A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in the high school commons when one of our military recruiters had set up a table to hand out items to interested students.
For years I’ve watched recruiters talk to kids who stop by tables for information. But this time, a steady line of students was crowding around his table. When I made my way over, I saw boys and girls doing push-ups in exchange for lanyards, water bottles, or other memorabilia as reward. What surprised me was the energy, passion, and excitement they were showing for earning something so small in value.
One young man was even turning flips after his push-ups in order to up the stakes for the reward he could pick from the recruiter’s table. It was fun to watch. Students laughed and lined up, and the recruiter had the best attendance I’d ever seen before.
After the bell rang and commons area had emptied, I asked him, “So, what was different this time? I’ve never seen so many kids excited about your free stuff before.”
He laughed and said. “Well, the first boy that came to the table asked, ‘If I do 10 push-ups can I have one of those lanyards?'” “I usually just give them away for nothing, but I just told him, ‘Sure.'”
“After that,” he continued, “Each student that came up asked if they could have something for push-ups. Before I knew it, there was a crowd. I was surprised too. But I guess they value something more if they earn it.”
As I walked away from that conversation, that phrase kept ringing in my head: You value something more if you earn it. Three other thoughts came to mind as well:
- The same items that were offered for nothing were perceived as treasure when given a value.
- Students were willing to show extraordinary effort for something that required personal cost or sacrifice.
- Both the recruiter and the students walked away with a newfound sense of accomplishment when the reward was offered for a price.
This is the Christmas season, and I am excited at the incredible generosity I see happening this time of year (with no strings attached) for needy kids and families. But in the day-to-day responsibilities of life, here’s my take-away from talking to the recruiter: When you give something of value in return for something of value, in the process, you increase the perception of the reward for both parties involved.
The Few, The Proud
I once heard a story of three recruiters invited to a school assembly: An Army, Navy, and Marine recruiter*. Each one was given 10 minutes to make his pitch to high school students during a 30 minute assembly. The Army recruiter went first. He was so excited about his presentation, that he took 15 minutes instead of his allotted 10. The Navy recruiter followed, and not to be outdone, he spoke for 18 minutes. When the Marine recruiter realized he only had 2 minutes left, he walked to the front of the auditorium and stood facing the students for a full minute.
He stood in silence, glancing across the faces of each student, looking them up and down–obviously giving them the impression that he was measuring each one with his gaze. Then with 1 minute left, he said, “I can only see 2 or 3 of you who may have what it takes to be a Marine. If you think that’s you, see me after this assembly.”
Guess whose table was flooded with boys and girls wanting to talk to him after that assembly? *I found another version of this story in the book Point Man but am unsure of its original source
Yes, many of the good things we experience on a daily basis have nothing to do with our efforts: sunshine in the morning, good health, loving friends–these blessings are often moments of pure grace, and we should be thankful for them. At the same time, don’t forget the inherent rewards that come from hard work: the sense of accomplishment at reaching a goal, the feel-good-relief of earning a top mark by giving it your all, the rush of adrenaline in helping someone gain new personal achievement. We should be thankful for those hard-to-achieve rewards too.
When you’re willing to give something of value to create something of greater value, something magical happens; you also benefit from the self-dignity that comes from good old-fashioned hard work.
Now It’s Your Turn
You may not be interested in the short-lived thrill of doing push-ups for a free water bottle, but what extraordinary goals are you trying to reach this week, this year, or in this life? Whatever targets you’ve set, don’t let yourself (or those whom you’re leading) settle for the easy-path when there’s something of greater value waiting for you.