with that said, I am self-aware enough to recognize that I do this in a hundred other ways. I may drive too fast with my kids in the car. Or I may be tempted to glance at a vibrating cell phone at moments when my attention should be fully engaged elsewhere.
A great example of this was on our recent trip to Universal Studios. We parked in the bottom lot and with all five kids and a loaded down stroller in tow proceeded to head to the park. We had to go up an escalator, and even though there was a sign that showed no strollers were allowed on the escalator, for convenience I took the empty stroller on it anyway. That little breaking of the rules didn’t go unnoticed. Weeks later, my six-year-old drew a picture of my rule breaking and wrote a comment about it in her homework. I set a bad example when I took the easy way out. Fail.
Often the easy way seems better but isn’t worth it in the end.
I often think about “the last time.” As in, the last time I rocked my now 11-year-old as a baby, or the last time I can pick up my 9-year-old and flip him over before he is too heavy to lift like that anymore. Sometimes I look back at my kids and regret that I didn’t recognize the last time that I fed them a bottle or sat them in a highchair. I feel like if I had recognized that last time I would have cherished it, intentionally made it into a memory I could re-live as they got older.
So now I try to look forward. I wonder, is this the last time I’ll be able to give her a piggyback ride? Or, is this the last time he will be willing to hold my hand in public without being embarrassed? I want to be on the look out for that last time, and I want to remember it, cherish it.
I want to be more present, more cognisant of my reality and more aware that every day I may be doing something with my children for the last time. I believe if I’m watchful, I’m less likely to miss the precious moments that make up a wonderful lifetime.
When I was a kid, I remember going on road trips with my mom. Of course this was before the days of GPS and smartphones, so she had to know where she was going in order to get there, only sometimes she didn’t. I remember one time being on one end of a city and mom saying, “well, we have to get over there” pointing to some far off destination that I didn’t see, “but, I’m not sure how. I guess we will have a driving adventure!”
Adventure is the best thing I learned from my mom (thus far). She has this sense of adventure that is magical. She can look at two options when there is a major fork in the road of her life; one option is safe, the other risky, and she can be totally ok with either one. She is not afraid of a challenge, of failure or a fight.
Throughout my childhood, my mom and I had many driving adventures. Now, as an adult our adventures are different, but she is still always ready for the next adventure or challenge. I think her sense of adventure is one of the reasons I’m an entrepreneur today. I don’t fear the risk; I’m always ready for the next adventure. I hope I can instill adventure into my kids as well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what my kids see when they look at me. When they walk into a room, do they see me reading, working, or playing on my phone? When they want my attention, do they see me as attentive to them or as distracted by a device? When I’m watching a ball game, do they see my cheering them on or paying attention to something else? Do my kids see me as attentive an available or distracted and distant?
I think a lot of this comes back to my relationship with devices and how I use them around my kids. I realize that I’m teaching them now what is acceptable, what is normal. I need to be cautious about what I’m teaching, and if I’m honest, at the moment I’m not sure I’m doing a great job. So, here are two lists of things I’m thinking through:
Commitments I’m making to my kids:
- I will not allow devices to distract me from my kids. Their childhood is too short, and devices will always be available.
- I will focus on being intentionally attentive to my wife and kids.
What I want my kids to see:
- I want my kids to see me work hard.
- I want my kids to see me up early.
- I want my kids to see that I care more about them than any screen.
About eight years ago I met someone that has become a good friend and mentor. We were talking in the context of a small group, getting to know one another, and I noticed that Greg would often ask a simple question to gain more understanding about the person that was speaking. He would say, “what do you mean by that?”
For example, in that setting with Greg I might have said, “I want to be more productive” and Greg would have quickly responded, “what do you mean by that” to better understand my concept of productivity and what I mean. Then I might explain to Greg my detailed plans for rising early, reading, writing, etc. His asking the question gives the opportunity to provide context and clarity around a vague statement.
I started asking that question too and have learned a few things from it.
People usually start with a vague statement about what they believe and will let that statement stand if left unchallenged. I don’t think people intentional withhold the whole story. They summarize a thought or belief quickly, which has the appearance of being a complete thought, but is much vaguer than you might realize. If asked, a person will often elaborate and give much-needed context to a statement to help you fully understand what they are saying.
The biggest thing that I have learned is how little I understand about someone based on their first response. I have a tendency to assume I understand a person quickly. This is a terrible habit if I am seeking to understand someone’s point of view. Instead, I have to fight the tendency to assume and force myself to ask, “what do you mean by that?” I am rarely disappointed with the answer. Usually, my knowledge of the person’s point of view gets much deeper. My understanding of that person, in general, gets deeper. And, my ability to empathize and connect with that person becomes better. In short, this simple question helps me make sure that authentic and meaningful communication is taking place.
The next time you are in an argument, discovering a client’s need, or talking to someone in simple conversation and they make a statement about something they believe, don’t let that statement stand. Dig a little deeper. Ask them, “what do you mean by that?” You may be surprised at the response.