iStock_000011485048SmallSo when I was in college and working at Target in the “Sound and Photo,” department, I was, for a short period of time, a Fred. It can happy and when it does, being a Fred is like being a magician. You can change someone’s day or even their future with just a few simple waves of a magic wand – that wand is your approach to life and your commitment to being a Fred.

Now don’t get me wrong. They’re been numerous times in my life where I was not only not a Fred I have been the anti-Fred. I have mastered the skills of wasting time with the best of them. I also mastered that elusive skill set known as “looking so incredibly busy that people don’t even give you anything additional to do.” Dilbert would have been proud.

But for this one time, in the fall of 1985, I can now proudly say that I was a Fred.

Working at the sound and photo department, which also covered sporting-goods, was a fairly easy job. Keep in mind this was also during that period of time when cameras took actual film and you had to go someplace to have it developed. I tell this story because I know there are a lot of people out there who believe that to be a Fred you have to have some sort of high level job. However, you can be a Fred wherever you are. I was a Fred at Target and a good friend of mine is a waitress who pulls down more money than you would possibly imagine for someone with that job title. She is also a Fred. And no, she does not work at a place with a stripper pole. In fact, in Sanborn’s book his Fred is a U.S. postman. A yeoman’s job that typically doesn’t require much high level interaction, but Fred took being a post man to a whole new level (Sanborn 3-7).

What possessed me to become a Fred was nothing noble nor altruistic. It was ego. I didn’t like being embarrassed. Besides showing up to work on time, stocking shelves, running the cash register and keeping the place tidied up, not too much was expected of us. However, people used come in all the time asking for advice on what types of camera or other pieces of electronics and sporting goods to buy. When I didn’t know the answers to their questions, or didn’t even know what I was talking about, I felt stupid. If they came in to find their developed photographs and saw that all of the envelopes on the rack were in complete disarray, I could hear them grumbling and feel their disappointment, frustration and anger. While I found some of my coworkers were rather immune to this, there were a couple others, including my immediate supervisor, the assistant department manager, who took a great deal of pride in keeping that shelf organized so people could find their photographs quickly.

They also seemed to know quite a bit about what we sold.

So I begin to read some of the magazines on photography, and reviewed many of the instruction manuals for the equipment that we sold. Even though we weren’t one of the big camera stores where “camera-people,” hung out, nor were we a big sporting goods store, most of the people that came into Target didn’t have the big bucks to spend on some of that higher priced stuff anyway – and we still had quality equipment that the specialty stores had as well, but they also had the experts on staff who could talk you through the stuff. I wanted that to change.

I slowly begin to be a Fred and took a great deal of pride in my work. I tell this story in my Aviation Job Targeting class at MSU-Denver now and it’s called the “professionalism” assignment. Students must explain how they will become a professional where they are, no matter what the job, right now. The assignment is going to be renamed “The Fred Assignment.”

Here are Fred’s final lessons:

  • Do good and you’ll feel good (Sanborn 102). Being of service to others isn’t just the right thing to do it is the gratifying thing to do (Sanborn 102). I know, no matter how bad of a day I might be having, if I have made somebody else feel good I start feeling better.
  • The best never rest (Sanborn 102). Oddly enough, it doesn’t take much extra time or effort to make a special effort so why not do it. You never know who is watching.
  • Treat customers and others as friends (Sanborn 103). I’m not going to promise you that you’ll go home from work feeling more refreshed than when you came in, but perhaps, like when you’ve just completed a long run or similar task, you’ll feel that “good tired,” that comes with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
  • The impact you have on others is the reward (Sanborn 103). Remember, when you do things expecting a reward you likely won’t get it. Do good, people will notice and you will be rewarded, if not by them, then at least by yourself.
  • Listen to the golden rule (Sanborn 104). Isn’t this really what it all comes down to? Don’t we all really want to be treated this way?
  • Fear nothing except to waste the moment (Sanborn 104). The Navy SEALs have a saying – the only easy day was yesterday. Fred also has a saying – “look to everything is a new day, and make it each day better than the last.” Fred.

I hope that 1985 wasn’t the only time I was a Fred and I hope I can attain that same standard today. I hope I have learned the skills to wield the wand well.

Also, a tremendous amount of thanks to Mark Sanborn, who responded to an email from me and reached out personally this week, and sent me a copy of his new book Fred 2.0. It is already in the queue to be read as part of the 50 books this year, and I look forward to meeting Mark in person to share ideas soon.

Sanborn, Mark. The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2004. Print.

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