Monday, January 23, 2012

Shuffling Towards Greatness

We were lounging around the desks, waiting for our last student, Bill, to be picked up. He was over at the computer playing an educational game, lost in a world of swirling colours and numbers. Deanna, my co-worker, was complaining again.

“Where’s his mother? Every day she’s late. Why can’t she be here on time? With a son like Bill, she really should be more organized so we’re not all sitting around waiting on HER schedule.”

I glanced at the clock on the wall.

“It’s only five minutes,” I said. “It’s not a big deal.”

Deanna harrumphed and then started complaining about something else. I tuned out. Bill’s mom showed up a few minutes later, apologizing profusely.

“I’m so sorry. I just got behind- Bill! C’mon, let’s get ready.”

Bill shuffled towards his mother, smiling broadly. Although relatively high functioning for a developmentally disabled student, he wasn’t particularly verbal. I helped him put on his jacket, and he patted me on the head as he always did.

“So how was his day?” His mother asked me.

“Oh, it was-“

“He did very well this morning,” Deanna said, cutting me off. She’d positioned herself in front of me and was smiling at Bill’s mother. “I started a new program with him. I had this great idea based on his love for colours, and we’re really making some progress with his counting.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Bill’s mom pulled the toque over her son’s ears.

“And how are YOU?” Deanna said. “It must be so hard, what with your two other children and all that you do.”

“Well, Bill’s worth it. I’m just sorry that I always seem to be a little late.”

Deanna laughed and clapped her hands together.

“Oh, we don’t care about that! We know your schedule, right Steve?”

“It’s okay,” I managed to say, though my insides were heaving.

Bill’s mother smiled her thanks and left, holding her son’s hand as he shuffled towards the exit. As soon as they were out of sight, Deanna rolled her eyes.

“As if an apology matters. She’s late EVERY DAY!”

I grabbed my coat and left the school without a word to my co-workers. Days like this were always upsetting. Deanna had been pulling this shit for the past two years, and she wasn’t alone either. More than a few of my colleagues spent most of their time complaining and gossiping. When I left the school board two years later, I hoped to find a job, a place, where I didn’t have to associate with two-faced Sales People like Deanna. I’d seen it in the church. I’d seen it in the schools. There had to be somewhere I could go…


One of the more fatiguing truisms is that there will always be “Sales People” in your life. There will always be people who “market” themselves to your boss but do nothing when no one is watching. There will always be people who sound great and talk great but who won’t lift a damn fingernail unless they’re getting paid for it.

For seven years, I watched great teachers struggle to get their lesson plans done while coaching three teams and making themselves available to their students. All this while a number of their colleagues sat around and did nothing but complain about their salary and gossip about the students.

If you’ve worked in a church, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve worked in a hospital, you know what I’m talking about. In every job, everything you aspire to do, you’re going to find people who have success because they know how to work the angles. They will cause fits of frustration, especially when you’re struggling so hard to do things the right way.

My advice? Keep struggling. Keep doing things the right way. Like a punch in the gut, Sales People erode our willingness to walk the extra few steps to do things right. They remind us that the world isn’t fair, and that it rewards cheap and glossy more often than it rewards deep and meaningful.

But the world needs people who won’t take shortcuts. The world needs people who will care about others even when there’s no ‘reward.’ Sure, some people will make more money and earn favour before you do because they’re willing to do anything and say anything, to lie without regret. There will always be people who skim. But when we start comparing ourselves to the Sales People, we forget why we’re here. We forget that the greatest rewards in life are nearly always unseen. We forget the satisfaction that comes from doing things the right way. And we forget the influence our lives have on those around us, and what a difference we can make, regardless of the spotlight.

Greatness is never achieved through the shallow lens of notoriety. It happens when we understand that the primacy of others matters more than our own recognition. We don’t need a number, be it the one in our bank account or the hits on our website, to tell us who we are.

The world is moving faster these days, and there’s great pressure to climb the Mount of Recognition. And more than ever, we need people who will stay away from the gold diggers and grave diggers, people who will look beyond them to understand where greatness truly lies.

Forget the Sales People, my friends. Forget the fifteen minutes of fame and four minutes of airtime. Instead, remember the people who impacted you through your life. Remember their example. Remember how they shuffled along, never in a hurry, more concerned about shaping their character than their reputation. Remember their example, and don’t let the others pull you down. Be great instead.