Above and Beyond: Is it in your genes?

I’ve been researching this so called Above and Beyond trait, if we can call it that, and I’m leaning towards putting it in the same category as other more identifiable traits such as eye-hand coordination and common sense. Let me explain.

For those of us who have been blessed with exceptional eye-hand coordination, hitting a tennis ball, ping pong ball, or simply catching an object thrown at you without fully turning your head or following the object into your hands, it just comes naturally.

I’m one of those that gets shooed away at a carnival’s basketball booth because I’m making too many shots, clearing the shelves of stuffed animals, and handing them to kids as they walk by. True story, by the way. It happened at a jambalaya festival in Gonzales, Louisiana, many moons ago.

And so I think for those who always seem to go above and beyond, whether the task is big or small, it just comes naturally. For many who go above and beyond, it is actually a little awkward that it is pointed out because they didn’t take on a task and say to themselves, “Wow! For this task I’m going to do more than I’ve ever done before!” It just doesn’t happen that way.

Unless it’s an employee who’s trying to save his job, sarcastically speaking…

Anyway, see what I mean? It’s like saying, “Today I’m going to have more common sense than I did yesterday.” I think you either have it in you, or you don’t.

So then, how do you know when someone is one of those “above and beyond” persons?

One way of course is to ask. And it’s okay for a person to list some examples of when he or she went above and beyond, but if the person tries to explain how or why, just stop them. It can’t be explained. It’s just in you.

However, as with other human skills, you can always work on improving yourself, but just the fact that you have to work towards making yourself better in one area means you aren’t quite there. Right? It’s like asking a historically lazy person not to be lazy anymore. Yeah, right…

So like eye-hand coordination and common sense, I think you either have Above and Beyondness, or you don’t.

No? I’d like to hear from other folks about this. And if this is the first time you’ve thought about this subject, let me know. It’ll help my research. Not that I want to go above and beyond

Earn Your Mistakes

Here’s a short five-step guide on accomplishing the task at hand. Whether it’s big or small, don’t start something unless you’re ready to finish it. And hopefully you’ll fail along the way: how else do you expect to learn from your mistakes?

  1. START, AND STAY THE COURSE. Once you start a project, whatever it is you’ve chosen to do, don’t lose sight of the goal. Just swat the minor failures away like gnats, and keep moving forward. And pay attention to critical junction points, as they will determine whether you’re headed in the right direction or not.
  2. TOP YOUR EFFORT: In other words, always put in one hundred percent, all of the time. This way if you fail, you can at least be proud that you gave it your all. Make this a habit, by the way, and it’ll get easier every time. (To put in 100%, not the fail part.)
  3. EARN YOUR MISTAKES: Take every setback as an opportunity to learn something. It’s your mistake, you earned the right to learn something from it.
  4. VENT IT OUT: Find a mentor you can discuss problems and solutions with. When you find the right person, you’ll see that they’ve already failed so many times that it’s logical they will provide you the best advice.
  5. ENJOY: If you enjoy what you do, all the hard work you put into something makes it that much more gratifying. Enjoy your success!

Now go start and finish something! What are you waiting for?

When you’re running out of options, make sure you run downhill!

Midway through my enlistment period in the United States Army I was assigned to the Directorate of Combat Development to work for a high ranking Colonel at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Col. Petty was a very strong-minded, detailed-oriented person charged with a division responsible for creating new weapons and integrating them into the military.

Fort Bliss, TexasHe was a no nonsense type of leader and always expected everyone to carry out their orders perfectly at all times. He was also known to reassign subordinates due to failure, or for other shortcomings he deemed not appropriate for successful delivery of a product.

Once while walking out of a building after a long meeting, upon two Sergeants failing to salute him, he stopped, turned back and addressed them in a stern voice, “Sergeants! Do you not see the rank on my hat! You’re supposed to salute an officer; this better not happen again!” As soon as the Colonel addressed them they realized they better stand at attention and provide a proper salute. Which they did, and apologized profusely as the Colonel turned back around and walked away.

By the time of this assignment as an enlisted member of the Army I had already been promoted three times within a 18 month period and would be up for a fourth promotion, to Sergeant from SP4. So I was never worried about being able to work in a high pressure environment, even though I was only 19 or 20 years old at the time.

Fort Bliss, TexasI had an immediate supervisor, SGT Novotny, and a Sergeant Major, SGM Larson that I reported to, but I spent most of my time around Col. Petty. A few of us enlisted personnel shared areas of responsibility including setting up A/V equipment in the conference room and assisting civilian staff with various tasks. But I was the only person in the building tasked with driving Col. Petty to his appointments, either to different buildings in the post, or somewhere off base like the Boeing headquarters. So pretty much I was usually not bothered by other staff in the office, including officers and enlisted members because they knew I worked for Col. Petty.

