By T. R. Robertson
My son got his first job when he was 15, as a lifeguard.
A few weeks into the job he was in a bad mood one day when I picked him up after work. He said his boss had yelled at him. I knew from having been accused of “yelling” at him myself that there may not have been any actual extreme loudness involved, perhaps just a stern lecture. What’s worse, Cody apparently also argued with his boss about whatever had instigated the confrontation.
“And then he yelled at me for disagreeing with him! It’s not fair!”
“Well, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know who was right and wrong,” I said. “But you violated one of the unwritten rules you’re going to need to know if you want to keep your job and be valuable to your boss.”
“Rule #42 is simple,” I continued. “The boss is always right. Even when the boss is wrong, the boss is right.” Cody looked at me like I’d just said a curse word.
I continued. “It doesn’t make sense, I know. Sometimes it’ll make you want to scream. But unless you want the boss mad enough to fire you, remember it and follow it. The boss is always right. Rule #42.”
He grumbled about it a while, but then turned to me and asked, “So what are the other 41 rules?”
I laughed. “I don’t know. I just made up the number.”
“So there aren’t any other rules?” he asked.
“Oh, there are plenty of unwritten rules for work,” I assured Cody.
“Rule #22,” I said, pulling a number out of the air. “Not only should you always be on time to work, you should get in the habit of showing up a little early.”
“Or how about Rule #12: Follow the example of the best employee on the job, not the worst employee. Even if the best employee seems like a real ‘teacher’s pet,’ if the boss talks to him with respect and trusts him with responsibilities, that’s the guy you want to be like.”
“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” was Cody’s response.
“Rule #33: Work isn’t usually about having fun,” I said. “Trust me, my job isn’t always fun either, but being unemployed and having no money is even less fun.”
After that first conversation about the unwritten rules, it became a recurring theme when he and I talked about work. By adding a little humor to the mix, it takes the sting out of yet another a fatherly lecture (aka: “yelling”).
Sometimes when Cody starts complaining about work, all I have to do is smile and say, “Rule #27. . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, dad,” he’ll say. “Life isn’t fair, especially life at work.”
Rules Fit for Everyone
Whenever Cody would grow tired of a job, I had to teach him a few rules about switching jobs, like Rule #43: Don’t burn your bridges. Or Rule #25: You’ll never get a second chance at making a good first impression.
Some of the rules I borrowed from advice I’d been given over the years. Several years ago I was talking to Roy Weece at the Mizzou Christian Campus House, expressing frustration over my job and wondering if I should make a complete career change and go into full-time ministry.
“That might be the thing to do,” Roy said, “but it’s generally best to not make a change because you feel like leaving, but to wait until God makes it clear where he wants you to go next.” That piece of advice has contributed to my staying 35 years at the same continuously evolving job.
Now and then I’ll spring one of the rules for work on the ladies in our prison chapel congregation. They’re all wondering how they’re going to get and keep a job when they go back home. They’ll be facing an uphill battle because of their prison record. Many of them have never developed good attitudes about work, relationships, or money—all of which are important not only for staying out of prison but for being a good employee.
I tell them the best way to develop job skills is by practicing those on-the-job rules while they’re still in prison. If they can train themselves to constructively deal with prison guards and with the less loveable of their fellow prisoners, handling the average workplace will be a breeze.
Written on our Hearts
Learning to be a good employee comes easier for us by realizing that many of those unwritten rules are nothing more than specific applications to some of God’s written rules.
Rule #3, for example, says, “Never forget how much you need that job.” That’s just another way of saying “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Rule #15 says simply, “Do whatever the boss says to do.” That’s easier to do cheerfully when you serve your boss like you’re serving the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8).
Rule #18: “Be the person everyone else relies on for help.” Philippians 2:1-4 says don’t look to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
One of the rules I’ve repeated most often to my son is Rule #39: “Be the best version of you that you can possibly be.” Solomon lays down the principle behind that rule in Proverbs 11:3: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”
As with all of God’s laws and rules, the best way to obey them is by not obsessing about the rules. Every believer has tried that and every believer has fallen short.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). That’s not a command itself. It’s Jesus’ cardinal rule about how to follow all the rules.
Simply love God and love others: God’s Rule #1 and Rule #2. The more I follow that advice, the more I’m training myself to be the kind of person who naturally lives up to the rules.
You don’t have be young and new to the job market to need advice on being a good worker.
A few months ago I shocked my son, who is now 28, by confessing that I had been “yelled at” by my boss for some attitude issues. I wasn’t proud of it, but Rule #5 says it’s always best to own up when you mess up.
Once he got over his surprise, my son asked me which of the numbered rules I had broken.
I listed a few for him, like Rule #32: The customer is always right. And Rule #10: Don’t let yourself get too comfortable, to the point where you’re just phoning it in.”
And then I tossed in another one I borrowed from a wise man, Rule #31: Stupid is as stupid does.
I know I can’t change my habits just by pounding those rules into my head, like I’ve been doing to my son for more than a dozen years. That’s just a good way to get a headache.
Change will only come if I guard my heart and nurture it to mirror the heart of God.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.