April 5, 2012

The Importance of Having Standards

Me and cô Cúc before she fired me.

My Vietnamese teacher fired me.

I was late to our thrice weekly appointment one time too many.  Angry that she was waiting 20 minutes and I still hadn’t shown up, cô Cúc stormed out of the office.  I ran downstairs but just missed her.  “She looked mad!” said Phuong, the receptionist.  Uh oh.

I tried calling.  No answer.

I tried texting.  “Sorry cô Cúc!  Please come back.”

Her reply came 30 minutes later.  “You should find another teacher.”

“Troi oi Chris,” I thought.  “You’ve done it this time.”

Cô Cúc and I had been meeting for about 3 years.  She is funny, smart and always remembers words I’m supposed to learn.  And she’s ALWAYS on time.  Not only is she a wonderful teacher, but she’s become a good friend.  I really enjoy our meetings together.

I was in trouble.  And the worst part was I knew she had every right to be angry with me.

I had appointments with cô Cúc from 3-4pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Although it wasn’t a habit, I had a lateness problem.  I sometimes was late 5, 10 or even 15 minutes.  And it had been getting worse.

This time I was 20 minutes late.  Cô Cúc decided she had had enough.

She fired me.

Cô Cúc was the best Vietnamese teacher I’ve ever had.  I wanted her back.  I knew she was super angry with me so I let her cool down for a few days.  Then I visited her office with a card, small gift and a sea of humility.

It worked.  Cô Cúc agreed to be my teacher again.  I am (almost) always on time now, even early.  In fact, it became a joke in the office how I feared the wrath of my Vietnamese teacher.

Cô Cúc had standards.  And I had violated her standards.  Repeatedly.

I could have been on time to every appointment if I had really wanted to.  I could have cut meetings short, or set an expectation at the beginning of the meeting that I would have to leave at 3pm sharp.  But the reality was that I was lazy.  I made excuses.  Deep down I knew it was impolite, but I rationalized it in my mind as being ok since I always paid cô Cúc for a full hour.

But this wasn’t about money.  It was about respect.  It was about being considerate.  It was about living up to my commitments.

And I hadn’t been living up to my commitments.  I wasn’t respecting cô Cúc or her time.

By firing me cô Cúc taught me two very important lessons: 1) Have standards, and  2) Demand that others live up to those standards.

If others don’t live up to your standards then it’s up to you to create consequences.  Stop associating with those people, withdraw support, whatever — but create consequences.  Standards without consequences are meaningless.  Only consequences change behavior.  Cô Cúc taught me that.

What are your standards?  Are others in your life living up to them?

If not it may be time to fire someone.