things i’m learning about jane at the jewelry store and being a linchpin:
Every day, we go through the motions. We all have some version of our own routines and habits, goals and to-do lists, commitments, obligations, hobbies, and other activities. The reality is that the moments that become our memories, journal entries, and instagram posts don’t happen every day. Most days are simply average.
That’s not to say that we can’t find joy in the activities that an ordinary day requires. We can. But that’s not what I’m writing about today. The fact is that if you’re anything like me, things like running to the grocery store, returning something at Target for my wife, or sneaking enough time to swing through Chipotle between meetings are rarely events that any of us would describe as inspiring or enjoyable.
But, why not?
I had an incredibly hard working team member named Darren who worked for my custom apparel company. He worked in our Nashville screen printing production facility, where the long Tennessee summers made our shop (and subsequently, many of our team members) miserably hot and understandably uncomfortable. On the very hottest summer days that the 615 area code threw our way, it wasn’t uncommon for some to publicly announce their feelings, call in sick, or otherwise make it known that they weren’t excited to be at work. In stark contrast, Darren remained a steadfast example of humility, hard work, and kindness no matter the temperature the mercury climbed to on the barometer.
Darren taught me a lot. While my position on the company org chart technically meant our team members looked up to my position, in fact it was me who looked up to him with tremendous respect. I learned a lot from Darren as he taught all of us many lessons in leadership; perhaps my favorite of all of them was a casual phrase that he used regularly, not only in conversation, but his actions. It was almost as if it were a compass that guides his life and decision making: “Do it with excellence.”
Before my wife said “yes” when I presented her with a tiny, shiny circle housed inside a recognizably blue cardboard box, I had the experience of visiting countless jewelry stores in search of “the perfect one.” Anyone who’s ever gone jewelry shopping can likely relate to the miserable process such a task requires one to endure. (If you’ve never bought an engagement ring, then just imagine the last time you went furniture shopping and you’ll know what I mean). Like vultures to a catch, the sales people were unanimously overwhelming and overbearing from my first step inside the door. They didn’t listen. They didn’t ask meaningful questions. They didn’t care about me, my elaborate plan to propose in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or any details I tried to share about what I was looking for. They simply were after a sale.
And then there was Jane.
Like an angel appearing in the middle of a chain store in Green Hills, TN, her entrance will forever be etched in my memory as a heavenly experience, not visibly, but emotionally so. As circumstance would have it, I had already found the perfect ring at another store. Communicating that up front, I expected her to move along and help another customer who might actually be purchasing something expensive enough to merit a big sales commission. It seemed to prompt the opposite - she asked meaningful and sincere questions with genuine curiosity, wanting to know all about the special girl who had me running all over town, where we met, the plan for the proposal, and even the ring.. that I bought somewhere else. Upon discovering I had it with me in the car, she begged me to run and grab it so she could see how beautiful it was. A quick round trip to the parking lot and back led to another unexpected moment, when she inspected it carefully and asked to excuse herself for a couple minutes so she could professionally clean and polish until the presentation would sparkle to her high standard of excellence when exposed for the first time under the lights of Paris.
Jane never asked for anything. She didn’t even try to give me a business card for future purchases. She took every opportunity to add value at every turn, offering delight and surprise, selflessly.
Seth Godin, a brilliant writer + thinker, has a name for the kind of people who do their work and live their lives this way - _Linchpin_ (in his book of the same name). He challenges us to become “indispensable” - to make ourselves more valuable by consistently finding ways to add value to the lives of others.
I was reminded of my positive experience with Jane at the jewelry store yesterday while ordering lunch in Utah. At a fast casual restaurant concept called Costa Vida, I was pleasantly surprised by a friendly greeting from behind the counter. This was more than just an enthusiastic “hi!” - there was a sincerity and intention in his voice that I heard echo throughout the cafe as each new person stepped forward to place their order. Watching the man with “Arturo” on his name tag proceed through the lunch rush, preparing food for customers, jumping in to support his teammates, and never missing a beat. His moves were quick, but calculated. Full of both vigor and craftsmanship, quality and excellence.
After eating my lunch, the rush had dissipated, so on my way out I stopped to pay a compliment to Arturo, to let him know I appreciated the way he did his job with excellence and care for both the customers and teammates. I thanked him for such a positive experience and reflected on the way that he was able to transform such an ordinary experience in to an extraordinary one.
Therein lies the opportunity that we all have - the secret that Jane and Seth Godin and Arturo have already figured out is that we can _choose_ to sell jewelry, print t-shirts, write books, or prepare taco salads - with excellence. We can choose to follow the status quo, or we can choose to redefine it. And the best part is that we can start now. And if we screw it up today, we can choose to try again tomorrow. We can be ordinary people doing extraordinary things.