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By: Jamie Collins

Welcome to another fun edition of “real life,” a candid column where Jamie discusses her regular life events turned inspiration. Why in the heck is there a picture of a partially-eaten, albino tomato below these words? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Exhibit A to today’s post
(Don’t ask…we’ll get there).

About a week ago, Gavin and I spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon together. We visited the local library, so he could peruse the finest chapter books available to a young boy in search of a page-by-page adventure. After departing and running a few errands, we decided to swing by Culver’s to grab a bite to eat on our way home. We trudged up to the counter, bellies growling, where I commenced to ordering a single butter burger basket with cheese, complete with a side of those low-fat, perfectly fried cheese curds (paying homage and personal respect to all of the peeps intertwined into my fabulous Wisconsin, Green-Bay-Packers-loving lineage). Gavin followed suit via a kid’s meal. We then grab a seat at a nearby table, conspicuously place our number down upon it, wait a while, the food arrives, and we begin to fill the gap between personally starving and ridiculously too full.

After taking a second bite into my burger and chewing, I notice – by taste and texture – what has now been marked as “Exhibit A” above; that slice of albino tomato, which for the record, tasted a whole lot more like a completely unripe apple picked FAR too early from Hell’s orchard, rather than a vibrant accompaniment to my otherwise delicious, self-disillusioned, low calorie meal, which left me far too full for custard.

Granted, the burger I ordered came with an array of condiments: cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, onion, pickle, and TOMATO. And by the world’s lowest possible standard of measure, the Culver’s worker had, in fact, managed to place a “tomato” onto said sandwich.

Are you eating Exhibit A?
I’m not.
Clearly, no reasonable person would.
But the albino tomato pictured above made “the standard.”

Or did it?

After plopping that baby down onto a napkin before me and photographing it, iPhone style, like it was the second coming of Anne Geddes (much to the dismay of my 7-year-old son, who was utterly clueless about what his mother was doing in that moment), I couldn’t stop thinking about the standards we adhere to as employees, whether you’re an employee of a restaurant like Culver’s or the law firm down the street. There I sat, staring down upon that slice of cold, hard, pale pink, darn-near-white grossness, wondering if standards had fallen so low that they were on par (let’s make that sub par) with an employee, general manager and/or produce orderer simply trying to “check the box.”

The sandwich needs a tomato. Check. It’s not edible. Not my problem. The menu said it comes with a tomato. I put one on there; at least in theory (although I’d certainly never eat it myself).

Check the box.

Then it dawned on me, people are “checking the box” day in and day out, everywhere. You’ve seen ‘em. Heck, some days, you’ve probably even been ‘em. You’re tired. You’re sick. You’re sick and tired. You’re stressed. You’re unhappy. You’re hungry. You’re overworked. You’re underpaid. You’re completely insane, tired, hungry, sick, stressed, and unhappy. It becomes a fairly fast slide toward entering the mindset of: checking the box.

I admit I’ve done it. Haven’t you? Not given 100% due to one of the reasons listed above or a variety of others. When we don’t feel our personal best, it becomes easy to lower our own personal standard, attempt to survive another day in the legal arena, and simply “check the box.” Although in lieu of an albino tomato, we put on display things like a lackluster attitude, inferior work product, less than stellar performance, underwhelming portrayal of confidence, lack of skill, effort, or resilience. If you are being completely honest in this moment – you’ve checked that box, at least a time or two. We all have.

The next time you feel inclined to lower your personal standard, ask yourself three questions: Is that up to your standard? Are you serving it? Feeling proud? (In that moment, think about the grotesque image of that albino tomato and ask yourself if you’re seriously going to serve it – in a different variety – to your family, firm, boss or client.)

If so, check the box.

If not, rise up, and greet your potential in the road.
Give a little more.
Stay a little longer.
Care a bit more.

Work like your reputation is on the line, because it is. Each and every day. Each and every task. Each and every client file, project, and interaction. It is on the line. Right here, right now. Today, tomorrow, and every day after. It is on the line. You better believe it.

Any work going out under my name will never look like that. It can’t. It won’t. I will not check the box. Rather, I will give it all I’ve got, even when I’m sick, even when I’m tired, and even when I’m sick and tired. I will hit the line. I will pull myself together. I will rise up. I will excel. I will run straight through any task that stands before me with a radiant enthusiasm.

Even when it’s hard.
Even when I’d rather not.
Even on those days I’m not sure how I’ll crawl across the finish line.

I will strive to meet a higher standard.
I will never again check the box.
I will own the box, and sublease it out to greatness.

Lastly, I’d like to say a warm, heartfelt thank you to the sub-standard Culver’s worker and/or his general manager, because I’d take a little inspiration (and a big life lesson) over a ripe tomato any day. Thank you for reminding me to want more, for myself, my family, my law firm, my clients, and most importantly, for my future. Your albino tomato shall serve as a reminder to:

Check the box.

Be great.

_____

Start today. Right here, right now. Even if you’re tired. Even if you’re sick.  Even if you’re sick and tired. Even if you aren’t sure how you’ll crawl across the finish line.

“Keep your head, heels, and standards high.” – Unknown

We’ll see you later this week!