The Lesson of the Dirty Dishes

When it comes to chores, I feel that no chore is more despised by kids than that of washing dishes. I know even myself growing up there was always that sigh after dinner; to know that while everyone else was doing the things that they wanted to do, I was going to get the pleasure of washing the dishes.

As a parent, this reflection was made more real to me as I witnessed in my kids their frustration and complaining over washing the dishes. Which got me thinking:

Of all the chores that a child might do, perhaps washing dishes is the one that teaches us to most about life, goals and accomplishment. As a business owner in a service based industry, I began to reflect on the lessons learned from washing dishes.

Learning to be Detail Oriented

My father was a stickler for the details. Maybe it was the military, but in everything there just needed a touch of perfection to be approved. You haven’t lived until you have been adequately corrected in proper military fashion for spots on dishes. Looking back, I found that this was the best place to learn to be detail oriented in all the things we do.

Each plate, bowl and fork had a technique and a tool that needed to be properly used to complete the task. Especially in an arena where cleanliness helped keep you from getting sick; every last detail mattered. As a small business owner, I can reflect on this mindset as a need to be detail oriented; methodical even to a fault. To make sure that the task is not only done; but done correctly.

Clean Inside and Out

I recall one time I observed my brother washing dishes. He was in a hurry and was only washing the outside of the glasses. Sure, the soapy water was at least going into the glasses, but that wasn’t “washing them”. It didn’t take very long before the error of his ways to be revealed.

My mother said that if the cup wasn’t clean inside and out, it’s not clean! Taking a shower doesn’t clean what is inside, she said. To be truly clean you need to clean the inside and out. Perhaps in business and in life it would be good for us to learn that lesson. Being an honest business owner, employee or contractor takes more than a clean resume’; it takes a person that is clean on the inside. A true representation of one’s heart will show in their actions and create a reputation.

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It’s Not Done Until It’s Done Right

My parents had more sayings than a politician has excuses. The one my father liked the most I think was: “How come there is never enough time to do it right, but there always seems to be enough time to do it over?” While he said it much to our shame, the saying was sound. Whether doing dishes, taking out the trash, school work or, well, running a business; we should take the time to do it right.

It’s Not My Standard

A huge lesson to be learned from washing dishes is that the standard I needed to achieve was not my own. Meaning simply: I didn’t decide when the job was done, or if it was done right; but rather the one I was performing the task for. Naturally this life lesson leads to the attitude for employer/ employee / customer relations, that we have a standard to achieve; our own judgement does not apply.

Rick Brewer, Small business consultant once said: “Achievement is not measured by you, but rather by those who set the Standard. Success is when your standard is higher than theirs.”

The Lesson of the Dirty Dishes

Perhaps the moment that sticks out most in my mind is when I was washing the dishes as a youth. As I was standing there at the sink alone with only the light above the sink on; I was having a little pity party. Slamming the plates, clanging the pots; I just didn’t feel it was fair that I always had to do the dishes.

My Mom came in and listened for a moment and then made a quiet statement: “The fact that you get to wash dishes tonight means that you had dinner, in a home with parents; that worked very hard to provide for you.”

Perhaps a lesson we can all learn from dirty dishes is that we live, truly in a land of opportunity. Where hard work and a sound ethic generally creates an environment for success. Instead of grumbling about the dirty dishes, perhaps we can see the blessing, and the lesson of the dirty dishes.

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