The job had its perks too, like frequenting the Officer’s Club for an occasional snack or beverage, meeting high ranking officials from the Ronald Reagan administration, or simply making my own work schedule, although always mindful of the Colonel’s meetings for the day.

Because I had to be at work early every day – by 6:30 each morning I was at the motor pool picking up the military sedan – I was normally excused from physical training (PT), and apparently that caused some friction with the other military personnel in the building. Especially the Sergeant Major. If I had to describe SGM Larson I would say he was a little like Sergeant Carter from the Gomer Pyle TV show, but a lot like Archie Bunker too, the old and opinionated character on the 1970’s sitcom All in the Family. Foul mouth and all.

There was this one particular time when Col. Petty was to be attending meetings in Washington D.C., at the Pentagon, and this included a Friday, a normal PT day scheduled for all, including the officers and high ranking NCO’s in our building.

Thursday afternoon the Sergeant Major called me to his office and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to be at PT in the morning, and that he didn’t want any excuses from me. He went on to say that I had already missed too many training sessions and there was no reason for me not to be there. I can still remember him saying, “Look it, Cromack! I know the Colonel’s not going to be here tomorrow so you better be at PT in the morning!” I assured him I’d be there, but still not believing me he continued, “If you’re not there in the morning I’m going to be very upset and I’m going to take it out on all of you guys tomorrow.” Again, I assured him I’d be at formation in the morning, and not to worry. I wasn’t sure why he had taken this attitude since all of the days I missed physical training was due to my work schedule and not that I was goofing off.

Later in the day SGT Novotny came by and told me the Sergeant Major had talked to him and made it his responsibility to make sure I was at PT the next day. SGT Novotny pleaded with me “Cromack! You gotta be there tomorrow, okay?” And so by the end of the day it seemed everyone in the building was interested to see whether I would show up the next morning or not.

But as I mentioned, at this point I’m also wondering why the big fuss since most of the time I’ve had a legitimate reason for not attending PT. But regardless, now I know what’s at stake for tomorrow and probably should make an effort to attend PT in the morning, no matter what. And nobody wanted the Sergeant Major ranting and raving the next day, especially with the Colonel gone.

I always make sure to set my alarm before I go to bed at night and certain I set it that night, I went to bed thinking I’d prove everyone wrong in the morning, or at least show them that they were overreacting.

Sure enough, I wake up on time, get dressed and start getting ready to leave. Headed out the door, it’s still dark and a bit cold as well. However when I try to start the car, nothing. Just a click. Click. Click. And then nothing again. Oh no! So I pop the hood open and check for any loose cables, the distributor cap is on well, the battery clamps are on tight, I can’t see anything visibly wrong. So I get in the car again and try one more time but still nothing. At this time I realize I’m running out of time and need to figure out how I’m going to get to the base from my apartment off base.

Remembering I have SGT Novotny’s telephone number I head back inside the apartment and dial his number. His wife answered, and I asked if John is there. In her soft Korean accent, she tells me, “No Walter, John’s gone.”20150524_0917571

Well, now I’m really running out of time, and I’m running out of options too. And all this time I’m running the events from the previous day in my mind, and know there will be hell to pay, for everyone, not just me, if I don’t show up at formation very soon.

So now I know there’s only one thing to do to get out of this jam that I’m in. Having promised everyone that I’d be there just made things worse. I need to start running to the base, and very quickly, if I’m to make it on time. (Queue the “Run Forrest, Run!” music here.)

In the dark and cold morning I talk off running, literally sprinting down the street, with dogs barking on either side wondering exactly how many miles it is to the headquarters building where everyone is assembling.

Luckily the apartment I rented was located towards the base of the mountains, not too far from the Army hospital, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, so it was not too much of a strain, as the majority of the run was downhill.

So I get to the entrance gate manned by MP’s, William Beaumont Army Medical Centershow my ID and keep running to fall into formation. Upon arrival to where other troops were forming, I tried to play it cool and pretend all is well, and I even let the Sergeant Major know I was there.

So now training begins and we go through the usual 15 minutes or so of warm ups and calisthenics. But by the end of the first session I start getting tired and now wonder how in the world I’m going to be able to complete not just the exercise session, but soon we’ll start a three mile run. Oh no! I have to run again!

As I said before, I arrived at formation trying to remain inconspicuous fearing I would be the butt of all jokes the rest of the day. And I didn’t want the Sergeant Major to know he got the best of me either, this time anyway.

fortbliss5Somehow I made it through the run without falling out of formation, and no one is the wiser, and I think I’m done with my ordeal. Having returned back to the headquarters building, we are dismissed from formation and those who live off base head to their cars to go home, with just enough time to shower, eat breakfast and be back on time to put in a normal day’s work.

