All In

That looks like it’s good enough, Mr. Phillips.  I can’t see any problem there at all.”  The grimy mechanic looked up at me with a crooked smile.  The sledge hammer in his hand belied any attempt he could make at pretending to be a craftsman, but still, he wanted my approval.  All I wanted was to be out of that shop, so I muttered, “Okay.  I guess I can live with it.”  I backed the van out of the bay and started for home, exasperated.

I had ordered a new set of tires for my full-size van from a catalog store with the understanding that they had a shop under contract which would install them for me.  When I arrived at the tire shop with the radials piled up in the back of the vehicle, it was obvious that they were unhappy about the arrangement.  From their perspective, they would only be paid for the labor, but the catalog store had received all of the profit from the sale of the tires.  I wasn’t going to get red-carpet service here, that much was certain.  A little worried, I still left the van and told them I would be back later.  I came back to find the van still on the hydraulic lift, in the process of being lowered to the floor, but I could plainly see that the van was sitting a little oddly.  The vehicle reached the ground and I walked around to the passenger side.  The mechanic had placed the lift arms under the aluminum running board, instead of the frame, when the van had been raised and the force of all the weight had bent it badly.  The sledge hammer was their answer to my instantaneous outburst.

Still angry, I drove away from the shop.  One block.  As I attempted a left turn at the first corner, I felt the tire on the front right side move violently and I was suddenly sitting with the front of the van askew, one side visibly closer to the ground than the other.  I stopped in the middle of the intersection and turned on my flashers, glancing momentarily at the tire sitting akimbo to the hub, missing four of the five lug nuts.  Angrily, I stalked back to the shop and told them to get someone out there to fix the problem.  As the mechanic jacked up the front end of the van, the owner of the shop explained that sometimes the nuts worked themselves off as the vehicle was driven down the road.  One block!  One block, the van had been driven and the nuts might have worked themselves loose and fallen off!  Did he really think I had been born yesterday?  As I stood fuming, the mechanic spun the lug wrench one last time, with a flourish, and headed for the jack handle, declaring,  “I think that’ll be good enough to get you down the road now.”

I don’t do business with that shop anymore.  They contracted to provide a service for me and demonstrated clearly that they weren’t interested in performing that service.  There was no interest in excellence, only in getting by.  “Good Enough” was their motto.  I don’t like their motto.

I hope you won’t think that this is just a rant about a tire shop.  I’m not even angry with them anymore.  It’s just that it seemed wise to begin with the ridiculous, so we could contrast it with the ideal. 

I sat this evening with the Lovely Lady, and in between a nap or two, I watched portions of the Antiques Roadshow with her.  A little fifteen-second visual and a coincidental verbal comment by one appraiser grabbed my attention.  The lady had brought in a table built in the early twentieth century by a man named Gustav Stickley.  Mr. Stickley built a form of furniture known today as the Craftsman style.  The whole rationale behind the type of product his shop turned out was to push back against the cheaply made furniture which was rapidly taking over the market in the early days of the industrial age.  He wanted to make top quality furniture which he could be proud to put his name on.  At some point, he adopted a phrase which was stamped, along with his name, on all of the pieces his shop turned out.  It was just a short Dutch sentence, “Als ik kan.”  Simply put, it means, “all I can”.  The Stickley company expanded on that a little, making it, “To the best of my ability.”  Mr. Stickley wanted to be sure that every person who ever used something which he had built should understand that the artisan had done everything in his power to make that piece correctly and with skill.  There was no “good enough” for this man.  He was all in, putting his best abilities into every single piece of furniture he ever made.

I like that short phrase, “All In”.  If you care about card games, you know that you will hear that phrase when a player is confident that he has the best hand–so confident that he is willing to put every single dime he has on the table into the pot.  He risks everything on one hand, holding nothing back.  I’m not a gambler and have never actually played, but I like the concept of being all in.

I’ve also heard the phrase used to describe someone who is completely exhausted.  They have given everything they can to complete a task and have nothing left to give.  To their own personal detriment, they have exhausted their physical reserves in the performance of the deed at hand.  As they reach the end of their strength, someone observes that they are all in, having given all they can to finish the task.

I should be quick to point out that I am not speaking of perfection.  Some people work all their lives at a job and achieve consistency, but do not excel.  If they have indeed put everything they have into achieving consistency, they have succeeded in meeting the standard I am suggesting tonight.  As with all subjects, we should understand that there are differing levels of ability.  Less talent does not diminish the reward of working persistently toward the goal.  I am frustrated and even angry with both those who would discourage folks from excellence by hand-patting and consoling with an “at least you tried”, as well as with those who insist that trying isn’t praiseworthy.  “Try not. Do or do not do. There is no try,” states the revered Jedi, Yoda, in the Star Wars movie of several decades ago.  What a horrible philosophy!  We try, with everything that is in us.  If we are blessed to do, it’s that much better, but not all of our efforts will succeed.  We try anyway.

If you have a Christian world view, as I do, the reminder that we don’t do anything for ourselves or even for the acclaim of men, but for our God, gives a new and motivating perspective on everything we attempt.  How would we be anything less than all in?  Holding back is not an option.  Success doesn’t come with half-hearted attempts, but with a commitment to give all.  Could you be satisfied with anything less?  Will He?

What kind of hand are you holding?  I think it’s time to go all in.  How about it?

 “And do all that you do with all your soul, as for Our Lord, and not as for the children of men.”
(Colossians 3:23~Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

“There are only two options regarding commitment.  You’re either in or you’re out.  There’s no such thing as life in-between.”
(Pat Riley~former NBA player and coach)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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