Going the extra mile

Do you remember having to clean your room when you were 10?

Remember how you would resist; playing the brinksmanship game with your folks? Then, when the parental threats escalated, you would do just enough to qualify for dinner? Even then, most of that time was spent sulking—imagining how bad they’d feel if you ever went blind.

But do you also remember when you got so mad that you punished your parents by taking all day to clean the room? You were ridiculously thorough. You dusted everything, washed the baseboards, moved the furniture and vacuumed beneath. You used furniture polish, window cleaner, and bleach. You folded all the clothes and organized the closet.

Do you recall that sometime during the afternoon you forgot you were doing what they told you to do?

You did — you completely forgot. 

You weren’t cleaning for them anymore; you were cleaning it for yourself. Even when they said you’d done enough, you didn’t stop. Cleaning your room became something you wanted to do.

Every task we face today is the same as cleaning our room. We have a choice of which way to approach it: combatively or happily.

If you choose to fight, no one [yourself included] is going to be satisfied with the result. If you choose the happy way, where you work because you want to, the task is done well and actually seems easier.

There’s a name for the happy way, and its a couple thousand years old. It happens to be a religious story—but has nothing to do with God.

Jesus called it “Going the Extra Mile.”

In those days, the Romans ruled. Under the law, a Roman soldier could make a civilian carry his pack – but only for a mile. After that mile you were within your rights to drop his junk on the ground and go home.

I don’t know, but I’ll bet that being forced to lug an oppressor’s things down the street for an hour annoyed the Judeans.

Jesus knew that the only way to calm everyone down was to change the way they were thinking about it: an attitude adjustment of Biblical proportions. Jesus told his followers that if they decided to carry the soldier’s things two miles instead of one, the chore became a choice. The choice is what would give them power over the Romans.

Who cares that the Roman also benefitted, or that your parents got what they wanted? The fact is that if you choose to do something, the sting of the order is gone.

Our jobs are the same way. Sometimes we’re compelled to do tasks we’d rather not do. Maybe it’s your turn to clean the restroom, or to do sales calls in a bad part of town. Either way the difficulty of the task is directly proportional to who decides your assignment.

If your boss orders you to do it and you resist, the minimum will be done and you’ll be angry for the rest of the day. If, however, you decide to do it well – and you clean that restroom like you entered a bathroom cleaning competition you want to win – you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You take the power from the Roman. And you win.

If you choose to go and sell in the bad neighborhood, you’ll find that you’ve learned to be a better salesperson and you may actually sell some widgets. The best part is that it’s no longer a punishment. You chose to do it, remember?

Don’t think I’m suggesting that you can always go the extra mile. Sometimes we like being unhappy and we need a reason. The Romans are the perfect excuse, so by all means take advantage of them. I’m saying that for the times you don’t want to be unhappy, this is how to defeat the Romans. This is the way to turn the bad to good, and the command to a choice.

Going the second mile does more than make us happy though. It makes us valuable. We all have the Romans in our life and for most of us it’s our job. Going the extra mile at work will make you worth more than your co-workers are.

Every day we can help ourselves by going the extra mile, or hurt ourselves by wading in the shallow end of the pity pool, doing the minimum.

The choice is ours.