A customer at a grocery store is putting an orange in a paper bag. Did he choose the orange carefully? Or is he going through the motions?

Going Through the Motions

I found a story over the weekend that might inspire a gut check for you. You might decide it’s an uncomfortable gut check. Think about your reaction to this very short story, because it will speak volumes about whether you’re on the right track. Because maybe you’re just going through the motions and it’s time to move on.

There’s an audio version of this post for your dining and dancing pleasure, you know.

I found this story in a talk given in 2015 at BYU-Idaho by Brother Randall Ridd, called, “Living with a  Purpose: The Importance of ‘Real Intent'”.

There was a young man who had ambitions to work for a company because it paid very well and was very prestigious. He prepared his résumé and had several interviews. Eventually, he was given an entry-level position. Then he turned his ambition to his next goal—a supervisor position that would afford him even greater prestige and more pay. So he completed the tasks he was given. He came in early some mornings and stayed late so the boss would see him putting in long hours.

After five years a supervisor position became available. But, to the young man’s great dismay, another employee, who had only worked for the company for six months, was given the promotion. The young man was very angry, and he went to his boss and demanded an explanation.

The wise boss said, “Before I answer your questions, would you do a favor for me?”

“Yes, sure,” said the employee.

“Would you go to the store and buy some oranges? My wife needs them.”

The young man agreed and went to the store. When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”

“I don’t know,” the young man answered. “You just said to buy oranges, and these are oranges. Here they are.”

“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” was the reply. “You gave me $30. Here is your receipt, and here is your change.”

“Thank you,” said the boss. “Now, please have a seat and pay careful attention.”

Then the boss called in the employee who had received the promotion and asked him to do the same job. He readily agreed and went to the store.

When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”

“Well,” he replied, “the store had many varieties—there were navel oranges, Valencia oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, and many others, and I didn’t know which kind to buy. But I remembered you said your wife needed the oranges, so I called her. She said she was having a party and that she was going to make orange juice. So I asked the grocer which of all these oranges would make the best orange juice. He said the Valencia orange was full of very sweet juice, so that’s what I bought. I dropped them by your home on my way back to the office. Your wife was very pleased.”

“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.

“Well, that was another problem. I didn’t know how many to buy, so I once again called your wife and asked her how many guests she was expecting. She said 20. I asked the grocer how many oranges would be needed to make juice for 20 people, and it was a lot. So, I asked the grocer if he could give me a quantity discount, and he did! These oranges normally cost 75 cents each, but I paid only 50 cents. Here is your change and the receipt.”

The boss smiled and said, “Thank you; you may go.”

He looked over at the young man who had been watching. The young man stood up, slumped his shoulders and said, “I see what you mean,” as he walked dejectedly out of the office.

What was the difference between these two young men? They were both asked to buy oranges, and they did. You might say that one went the extra mile, or one was more efficient, or one paid more attention to detail. But the most important difference had to do with real intent rather than just going through the motions. The first young man was motivated by money, position, and prestige. The second young man was driven by an intense desire to please his employer and an inner commitment to be the best employee he could possibly be—and the outcome was obvious.

What We Learn About Going Through the Motions

Now think about any project you’re working on, or even any relationship you have, and consider that story. Is there one employee that you identify with more than the other? Is it possible that you’re just going through the motions too? I’m not saying that everything you do has to be a passion project. That would get old and exhausting really quickly. But I’ve talked about this before in this space, and the idea of doing things on purpose. You can check off a box on a to-do list. Or you can give it the same energy you gave it when it was new, fresh and exciting.

It doesn’t feel good to admit it, but going through the motions is a conscious choice. In the story, both men made decisions. And for a moment, think about the deliberate choices that each one made. Each one decided to go to a specific supermarket, for example. One likely decided based on which one had reviews for the best produce. The other probably chose based on which one was closest.

Now think about whatever project or relationship has sprung to mind for you. Maybe you’re thinking about your job. You’re coming up with a topic for your next podcast episode. You’re shopping for your anniversary. Or maybe you’re thinking about which candidate to vote for.

I’m going to get a little maudlin for a second here, but there’s a terrific poem by Linda Ellis called,The Dash. She talks about the little line that shows up in an obituary between the date of birth and…. well… the other date. I’m not thinking about that dash in terms of big picture things like life and death. Instead, let’s look at it through the lens of the life span of a career, or even a hobby. Why waste time doing something you don’t love? Going through the motions isn’t going to win you fans. All it does is weaken the dash..

Me Versus The Gurus, Chapter 342,862

So here’s another entry in the reasons I’ve been banned from the Podcasting Cool Kids Club. The gurus will tell you the thing that matters most, after the quality of your audio, is the consistency of your publishing schedule. Stick to your schedule, they say, even when you don’t feel like putting an episode out.

As someone who’s been creating content since 1981, let me say it as gently as I can. Gurus who say that are… misinformed. The thing that matters the most is the quality of your content. Let’s take it half a step further – the consistency of the quality of your content. Every other factor including audio quality, publishing every week, and every single other thing you can think of, combined, matters less than having content that is consistently at a level you’re proud of. Going through the motions, faking it til you make it, whatever you want to call it, just tarnishes a legacy.

I’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t get to control when someone finds you for the first time. That’s true of your podcast, your commercial, your movie, your album, your social media accounts, your next shift at the warehouse, and your annual report to the shareholders. My first impression of you will likely determine whether or not I give you another shot. For example, I love Kevin Costner. I believe he’s a spectacular actor, and having met him a couple of times, I can say with confidence he’s one of my favorite humans. But as much as I love him, if the first thing I ever saw him in was Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, I’m not likely rushing out to buy tickets to see him in JFK.

Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain. Know how this week’s piece came to be? It was Sunday morning at 7am. My calendar kept reminding me that I hadn’t written anything for The Voice In My HED for this week. I was going to pass on doing an episode because there was nothing that inspired a fire in my belly. Then I started thinking about the shows I’ve heard where the host was clearly phoning it in, and how I wish they had taken a week off. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there was something I was passionate about sharing today.

About the Author

You may also like these