I get it. You’re reading the Legendary Collegian to learn about how you can make yourself a better person, student, professional, a connoisseur of gentlemanliness — a renaissance man. If you’re anything like me, you’re overwhelmed by the countless self-growth books that promise “# habits” or “# strategies” for success. I find that success is much simpler than that; success is the understanding and incorporation of the mindset that “small things matter.”
In today’s world, our societal emphasis is on the end goal, whether that’s becoming CEO of a company or starting a non-profit, rather than on the method and processes of accomplishing the goal. Everyone has potential to succeed. But how do you actually get there? You focus on the method and the process, rather than the end goal. It is focusing on the how that you are able to become a better leader and a better man. Our emphasis is on the big ideas and big goals, whereas I will argue that it’s focusing on the small details that really set those few who are successful apart.
Let me explain (and bear with my small digression): As a teenager, I mowed lawns in the summer for extra spending money and became the “in house” lawn expert taking over the responsibility for my parents. I arrived home after a long day of mowing lawns and I felt the urge as to “freshen” up my lawn although it wasn’t the typical day that I mowed the lawn at my house. I decided not to bag the grass and as a result, grass clippings went over my driveway (my prepubescent thinking that the wind would magically blow it away). Exhausted but feeling accomplished after having completed the job, I went inside to get out of the summer heat. My dad came home after work and I remember greeting him with a grin on my face, ready to bask in the praise that he was going to shine on me for “going the extra mile” and mowing our lawn. Rather than heaping praise on me, he gave me a stern look and told me that the job wasn’t done – that I left all of the grass clippings on the driveway. He then told me in his non-Mr. Brady fatherly teaching way that the small things matter and that although I may do a lot of work, the completion of the job and the small details matter most. He went on to say that people forget about the big details of a project, but will always remember the small things, both positive and negative.
The mindset of focusing on the “small things” was solidified for me in this example. I made it a point of pride to focus on the small details on whatever project I worked – whether at school, with extra-curricular activities, or even in my personal life. This, I feel, set me apart from the typical, suburban, privileged white kid. If I can boast — People remembered me. I made a difference in the community. I grew as a man, as a leader, as a scholar, and as a professional.
So what does this look like? In the simplest sense, it’s teaching yourself to think about others first and foremost – and, as cliché as it sounds, to treat others as you want to be treated. It’s also taking pride in every aspect of your life. It’s not just wearing a suit bought at a box store and throwing on some second-hand shoes. It’s about focusing on every aspect of your outfit: wearing a tie bar, buying expensive shoes that you clean/take of yourself, and, importantly, understanding why you’re doing these things. It’s sending a handwritten note, with a wax seal to thank your professor for meeting you for coffee. It’s really doing the reading for class, even though the professor won’t hold you accountable because you actually want to learn. It’s making a concerted to get to know the people around you – not just on the surface, rather forming strong bonds and partnerships. It’s not forgetting the small details or “dropping the ball” for anything – whether personal, academic or professional. It’s never being late.
Now with all of this being said, don’t confuse this attention and passion for details to be obsessive-compulsive disorder, rather it’s a sense of pride. It’s about being the best person you can be and making those around you better; it’s the winner’s edge. In the coming “Winner’s Edge” series, I will focus on specific steps that you can take in order to focus on the details, grow as a gentleman and set yourself apart.