Balancing act: To complete projects, lift together

Published: Tuesday, April 30 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

Meaningful work is accomplished when all of those involved know their individual tasks, focus on them and "lift together" to get a project done.

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On Saturday morning, my wife, children and I had the opportunity to wake up early, head over to our children's elementary school and participate with hundreds of other people in a service project.

I call it an "opportunity," and I am glad I had the chance to serve with my whole family. But if I didn't say that losing the rare gift of sleeping in on a Saturday made me a little bitter, I'd be lying.

Anyway, we got to the school, registered and received our assignment. We were handed a box with bottles of cleaning solution and heavy-duty paper towels and asked to scrub all of the chairs, tables, desks and other flat surfaces in eight classrooms.

I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear that such surfaces get pretty filthy in a school, especially when they're in rooms occupied by young children who use a lot of crayons and glue.

As our family scrubbed away, we noticed the jobs that other volunteers were doing. Some were deep-cleaning the bathrooms. (Yuck!) Some were sprucing up the playgrounds and other outdoor areas. Others were painting. And still others were coloring pictures in learning games for students.

What? Some people got to color, as opposed to scrubbing grime from the bottom of chairs?

When we heard about this, my wife and I were once again a little bitter. Sure, they were doing the job they had been assigned, but how is it fair that some people got to color all morning while we had to clean dirty desks?

As we discussed this later, our reaction to the situation led to a more philosophical discussion of the value of the jobs that different people do.

First of all, we guessed that the people who were cleaning bathrooms on Saturday morning were feeling the same way about us as we were feeling about the people who were coloring.

And then we considered how frequently in our work and family lives we have similar thoughts about the relative value of different kinds of work.

For example, how many times have you parents out there refereed an argument between two children complaining about the comparative difficulty of the chores they've been assigned?

Likewise, how many of you managers have watched your direct reports come to you with basically the same complaint?

The fact is, we all want to believe that the work we're doing is important and that those who work with us are doing their fair share. What sometimes trips us up is what exactly constitutes "fair."

I've worked in several office environments, and I've been involved in quite a few conversations along these lines in the past. One worker will come in to complain that another isn't pulling his or her weight. Then the alleged slacker comes in with a similar complaint about his or her accuser.

What's to be done about such situations?

I don't often quote religious leaders in this column, but a story told in October 2008 by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives a great answer.

"Some years ago in our meetinghouse in Darmstadt, Germany, a group of brethren was asked to move a grand piano from the chapel to the adjoining cultural hall, where it was needed for a musical event," President Uchtdorf said. "None were professional movers, and the task of getting that gravity-friendly instrument through the chapel and into the cultural hall seemed nearly impossible. Everybody knew that this task required not only physical strength, but also careful coordination. There were plenty of ideas, but not one could keep the piano balanced correctly. They repositioned the brethren by strength, height and age over and over again — nothing worked.

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