In what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked as a bike messenger. Why? Well, to make ends meet of course! Navigating traffic on two wheels in one of the busiest cities in the United States – Washington DC, was perilous but I survived it. The work was challenging and dangerous, but it was also rewarding. We all have to start somewhere and much like life experiences, our first few jobs should also teach us something. In my case, I learned five important lessons from being a bike messenger.
Control is An Illusion
“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.” Benjamin Franklin.
The harsh truth about control is that we have very little of it. The majority of our interactions are based on situations that we can’t control. As a bike messenger, this became very clear, very quickly. I spent hours crisscrossing the city streets, delivering packages that were too urgent to mail. This meant dealing with irate drivers, delivery trucks, pedestrians and lose animals. My very survival depended on how I reacted to what other people did.
When a taxi driver cut in front of me and uttered profanities simply because I was on the road, I had a choice to make. First, I could get upset, fight right back and try to control the taxi driver’s reaction. The conversation would sound like this:
Me: “What on earth is wrong with you? You almost killed me!”
Taxi driver: “Ride on the sidewalk you knucklehead! – in more colorful language.
The conversation would go on and I would only succeed in wasting time and getting angry. Being a bike messenger taught me to pause, think about my reaction and ignore the driver. Quite often, people would come to my defense and shame the driver.
The lesson: No matter how hard we try, we cannot control other people’s actions. Hence, focus on your own reaction and move on. Your positivity will inspire others to react and do the right thing.
Be Thankful for What You Have But Stay Ambitious
If you wish to reach the highest, begin at the lowest – Publilius Syrus
Every job has advantages and disadvantages. This is something that is not taught in college. In my case, I dreaded cold rainy days. But I still had delivery targets to hit. Having lived in several countries in my teen years, I have seen what hardship looks like and count my blessings every day.
Whether you are a seasoned professional with decades of experience or a novice, one thing will always hold true: your attitude towards a job will inevitably influence how you feel about the job. Consequently, how you feel about a job will affect your performance.
If you believe your job sucks – and it may very well be true, don’t let it affect your attitude. Instead, continue to give it your utmost attention and stay consistent in your performance. This approach will have three positive effects:
1. You will find that your confidence is at an all time high regardless of how bad the job is.
2. You will believe that you can do better
3. When comes time to leave for that new job you always wished for, you will have no problem getting referrals and recommendations from your current employer.
Ultimately, we all have to start somewhere but it does not mean you shouldn’t dream big. Every job can be a stepping stone to a more fulfilling career. If you feel trapped in your current job, change the situation. Identify the first thing you need to do and do it. Take it one step at a time.
Be Surprisingly Reliable
“If you want to be thought of as a solid, reliable pillar of your community when you’re fifty, you can’t be an irresponsible, corner-cutting exploiter at twenty-five.” John Maxwell.
When I applied to be a bike messenger, the manager came out to check out my bike. He nearly fell over laughing at the sight of my $80 used mountain bike. He thought I was kidding and did not believe that the bike was reliable. We clearly had a different idea of what “reliable” meant. For me “reliable” meant “character”, “discipline” and “perseverance.” It means that I would do the job and take it seriously unlike many riders. He decided to give me a shot. By week’s end, I was running routes only offered to the fastest bikers. This was possible because I set the expectation of being one of the most reliable bikers from day one, when a lot less was expected of me.
The lesson: When the bar is set very low, move it higher for your own self-worth, and reliably shatter the expectations of those who believe you can’t do it!
There Are Opportunities in Everything We Do
Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities — always see them, for they’re always there. – Norman Vincent Peale
Robbie Harrell had recently graduated from college. He was travelling from Minneapolis to Austin, Texas. Before the flight took off, a woman sitting next to him asked if she could switch seats with someone else to get closer to her friends. A 6 foot 5 inches, 241 lbs man took her place next to Robbie. The two men struck up a conversation sparked by a crossword puzzle the man was working on. Robbie told the man that he was looking for a new partner for his business venture. When Robbie asked the man what he does for a living, he said “I play for the Minnesota Vikings.” The man who had changed seats at the last minute and sat next to Robbie was Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler. Cullen who was looking for investment opportunities, went on to buy Robbie’s old partner out of the business. They are now partners in a computer based ice sculpting business that is expanding.
The series of events that had to take place for Robbie to sit next to Cullen were astronomical. But the wisdom to seize the opportunity to become business partners is a state of mind. In other words, believing that an opportunity can come up anywhere makes it easier for us to cease it. Through my regular deliveries, I met a man who, through series of conversations, ended up using my website design skills. He was a publicist for up and coming musicians in the region.
The lesson: Your job, no matter how trivial it seems, may expose you to many opportunities. But you have to stay open minded to notice them and take advantage of them.
Family Changes Your Perspective on Life
Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. – Brad Henry
When you are single and have no one depending on you, it is much easier to make certain risky decisions. The moment you get married and have that first child, everything changes. Somehow, dodging cars in traffic, having near misses with delivery trucks just feels wrong. When you have family depending on you, your perspective on life changes drastically. My life was no longer just my own; I had a spouse that cared about me enough to trust in my ability to come home safe every day. In return, it was my duty to not put myself in harm’s way.
The lesson: At various points in our lives, we should stop and re-evaluate the impact our choices have on others. Most importantly, we have a responsibility to be present for our loved ones. Those who go through life disregarding everyone and everything are misguided. Life is about balance; it is tantamount to a trek to the North Pole: you shouldn’t do it alone. Your family should matter as much as- if not more, than your job. When your work infringes on your life and affects your safety, your mental or physical health, you should consider finding a new line of work. That’s exactly what I did and was better for it, financially and emotionally.
Life lessons come from the most unlikely places. You owe it to yourself to capitalize on those lessons to maximize your personal and professional growth.
What opportunities opened up for you from an old job? What do you feel are the most important lessons you learned? Leave a comment below.