Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life’s Proper Perspective: There when you need it

by Stu Marks

I have had many different careers, most of them mini-careers, as many of us have in these interesting and challenging times. I began in high school to study The Stage, performance art and entertainment broadcasting. I attended early college as a law enforcement major, and then dropped out to take a full time gig with a local TV station. TV stations don’t pay well to un degreed camera operators, floor directors and assistant weathermen. So, I almost always had a second job going on the side as I made my way through the broadcast industry as radio announcer, program director, production coordinator, etc…

One of the best lessons I've ever learned came to me from a Burger King owner. Bill Marks, who shares my last name by no relation (that we knew of), which I’m sure was the cause of many an hourly employee’s dark contemplation and discussions of my achieved Store Manager position, when I managed a store in central Illinois (store #9466). During one small fracas when we were running short handed for the lunch rush, my assistant manager (the best employee in the world, excepting her occasional temper) began to get a tad huffy and threatened to quit (to this day, my friend Michele still is not aware that in my mind, I quit that job every Monday at 6am). Good ole Bill happened to be in the dining room going over the books, and overheard the one-sided argument ensuing.

Bill rolled out of the mini seat that Burger King provides instead of real chairs, and came back to where we were. He first asked that we talk a little quieter or take it outside. Then he delivered to us one of the wisest statements in restaurantdom.

“Michele,” he said quietly to my assistant manager. “Calm down, it’s only burgers.”

I did have many moments of enjoyment in that job, which was one of the hardest jobs I ever had. But, what made it bearable was that single statement from Bill, “It’s only burgers.” Since “…burgers” is the main business of Burger King, let alone the company’s namesake, one could arguably cast serious aspersion on Bill’s corporate perspective. But when stacked against all of life’s daily, weekly and annual decisions, the sheer multitude of burgers that fly out the drive through window and over the dining room counter, reduce their worth to something less than life changing and career molding elements.

Truly, if this burger happened to be short one pickle slice, as presented by the irate customer standing at the counter, the offending short-pickled sandwich laying open-faced on the wrapper, just to prove his case that there were only two slices instead of three; a simple apology, a fresh new burger, and a refund for half the meal, and a smile is all it takes to get it right for the moment, and a promise to work harder for the future. Because, when it’s all said and done, it is only burgers.

That was about 14 years ago; a whole ‘nother life time for me. Since then, I’ve returned to college and finished a degree, began a new job with an online startup, migrated from Chicago to SW Washington State, and seen some grand babies born. But, I have had many occasions to go through some difficult moments in which I needed to take a deep breath, look more broadly at the situation at hand, and declare to myself, “It’s only burgers.”

Now, I’m not sure what Navy Seals and astronauts say to themselves for perspective; nor policemen and brain surgeons. But, in the world of streaming media, when things are constantly changing, and one is dealing with a single individual who’s Internet browser is running slow because they are trying to view seventeen videos on the same web page all at once, it comes as a very relevant comfort to take a breath and slow down for about two seconds, and tell myself, “No need to get angry, it’s only browsers.”

Most of the working world in our Western culture are thankfully not brain surgeons and Navy Seals. So, we probably have more of an opportunity to look at life with a more complete perspective during moments of high stress, where the Navy Seal simply prepares for stress beforehand and reflects on perspective at a later date, after the asses are thoroughly kicked, the names are taken, and the dust clears.

Correctly observing one’s place in the universe seriously affects the way we deal with those around us, which usually can make or break an entire career as well as one’s quality of life. The trick is balancing how to attack a job with full intent, sense of urgency and appreciation for doing one’s best, while keeping proper perspective to avoid being a tyrant to those under you, a bore to those around you, and a liability to those above you.

In case Bill Marks ever reads this, be it known that a large part of my life’s successes are due to his relevant points of wisdom displayed at the most opportune moments. Though my favorite is still, “It’s only burgers”, the better and all around best serving gem might have been, “Well, Stu, if you did it right the first time, you wouldn't be in this mess, would you now.”

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