Take pride in your work, even if it involves mundane chores.

When I was a kid I had a lot more chores and responsibilities than kids these days have. However, it really wasn’t that much, and even in my generation I had some friends who would have three hours of chores every night before they could do any leisure activities.

Unlike my little brother, I was fairly competent with the work I was given. Since my mother knew that doing simple chores correctly was within my ability, nothing made her more upset than if I “half-assed” something, which was her term for doing a poor job, rushing, or not putting forth much effort. Whether it was folding towels, trimming weeds or sweeping the kitchen, I was much better off not doing the chore than doing it halfway.

Just Getting By

Even though mom tried to drive home the importance of putting forth a 100% effort in everything you do, I still coasted through high school doing the bare minimum. School was outside her realm of control, and I was always pretty smart so I could pass most tests without studying. I didn’t realize it until much later, but half-assing high school was one of the worst mistakes of my life.

I was partially driven by the need for acceptance back then. I know it sounds stupid, but being a middle class kid that got good grades and went to college and then to work pushing a pencil was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t want my friends and classmates to think my family was better off, or that I was smarter than them. Toward the end of high school, poorer kids started to attach a lot of worth to hard labor. Being able to keep up doing landscaping, carpentry, mechanical work or any other manual labor is something that is held in high regard around here. People respect you much more if you put 30 years in mining coal every day than if you spent the same 30 years as an accountant; or at least that’s how it felt when I was 18.

This was the first time that hard work aligned with my goals. I was naturally gifted in business, and had made thousands of dollars doing web design and other business part time toward the end of high school. I never worried too much about money because I had more than I needed. I was also burnt out on school, so I wasn’t too worried about college.

First Taste of Real Work

During the summer after high school my Mom became assertive that I wasn’t going to sit around the house all day. I was either going to go to college or get a job. During the end of summer my Grandpa died, and my cousins from Michigan came in for the funeral. One of them ran a painting company in Ann Arbor, and at the time it was the only thing that fit the bill for me. I moved to Michigan and became an apprentice painter.

Painting is a job that most people have done, but a job that very few have done well. The first lesson that I learned was how to hold a paintbrush; it turns out holding the brush correctly gives you more control and stamina, and it’s something that an average person doesn’t naturally do. I learned about all the tools. I always thought that the most important tool was the brush, but it’s not. The first most important tool is a wet rag, which is used to immediately take care of any mistakes and objects that you accidentally get paint on. The second most important tool is a 5 in 1, which is a special painting tool that handles five different tasks a painter regularly has to handle. I was told that every time I was caught without both of those tools, I had to organize the van.

Organization and Pride

During the first week, I became acquainted with how the van was set up. Every tool had a place, and we always put our tools back in their place. It turns out that being organized was the only way to fit all the tools we needed in the van, and it also made us much more efficient painters. It became clear to me how valuable organization was when we handled a job with another crew from Ann Arbor. They spent over an hour each day looking for tools that they needed, and traveling back to their shop to get tools they didn’t bring. We spent about 15 minutes every day folding our tarps and putting our tools away in the correct spot. I was never caught without my 5 in 1, but I still spent time every weekend organizing the van. Painting is a job that rewards attention to detail. I started taking pride in my work after finishing our first big job, and immediately started to become a good painter.

I painted for about a year. One day we were tasked with replacing a dry wall panel over a shower. The ceiling was molded around the wall, where the shower head was located, and my boss told me that if we could cut the oddly shaped replacement panel in one piece, it would look much better in the end. He struggled with remembering and deciphering all the measurements.

I became aggravated as I stood there watching him, being discouraged to say anything. It was comparable to watching someone else fail at a video game. Eventually I got fed up, took the tape measure and square, and sketched the cut on the back of the panel. The boss was impressed, but it was so simple for me that I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I was only going to use math once that day, embarrassed that other kids in my honor class were all becoming lawyers, and embarrassed that I was so eager to please everyone and fit in earlier in life. I left for Kentucky the next week to enroll in college.

The Most Important lessons Apply Everywhere

Take pride in your work, and apply this to your education.

I had taken a few college classes before, but usually ended up failing them for the same reason I didn’t do well in high school. I was too lazy to even withdraw from the classes after falling behind. This time however, I had motivation, and the pride that came along with being part of one of the most well regarded painting crews in the Detroit Metro. Instead of organizing the van, I started organizing my notes. Instead of paying attention to the details when painting, I started paying attention to the details of the architectural and engineering drawings that I did for class. Instead of putting eight hours a day in to being the best painter I could be, I started putting equal time into being the best student I could be.

My attention to detail allowed me to do the best work in most of my classes, and the pride I took in the finished assignments gave me the motivation to keep my work ethic throughout the rest of college. I graduated with honors and was selected for the President’s list. It wasn’t ever a matter of being capable; it was a matter of being dedicated.

Now as I handle all the day to day work for Social Media Sun, I still take pride in the small things and instead of organizing our van, I organize the folders on my desktop. Truly great work is a sum of its parts, and the details make the product. These are the things you need to realize in your own work if you ever want to be fulfill your potential.

Feature images courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Adam Justice. Click images for more information.