I'll never forget going to dinner with my in-laws in the mid-90s at a restaurant that I loved. We lived in Marietta just north of Atlanta. We wanted to have a nice dinner, not an expensive dinner (don't get me wrong)…but a nice dinner. We wanted to go someplace where everyone could get something they wanted. My oldest son was only about 4 years old. Now if you are reading this and you have in-laws I think that it is important to say that it was really important that this dinner went well. My in-laws lived in Florida and I married their daughter and we moved to Atlanta. Translated - I took her away from them even though she was invited to get her masters at Georgia Tech (for those of you who care I am a graduate of Georgia…makes for an interesting Thanksgiving time when the schools play each other in football…especially when I tell you that my oldest also eventually graduated from Tech.) She really is the one who took us away from Florida. After all I was from Florida, too. Needless to say when I tell you the dinner had to go well it had to go well. In those days, there was this awesome restaurant that had created a name for itself. You could find it in most of your main cities across the US. This one was just off I-85 near Cheshire Bridge Road. It overlooked the interstate and had the best service in the world. My father-in-law was amazing at business and was very successful. When he first met me he had a difficult time with understanding that I wanted to be a high school history teacher. My saving grace was that I was an officer in the Florida Army National Guard and then the Army Reserves.* The restaurant we went to was T.G.I.F. Fridays. In those days, T.G.I.F Fridays was an amazing place! They hired wait staff that were expected to go beyond. The wait staff had to develop their identity, which was evident in the amount of bling that they wore and what personality they brought to the role. It was fun to go there. You never knew what to expect except that the food would be good, you would have choices for everyone, and you would probably have a story to tell afterwards. That night went exceptionally well. The waiter we had did not disappoint. He came out to the table and went straight to my father-in-law and said, "Hey, I must have been a great waiter that you would have comeback a second night in a row…?" He then looked around the table and said, "but I think you had different people with you." This was the best thing that could have happened. My father-in-law has an awesome sense of humor, which I appreciate. Went right along with him and said, "You weren't supposed to say anything." The waiter then did a funny impersonation of the comedian Robin Williams rewinding the scene and started again by welcoming us and noting that he had never seen my father-in-law before. That was fun. Everyone was in a great mood. The dinner went well. In 1994 Tom Peters published a book called The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person's Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times. He shared experiences in that book that he called Wow! TGIF Fridays was one of the places that he highlighted. He specifically noted the one in London that had job applicants create a skit and perform as part of the audition for the wait staff job. So cool.
Unfortunately, TGIF Fridays has lost its way. Many of the chain's restaurants have closed including that one that overlooked I-85. I don't know for sure but I wonder if it's because their menu became smaller. Or that it is happening because they stopped the practice of the waitstaff wearing bling and acting a little out there. Or could it be that they removed all of the goofy decorations that you came to expect at every one of the restaurants. Maybe it is because they also stopped the practice of their managers being able to go beyond what was expected. In the early days of Fridays…they had the best basket of onion rings. They were amazing. They were in high demand. But they were eventually removed from the menu. We are simple people. How can you tell? Well, we were broken hearted. How many people do you know who get disappointed by not being able to get onion rings? Who knows who made that brilliant move. We for the most part stopped going to Fridays. Then we went to Orlando, Florida and decided to try the Fridays there. We were telling the waiter about onion rings that they used to have on the menu and he said wait just second. He returned with a manager who said you want onion rings? We will make them for you. After all we have all of the ingredients. We were amazed when the waiter later returned with a basket of those fabulous onion rings. Now that was Wow! We also discovered that for a time you could make the same request in the Atlanta area restaurants. We started going back. Then they removed all the stuff from the walls and worst of all the managers started telling you, "We can't make what isn't on the menu." The last remaining Fridays in our town has now closed and soon will be torn down to make room for a grocery store.
We still talk about the waiter and the managers. They understood their purpose. They had the mindset to create a positive experience for the customer.
