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Winning At Working: The Mirror Test
by Nan Russell

Ever hear the story about the rich man who asked his unemployed son to build him a new house while he traveled for a year? "Build it well," he told his son. "Of course, you'll be reimbursed for everything, including your time, when I return."

After the father left, the son decided it didn't make sense to work that hard. He had more important and fun things to do. So, the son applied just enough personal effort to accomplish the task within the timeframe. He even cut corners on materials and construction staff to save money that he could spend on personal whims.

When his father returned, he paid the expenses promised, then asked his son, "Are you happy with the quality of this house?" "Oh yes," said the son, "it's a great house. "I'm glad to hear that," replied his father, "because I'm giving it to you."

Too many people I've encountered, in my twenty years in management, operate like that son. They do just what they need to do to get by. They cut corners. They trade short-term whims for long-term gains. And like the son in the story, they end up hurting themselves.

You see, get-by-effort reduces opportunities (not to mention income), hijacks self-esteem, hides talents, limits soul-potential and ultimately shortchanges your life. It's no surprise half-hearted efforts yield mediocre results.

But people who are winning at working aren't interested in getting by, and they're certainly not interested in shortchanging their life-potential. They're excited to explore their life's equivalent of Olympic Gold. They're intrigued by seeing what they can do, finding what they're made of and using their unique gifts.

People who are winning at working aren't looking for the easy way, the fast way or the most comfortable way. They want the satisfaction of knowing they offered their best-self to their work. And while they understand accomplishment can be difficult, require enormous efforts and tax their determination, they persist in the quest to find the best of who they are and bring it to the world.

You see, people who are winning at working aren't competing with you, they're competing with themselves. Their challenge is to do better this time than the last, to grow, to improve, to evolve. They're not into half-hearted attempts because it diminishes their ability to maximize their potential, discover their strengths and accomplish their dreams.

As football coach John McKay puts it, "All that matters is if you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly tell the person you see there that you've done your best." Want to be winning at working? Use the mirror test. And by the way, what are you saving your best efforts for, anyway?

(c) 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Receive a copy of 21 Winning Career Tips (a free download) at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a columnist, writer and speaker. Visit Nan Russell may be contacted at or


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