But now another dilemma: Do I ask for a ride back to my apartment and risk the grief I’m going to get at work?

Looking around to find Sergeant Novotny, I find him, swallow my pride, and ask him for a ride home. Knowing the gig is up, I tell him what happened hoping not too many would find out at work. I especially didn’t want the Sergeant Major to know because then he’d be gloating the whole day telling everyone he made me attend PT. Anyway, as I walk into the building, I hear the first shout of the day, “Hey, Marathon Man! Glad you made it to work!”

And so the moral of the story: When you’re running out of options, make sure you run downhill!

Where does your work ethic come from?

Growing up we weren’t poor, but we normally didn’t have money for more than the essential items such as food and clothing, and we always had equipment to play sports such as football, basketball and baseball. We also spent a lot of time fishing, either at nearby lakes, on the Rio Grande River or on the beach at the Gulf.

Shrimp boat on the oceanWorking in an oyster companyWe owned our home thanks to our father who provided very well for his family. My father worked in the seafood industry most of his life starting in the oyster companies in Biloxi, Mississippi, and later working on fishing boats based out of the Port of Brownsville, Texas, and eventually reaching the position of boat captain leading other men.

I was six years old when my father passed away, and soon after my mother made a commitment to raise us by herself, my two older brothers, a younger sister, and me, and I admire her for that decision even though a lot of times we had to do without things our friends and neighbors had.

Migrant workers in a tomato fieldWhen I was eight, my mother accepted an invitation from a neighbor to join their family on a trip to Curtice, Ohio to work as migrant farm workers. The job required working in the fields picking cucumber, and then tomato later in the summer and early fall. Being that age I saw this more as a fun outing than work but later on found out what it meant.

Working in the fields in the summer time is hard, back-breaking work. Not only do you spend most of the time either on your knees or with back bent, most days for seven or eight hours, but you’re also battling the elements like a scorching sun, dirt when it’s windy, and an occasional rain. And in some cases coming up on snakes, scorpions, spiders, and some of Mother Nature’s other critters.

Migrant workers in a tomato fieldBut it is this same strenuous work that instills character, value and a strong work ethic in a person. For those who have done this type of work, it becomes an anchor in your life, something that you can fall back on later when confronted with difficult situations.

Although I didn’t have to work that much myself, I tried to contribute to the family’s production by trying to keep up. But usually it was my mother and two older brothers who did most of the work.

We went back to Ohio the next year, and tomato-field-gsthen a few years later when I was about 14, my mother and I worked in Coachella, California again as migrant workers in a tomato field, and later in the season at a vineyard picking grapes.

It was during these times that I realized I had to get an education so that I didn’t have to make this type of work a necessity to provide for myself or my family.

But I would also not trade this experience for anything Migrant Workers at a vineyard in Californiain the world as this is when I learned what hard work is and realized I could do difficult things like this if I had to.

My work ethic comes from a sense of responsibility I have to my mother and to my father, knowing how hard they worked and that they both sacrificed and gave up many things to make sure we had a good childhood, food to eat, clothes to wear, and especially the opportunity to get a good education. For me, that is priceless, and worth more than anything money can buy.

And now after more than twenty five years in the technology field, the last eight or so as the department’s director, I can look back to that work ethic I learned as a young man and thank my parents for teaching me by example, and I refuse to let them down.

What about you? Where does your work ethic come from?

First base is too crowded; excuse me while I go for two!

Ever wonder why people blend in when they’re in a crowd? It’s because they’ve decided to do the same thing everyone else around them is doing. Hence my statement, “First base is too crowded; excuse me while I go for two.”

So just like the baseball player who runs hard to second base knowing there’s a greater chance of getting called out, don’t just play it safe and stay on first base. Make an honest effort to do more than what the average person is doing.

This is also known as going “above and beyond”, which is a common attribute of successful people.

Separate yourself from the crowd!

This is how you separate yourself from the crowd and how you show others you’re willing to try new things and do more than what’s expected. And once you start doing this it’ll become habit-forming and you’ll come to understand when you have a better chance of succeeding and when it’s better to hold back. You don’t want to be reckless with this approach either but rather be smart and maximize your results.

Trying even if you fail will also help you somewhere down the line because you’ll have less to regret. Instead of having thoughts about “I should’ve done this”, or “I should’ve done more”, you’ll know that you put all your effort into a task and that in itself will be a triumph.

So go ahead, next time you want to settle for average, or what you’ve done doesn’t cause you to go “ooh!” and “aah!” put forth an extra effort and go for two.

Where does your work ethic come from?