Have you ever experienced Wow! I mean the feeling that someone or someplace is going beyond your expectations? It’s a cool feeling. Especially, because too often now, since the Pandemic and the great quitting that has happened, you are more likely to experience the opposite. I understand that businesses are trying to recover and get back in step but sometimes it would be nice if I walked into a restaurant and they exclaimed, "Welcome to… May I help you?" Instead of what has become a common experience of no welcome, no asking if they can help you, and a gaggle of them are standing on the other side of the counter for the most part sending the message - "If we ignore them they will go away."
Not so long ago I had a tumor removed from my brain - this is real - the surgery was 10 hours. There were two surgeons. In the pre surgery meetings and post op they were both helpful and filled with encouragement as well as a sense of humor. I needed that. I probably was driving them nuts as I asked, "Am I going to get a steel plate in my head like Cousin Eddie?" They both knew who I was talking about and assured me that I would not be like the character from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. They were great and continue to be. I was in the hospital for 5 days and there were some there who wanted me to stay for an additional week or so. I did not want to be there any longer than I needed to. I wanted to go home. When I woke up after the surgery and opened my eyes the room was not how it should be. The clock was on the ceiling. The whole room was flipped. I felt like I had been on a deep sea fishing trip. The world was spinning. My whole world was out of sync. It took time for the room to return to normal. Hopefully, you get that the room was not actually flipped. My doctors told me that it was normal and that it would go away soon. It took a couple of days but the experiences became shorter and shorter. I had a huge bandage on my head. Couldn't get comfortable. I had terrible dreams at night. Monsters invaded my dreams, not like Dracula or Frankenstein's monster , but just strange creatures that were there whenever I fell asleep. The doctor's said that this was quite common and that it would go away when the steroid which was used for healing ran out. They were right. I still was a mess, but at least the room was the right direction and the monsters left. My family visited and there was an army of medical professionals that stopped by checking on me. Most of the staff made sure that I knew who I was, knew the year, and why I was in the hospital. If they weren't doing that they were checking my blood sugar and vitals. Did I say that I was a mess? I wanted to go home. A CNA who was soon assigned to me would check everything but she would also talk with me. During the first couple of nights when she noticed that I was awake she would talk with me about everything from my family, my work, hobbies and such. She took the time when she noticed that I was looking out the window to point out the cool stuff that was out there. She pointed to a helipad, one of the area mountains, and more. This all happened at 2 or 3 in the morning (I couldn't sleep even when the monsters went away…I had headaches that would hit with a vengeance.) During the day she started helping me get out of the bed and guided me to the bathroom. She helped me start doing the normal everyday things. My walking was rough. My body wanted to fall to the right. She encouraged me. She shared with me that by the end of the week we needed to be able for me to walk with a therapy belt and guidance so that I could be cleared to leave. Her focus. Her talks. Her encouragement. All paid off. The doctors cleared me to do therapy at home and I could leave with my family at the end of the week. I still had a long way to go but I was able to go home and work from there. That CNA knew her purpose. She was trying to get me through the first stages of the recovery process. She helped me focus on being successful at daily routines so that I could leave. She took time to talk with me and get to know me. She wanted me to be successful. She had the right mindset. It paid off.
On episode 18 of the podcast Qonversations | Quantuvos (The episode is titled "Purpose, Instinct, and Change.") Brian Gorman, the host, and his guest get into a discussion about purpose and mindset. They share stories about experiences that they have had where it was obvious that the team member understood their purpose in life not just in the job that was being performed. They share that when we know what we exist to do our mindset is such that it makes every day a good day. They explain that the employee feels good about what they are doing because they know why they are doing it. They know who they are and what they need to do. They understand what their role truly is and they want to be part of the bigger picture. They are driven to do better. They are driven to do more. They feel good from accomplishing the work and the impact that their work has on those they served. They seek to go beyond. It is this go beyond what is expected of you that I want to focus on.
We are coming through an unprecedented time in which people quit the regular world. Employees have made loud and clear what they don't like. It probably has impacted you. I wonder if these people who quit were looking for a hack to the world, a short cut to life, or someway to make everything easier. If anything, as people are returning to work and haven't found the answer to their angst is the true problem that they don't know their purpose? They really don't know why they exist? You might find yourself wondering what the big picture is? Then maybe what is needed a to spend time rediscovering who you are and what your purpose is.
