I tell this story fairly often, but it’s a good one.
When I was 13, I was “hired” by the farm to begin feeding calves. I was paid a small but fair daily rate. Looking back now, this was a big deal for my dad to essentially entrust me with the “babies” of his herd. Calves get sick fairly easily sometimes but thrive under good care.
But you need to understand: I was not “good care.” I hated the job, I hated getting up early before school and trudging out there again in the afternoons after school. Dad and Mom will testify how TERRIBLE I was at this. Especially in weather like today: I hated the cold. I hated the way my face would chap in the wind and the way my hands would burn when I came in. Plus I’ve never met an alarm clock I did not despise with the heat of a thousand suns.
Many many days I took whatever shortcuts I felt like I could get away with. I knew Dad and his men were busy with a million other things; I didn’t really understand how devastating my lack of good work could become for our family.
One winter, when there was 8-10 inches of new snow on the ground and the cold was abnormally brutal, I got up before school to feed the calves. I hurried through my work and did the bare minimum, ignoring any idea of the standards I had been taught. In my mind, it was not fit for man or beast out there and my selfishness blinded me to how the animals in my care were also suffering. All I could see was how taking care of them would delay my own warmth.
I was back in the house before the sun was fully up, cleaned up and tucked in my bed, warming through all my bones. School had been cancelled and I drifted off to sleep. But suddenly there was a voice at the bottom of the steps: Dad.
“Diane, get up. You’re going to come out here and you’re going to do your job right.”
I heard his steps cross back out of the house and the screen door clapped behind him.
I’ll remember his sound in the pit of my stomach for my entire life.
I knew it was a big deal that Dad had left the momentum and weight of all his work out there to come all the way to the house, to get me.
In my heart, I respected my dad and wanted to earn his respect. I realized I had been exposed–my halfness now the measure of my honor. I remember being teenager-y disgruntled at the time, but I bundled up again–my barn clothes now wet and melty from being frozen. I held them disgustedly between pinched fingers for a moment, but gathered my resolve and trudged back out.
It took me over an hour to complete the things I had skipped. Frozen water buckets had to be emptied and re-filled so the calves could drink. Frozen grain needed to be dumped and full, fresh scoops given. Straw bales had to be rolled down from the barn (bigger and heavier than me, but the standard was that I was strong and capable), so the calves could lay down on warm beds that were not sheets of ice and slop (imagine these poor cold animals that I had selfishly neglected). I discovered several sick calves that needed medication.
That day was a turning point for me. I didn’t immediately transform, but I did change direction from a kid that always embraced a shortcut to a teenager that began to enjoy the feeling of good work. I remember being surprised that I actually even enjoyed the work. I felt my heart invest, and there was deep satisfaction when I finally and legitimately finished. Ironically, I was toasty when I walked to the house, and I strolled in with a sense of satisfaction, my body warmed through by my work.
I had an experience this weekend where again, I didn’t want to do a good job with something that was laid before me to do. I began the task with every intention to do the bare minimum of what was needed, mentally laying out my excuses should someone challenge my results. But I always think of the calves and their frozen water and icy beds. I still face the quitter inside that feels victimized and justified to phone in an 80% performance.
But I find now–that hard 20% that went undiscovered in me until that morning on the farm is now the internal benchmark that now signals to my spirit when I have given myself fully and excellently, to my best capacity and ability. It is the best sleep I know of, the deepest satisfaction I have felt, and the point by which I know I have given in a manner worthy of my dad (now, my Father). Until I meet that 20%, there’s no going home.
I am so thankful Dad loves me enough to haul my butt out of bed and introduce me to my 20%.
I think its important for us to identify places where we have become comfortable and obsessed with phoning in at 80%, calling it complete when it is not. And then go back out to the work, turning our hearts and our full attention to the thing that is made for our best investment. It is then we can stroll home, warmed through by our work and deeply satisfied to have explored what it is to truly finish.