Transformation Happens Tortoise Style
I was nearly 20 years old before I realized I actually liked people. I never considered myself to be an “introvert” although most people would have. I simply didn’t talk to people. If you asked me a question you would get a monosyllabic response that discouraged any further dialogue. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk or communicate with people – I simply didn’t know how.
I grew up very isolated, living on a farm in the middle of the woods. I was homeschooled, we didn’t attend church regularly, and my social contact growing up was mainly limited to field trips with other homeschoolers. In the early 1980’s in Alabama, opportunities for homeschooled children to participate in extra-curricular activities were limited, and my parents didn’t pursue most of them.
In addition to that, I was sexually abused by my father from age 12 – 19. Growing up with feelings of shame, guilt, hurt, and unworthiness only compounded my natural tendency to be withdrawn, even after I left home at 19. I share more about my story in some of my books, Ria’s Story From Ashes To Beauty and Beyond Bound and Broken.
Leaving home without a job, a car, or even a high school diploma, I got a crash course on the need for communication in “normal” society. I had a great education, ability to think critically, reasoning skills, proactive attitude, and willingness to work hard. What I didn’t have was the critical ability to connect with other people and communicate effectively.
Since I didn’t have a GED or a high school diploma, finding a way to make a living wasn’t going to be easy but I was determined to start making some money and earn my way. My first job was working as a server at a pizza restaurant. I worked the lunch shift, Monday through Friday every day, from 11:00 – 2:00. Most customers would just have the all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet, because it was fast and cheap.
I was the only lunch server for all 36 tables in the restaurant. My job was to set up the buffet, keep the salad bar stocked and clean, make the tea, fill the ice bin, stock the soda machine, answer the phone, take delivery orders, greet the customers when they entered, take and fill their drink orders, keep dirty plates bussed, refill their drinks, check them out at the cash register, clean the tables, chairs, and floor after the customer left, wash all the dishes, put them away, and restock everything before I left. All for $2.13 per hour, plus any tips I made.
The lunch buffet was $5.99 and it was $1.35 for a drink, so most customer’s bill came to less than $8.00 for lunch. The average tip is 10% for a buffet, so the best tip I could expect would be about $1.00 – and that’s if I hustled really hard to keep their soda refilled and the dirty plates bussed. If I got too busy and the customer ran out of tea, I wouldn’t get a tip at all.
I learned quickly that being an “introverted” waitress wasn’t going to work. If I didn’t smile at the customers, they thought I was unfriendly. If I didn’t greet them enthusiastically, they didn’t feel welcome or appreciated as customers. If I didn’t remember the names of the regular customers and what they liked to drink, they wouldn’t even leave me the change from their dollar.
I learned a lot of things during my years of waiting tables, off and on throughout my career. You see the best and the worst of people when you wait tables. I learned to get better at connecting with people, talking, listening, and communicating. And, I’ve come a long way since then. Today, I’m a full time speaker and author with four published books. I talk to thousands of people, I’m a coach. Mack and I teach leadership development for companies and organizations, and I even have an Instagram account. I was once afraid to start a conversation with a stranger. But, it didn’t happen overnight.
Do you remember the old fable about the tortoise and the hare? The hare and the tortoise were racing each other. The tortoise starts out and, turtle style, plods along steadily. The hare, knowing he is much faster than the tortoise, doesn’t take the race seriously and stops to nap along the way. Unfortunately for him, he wakes up too late and rushes toward the finish, only to be beaten in the end by the slow tortoise. “Slow and steady wins the race,” is the moral of the story.
Roll your eyes if you want – but it’s an important lesson that we need to remember in our lives.
We are so used to instant everything and immediate gratification that we get frustrated when we can’t have immediate results in all areas of life. Whatever it is that we want, we always want it now. You want to lose ten pounds and you want it to happen before you step on the scale tomorrow morning. You want to finish that book you’ve been writing and you want it to be published yesterday. You want a better job that requires a degree and you wish you could just fast forward through four years of night school. You want to learn to “manage your time” better and wish you had time to do it.
Transformation happens “Tortoise Style.”
True transformation is achieved by taking one slow step forward at a time. There is nothing glamorous about a daily plod but it works. Achieving a worthy goal always takes time. If we want to change our selves, our skills, our career path, or our lives, it will take time. It will take effort. It will take energy. And, it won’t be easy. True transformation isn’t easy. But, it can be done. The trick is to just keep moving forward, one step at a time. Tortoise style.