“He’d yell, ‘Hey baboo, get in here!’” said John, as we sat on the beach.
“Really?” I asked in amazement, “He’d call you baboo?”
“Yup, he wanted me, and everyone else, to know I was his baboon.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “Was he the worst you’ve ever dealt with?”
“Oh yeah. There’ve been other winners,” John said sarcastically, “but he takes the prize.”
The beach we were sitting on was tiny Sand Dollar Island, just a short boat ride off Marco Island in Florida. John’s father has a condo down there, and he, Mike and I were taking advantage of the old man’s hospitality.
For the last 15-plus years, John has been a college football coach. But before you conjure up glorious images of bowl games and float-filled parades, know that programs run the gamut from the aforementioned Division 1 type to small Division 3 schools, where football is more afterthought than all-consuming passion.
For John, however, coaching the sport has been the all-consuming passion of his life, and he’s followed that passion from program to program, always seeking the illusive combination of stability and salary, but never accepting compromise on the main point — to coach football and nothing else. Through all the peaks and valleys, he’s stuck it out, and I respect him tremendously for it.
Another person I respect tremendously is Michael, the son of my mother’s boss. More a family friend than employer, my mother’s worked as an admin for the same chiropractor for at least 25 years. Occasionally, she’d provide me with updates on his children.
“Michael got accepted to the Police Academy in Hackensack,” she said.
“Wow, that’s great,” I replied. “He’s been working at that for a long, long time.”
“Yup. He was an EMT for a while, then became a Police Special working the dispatch desk and other things,” she said. “He applied to a bunch of towns during the last 10 years, and finally was accepted.”
Contrast these inspiring stories with comments I’ve heard far more often, such as, “It’s just a job,” or “I do it for the paycheck,” and you’ll get a sense of what I’m getting at. It’s easy to go for the money and forget what’s important. I did it a while back and spent the most awful two years of my professional life working at publication whose content (textiles) I had no interest in.
Though you likely are doing exactly what you want to be doing, and have climbed the ladder with patience and diligence to reach the rung currently occupied, think about your staff — both the one you currently have and those you’ll be bringing on in the future. Do you want someone totally committed to the ladder they’re currently climbing, or someone who’s just collecting a paycheck? How can you tell?
Look into their eyes and it will be clear, listen to the sound of their voice and you’ll hear everything you need to know. What sound are you listening for? It’s called passion, desire, commitment and enthusiasm, and it cannot be faked. It also cannot be compensated for if missing.
If you hear it, grab it and you’ll be giving a break to someone who’s worked long and hard for the opportunity you have the power to grant. But if, for whatever reason, you don’t, or can’t, don’t worry. The folks I’m talking about, the indomitables, won’t be defeated by the disappointment, it’s just not in their DNA. Tell them no, tell them not now, even call them your worst. No matter, they’ll keep coming and, eventually, they’ll win.