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Things I Learn From Working

In 2004, I moved from San Diego to Mississippi to operate several coffee shops with my brother the doctor. He struck up a conversation with a couple of local business owners one day and before you know it, we were their first franchisees. I didn't look into their financials like I should have. I took my brother at his word that this was a good opportunity. I ended up selling the last coffee shop in February 2010. I'm surprised we lasted that long considering all the businesses that failed in our area including several Starbucks.


I worked long hours for little reward and it was time to move on. Staying there was costing me the opportunity to continue my legal career. I used the money from the sale of our last location to buy Linda a used Honda Accord. We each need a car for our separate jobs and to drive our twelve year old hither and yon. I also got the foundation of our home fixed, made some house payments, and took care of other misc everyday expenses such as food, gas, and insurance. By the way, the foundation is messed up again and those same guys want $5,400 more to complete fixing it which I don't have. That's kind of the way it's been for me ever since I moved to Mississippi. Anyway, when the money ran out, I still didn't have a job.

I went to Upton Tire Pros to buy a tire for my wife's car. While I was waiting, I occupied myself on the computer they have for customers. On Upton's web site, I noticed a job they advertised for a driver. I hadn't found a job yet and I was doing too much thinking and not enough work around the house. I figured I'd use some of my free time to make money even if I was not using either of my college degrees. I have a good driving record so I applied. Within a few days I had an interview and not long after that I started working ten and a half hour days for Upton Tire Pros in Madison Mississippi.

I drive customers to and from their homes and offices, pick up tires and bring them to the store, put away and organize tire deliveries, maintain a clean and uncluttered environment for customers, and find other things to do when I'm not doing any of what I just mentioned (filling in dead time). Meeting and talking to customers as I drive them to their destinations is interesting and moving tires around is good exercise. Before I started working, I would wake up in the morning with a sore back. After using my back for working, it stopped bothering me. On my dead time, I enjoy the sunshine and solitude as I walk around the parking lot with broom and dust pan in hand.

While sweeping the parking lot, I noticed a few things I think I can apply to any project. Don't try to sweep up all the little debris. Just sweep up priority trash like the big stuff, things that might puncture a tire, and nasty cigarette butts. When you sweep up the priority trash, you sweep up the little debris along the way like gravel, leaves, and twigs. Over time, you get caught up on all the accumulated trash and you're just taking care of what's new. Sweeping doesn't take much time now. If I have no priority trash to sweep, I just sweep up some of the small debris. I don't go overboard. Over time I get to everything. Now, Upton Madison has a pristine parking lot and it doesn't take much time or effort to maintain.

The lesson? Focus on big priorities and take care of little things along the way. Don't worry about accomplishing everything at once as long as you work on it every day. Little by little - day by day - you will accomplish more than you anticipated. You will surprise yourself and feel an earned sense of accomplishment. From there, you will need to work to maintain what you accomplished. However, that effort will be much less than what you invested to get there.

Every time I mention working at Upton to my mother, she replies, "You have a molecular biology degree and a law degree and you're working for Upton Tire?" She said that again recently and I replied, "Do you want me to go to work and sulk for 10 1/2 hours a day?" No! I'm going to focus on my work and and not worry about the "importance" of my job. It's what I'm doing now. At least I have a job in this economy and I'm maintaining my work ethic. There are people doing "important" jobs that are lazy, do shoddy work, and harm others through their negligence. I guess an important job would be one with the potential to affect many people or affect even a single person significantly. If I had to choose between the two, I'd rather be the guy working hard at a simple job.

Consider the credit default swaps. Mortgages are covered by state law. Someone bundled mortgages together from all 50 states into mysterious financial instruments with an obscure paper trail. Now, banks are having a hard time complying with state law and can't find the necessary documents to legitimately foreclose on homes in default. That guy made millions of dollars and ended up messing up the U.S. and world economy in the process. Maybe it was 5 or 6 people who did it. I'm not sure.

When I was in high school, I was pretty good at tennis. I won a lot of area tournaments and was ranked #1 for our area. As a Sophomore, I was the #1 seed on our high school tennis team and won most of my matches. I dreamed of winning the state tournament, playing in college, and gong pro on some level someday. When I think of that objectively, I'm not sure playing tennis is all that important. However, that didn't enter my thinking. I enjoyed tennis and wanted to see my talent find fruition. I think most of us find satisfaction and determine meaning for our lives subjectively.

After my Sophomore year, my family moved to the country far from any tennis courts and I attended a high school that didn't have a tennis team. Oh well. Life threw me a curve. I went to Bible school but didn't find a church to serve in afterwards. Another curve. I left a good job to move to Mississippi to run a business that didn't go as planned. Another curve. I fell in love with a beautiful woman in Mississippi who died of Leukemia. Another curve. I met another woman I fell in love with and married. She's not plan B. She's simply part of my "now." She has given my work outside our home perspective and provides sweet comfort and support at home.

I digress; but the problem is most of us digress. We need to build on the solid foundation that will weather the storms of life, rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (not our own accomplishments), pursue the kingdom of heaven, and find the contentment that goes with Godliness.

As we get older, we want families and want to provide for them. Soon, some of us find our core talents are financially unprofitable, task our way through the day, and gauge our success by how much money we make and our guess of other peoples' perception of our importance. That's a grind. It's necessary and satisfying to provide for our families but it's sad if we can't apply our talents and passion to the task. It's bearable if we have a supportive emotionally healthy family to come home to.

However, nothing can help us if we surrender our self worth to our perception of other peoples' perceptions of us. "Other people" are often not motivated by spiritual values (are ungodly) and may be incapable of reasoning or perceiving outside of their sphere of self-interest. In other words, they can't see you. They don't know who you are. You are irrelevant to them. Money insulates; love translates. The truth is, only you know who you are. You have to find satisfaction in there.

Let's not give in to the deception of measuring our worth by a poor guess of what another person thinks of us. Ask God to give us a passion for work in its essence. Work is spiritual. Work is healing. God will provide our daily bread and we can find contentment in a genuine relationship with him. He didn't promise us bulging retirement accounts. Jesus actually spoke negatively of hoarding money to gain sit down time. Remember the parable of the guy who harvested a large crop and built bigger barns to hoard it all so he could sit back and enjoy his stuff? He died suddenly. Just remember Proverbs 14:23, "In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury." At a minimum, labor will profit your soul.

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