Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Difference Between a Rut and a Grave

"Do you know the difference between a rut and a grave?" The old man asked me this question as I hurried past him.  "No," I said.  He replied with, "the depth."

A Rut and a Grave

The security officer poked her head into my office and declared, “Mr. Mattson, the store is opening in two minutes and the electronics department (TVs and stereos) are not turned on.”  This angered me as I was interrupted by the fact neither of the two salespeople were on time and I stormed downstairs to get the department ready for business.

As I was scurrying around turning on the TVs, an elderly man about 80 came in.  He looked very fit, about 5’ 2” tall, 130 pounds or so, wore a sharp leisure suit, white shoes, and a fishing hat with many different fishing flies pinned to it. 

He started asking me questions about televisions.  I was still angry and even more so with this silly looking old man interrupting me while I was trying to get the department opened.

My answers to his questions were curt; simply yes, no, or I don’t know.  I didn’t stop powering on equipment while he was talking.  I was “multi-tasking.”  When I moved over to the stereo side, I stated to him, “Keep talking, I’m listening.”

Suddenly, he spoke out in a soft but stern voice, “You look like a man who hates his job and has no time for customers—the essence of your work.”  I suddenly stopped; I was shocked.  He called me out on my rudeness.  It wasn’t in an angry tone such as, “Can I see your manager!”  He was very polite; yet, to the point.  I immediately apologized to him explaining I didn’t mean to be rude I simply got caught up in getting a task done.

After a long pause, clearly he wasn’t buying my explanation, he looked me in the eye, and in a fatherly way, challenged me, “You look very sad; you look like a man in a rut.”  I was taken aback by such frankness, and while I was on my heels taking in this statement, he followed, “Do you know the difference between a rut and a grave?”  I replied, “No I don’t.”  He stared harder into my eyes to emphasize his answer in a soft but stern voice, “The depth!”

Reeling from his answer, I put my head down to consider the implications.  Suddenly I mumbled to myself, “I’m a dead man walking!  I am living like I might just as well be dead.”  He was right, I was sick of my job; almost every morning, I tried to create a new excuse on why I could call out for the day. When I couldn’t, I dreaded the upcoming day. 

It was a terrible rut, I spent 5 days looking forward to two, and I spent those two dreading the next five.

I looked up to tell him he was right, and poof—he was gone!  I hurried around the floor to find him.  An old man couldn’t have gotten far on this floor; surely I’d find him to thank him for the insights and to apologized again for my behavior.  I never found him or saw him again—ever!

All day long, I thought about this exchange.  At 5:30PM that day, I walked into personnel and quit my job of 12 years on the spot.  I have never regretted that choice. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

That was 1993.  Afterwards, I rediscovered that proverbial “fire in the belly” that I experienced in my first six years at the store.  I could see unlimited possibilities. 

I am not advocating you quit your job as there are many options to get out of a rut, I just happened to choose quitting a job as my way out of the grave. 

Are you in a rut?