Why Lessons I Learned at 13 Are Relevant Now

How I navigated my journey is translatable to anyone in business.

Posted Jun 28, 2018

Pexels/Mike Maloney
Source: Pexels/Mike Maloney

Reflecting back on a 13 year-old me, over 50 years ago, I was lucky enough to learn valuable lessons that became the foundation for my life going forward.

I did not take a course or go to school to learn these lessons. I learned these life-long lessons by working at a local butcher shop every day after school and summers. My boss, Al, was the owner and former Marine cook and rifle instructor (no kidding). He imparted his wisdom and experience with a smile, but was quick to reset my thinking when it didn’t mesh with his expectations.

You could boil it down to a short list of some very salient and useful points:
1. Always pay attention to what you’re doing (there are sharp objects everywhere).
2. There is nothing that doesn’t deserve and warrant 100% effort.
3. Smile and make people feel welcome, appreciated, and respected.
4. There is a clear and definitive line between honest and dishonest.
5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; that’s what learning is about (and what chopped meat is for).
6. Life is rarely fair, so don’t waste time worrying about it.
7. Love and appreciate the people in your life.

Al’s lessons were taught not in lecture, but in commentary and action. He treated everyone from customers to sales people to beggars looking for a handout the same way—with the utmost respect.

He demanded that my work cleaning, scraping, stocking, and restocking be done first class and precisely the way he wanted the task completed. All ideas relevant to conducting a first-class business.

One of my jobs was to scrub the refrigerated case from the outer glass to the cold storage beneath. He instructed me to use scalding hot water to clean and make sure the drains were clear and clean. He told me that any foreign matter would smell and create bacteria by the next day if I didn’t accomplish it perfectly. He would inspect my work and then check every drain in every case. If it wasn’t up to his expectation, it needed to be done again.

Al asked me if I could work on a particular weekend (the store was closed on the weekend) as he had a large order that he needed to deliver an hour or so away on Sunday. He never minded going above and beyond. There we were, all day Saturday, him cutting, me wrapping and marking each package until the order was complete. We drove it up to their place on Sunday and stacked everything in their garage freezer.

We talked, laughed, and I learned.

The funny thing is, his willingness to go above and beyond wasn’t limited to his biggest customers—he would say yes to someone who wanted him to slice something on his electric slicer. He lived his principles both in his devotion to his family and commitment to his customers.

I look at my life and business today and I have carried Al’s messages with me in creating experiences for clients and colleagues that are built around respect and a smile. I remember him telling me, “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are!”

Al never quantified his 7 Rules, I admit to the act of codification. He just lived them.

Several years ago, I went to visit him in a long-term care facility. His wife of over fifty years had passed a few years earlier and he couldn’t manage on his own. I watched him interact with the other residents and the staff; he had the same glint in his eye and smile on his face. He was affable and kind to the end of his life. He lived his principles in business and everyone knew Al the Butcher.

He could have been successful in anything he pursued because of the well-grounded beliefs, behaviors, and habits that were foundational.

Looking back over 50 years is an ominous task, but the reminders of how I navigated my journey is translatable to anyone in business. “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are!”

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