About a year or more ago, I met a leadership and marketing specialist. His name is Jeff Henderson. He worked with Chick-fil-A and with Truett Cathy in marketing. He was working with Truett when they are creating the cows as part of their marketing campaign. His first book is called Know What You're FOR: A Growth Strategy for Work, An Even Better Strategy for Life. This is a business leaders guide to understanding how to get your business on the right path for growth by answering these two questions:
- What do we want to be known FOR?
- What are we known FOR? (p. 48)
As the subtitle says, this is not just about business it is an "Even Better Strategy for Life." If you are struggling to understand your purpose ask yourself these questions. Start there. Get a journal or an electronic journal writing app and answer the two questions. Just as a note we are talking in your work world, but maybe you want to start with your personal life. Either way it is a great exercise in figuring out your purpose. So what do we want to be known For?
Me? I want to be known for my focus on creating solutions to help the school systems I work with overcome barriers to success. I want others to see me as the person who sees things as they should be and sets the gears in motion to make it happen. What am I known for? Finding answers and solutions and setting them in motion. As a teacher and school based administrator I wanted to be known for helping kids achieve their dreams. I was known for finding answers not barriers to helping all kids create a path to success. So what about you? Take time now to answer the questions. Once you answer them start listing how you can make what you said happen. You have definitely started yourself down the path of understanding your purpose.
Now once you get a general idea of your purpose it is important that you develop a mindset that helps you grab that purpose and give it the effort that helps you be successful at what you want to be known FOR. Afterall what good is it if we don't put our best effort into it? Every day we experience the lack of effort on the part of who we come into contact with, but what grabs our attention the most is when we experience someone going beyond. Someone taking the lead and showing their pride in what they are trying to accomplish. She knows that what she is trying to accomplish matters. She realizes that she has the power to make someone's day. She wields the focus to clear the path for another to be successful.
As an educator, you have the ability to encourage. You have the power to set a brain on a path ready to achieve dreams. But you must show the extra. You must take the initiative to connect, share, and dream along with the students. You must go beyond and understand that that is part of your purpose. It takes time and effort. There is not an easy way out. To be successful working with kids takes that extra effort. In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin notes, "Cows, after you've seen them for a while, are boring… A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting…The essence of the Purple Cow is that it must be remarkable." (p. 3) I have known purple cows in the world. I described some earlier in this article, the TGIF Fridays waiter , the kitchen managers at TGIF Fridays who went beyond normal, and the CNA at the hospital. But wait I have also had colleagues in my world that are Purple Cows (Okay, they might take offense to the cow reference, but can we agree that I mean well?) Here are a couple of my favorite - met on Saturdays at a coffee shop with another teacher and students who wanted to learn how to read and comprehend at a higher level, another set opened the school computer labs a couple evenings during the school year to help with projects and research, created an animal sanctuary in his room to help soothe the anger and over stimulation of students with emotional imbalances, ran musical clinics on several weekends where professional musicians ran workshops to increase the ability to read music and play their instruments (The event lasted all weekend. It was a sleepover. Fun and games and learning and music.) These are just a few on the many Purple Cows that I have worked with. They were all successful at what they did. The students loved them and learned at such a higher level and all wanted to know more as a result. The students were grateful. The parents were grateful. The colleagues were satisfied with a job well done and asked what else can I do?
Knowing your purpose is powerful. Having the right mindset to help you achieve your purpose is the ingredient that will help you focus on what you are doing. If you are successful you are helping your students to achieve their dreams. There is no better purpose.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin
I interviewed Jeff Henderson about his book Know What You're FOR: A Growth Strategy for Work, An Even Better Strategy for Life on my podcast Teaching Learning Leading K12 episode 403. Go to my website https://stevenmiletto.com/403 or to your favorite podcast listening app.
*Even though the beginning had its challenging moments, my father-in-law and I became good friends. When my mother and then my father passed away my in-laws made me feel part of the family.
The opening picture is by fauxels downloaded from pexels.com.