Making the Cut

Sometimes we would come to school and see it hanging on the door from down the hall. And, sometimes we would be waiting outside the door for the coach to post it.

Either way, that single, simple, innocent piece of white notebook paper held the power to shape our destiny. It was anticipated. It was feared. It was cut day.

We knew, if our name was on that paper, we moved on, to continue our sports journey. If our name was missing, our life spiraled off in a different direction – maybe pushing us out of sports forever.

Moments Of Truth

There are very few moments like this in a person’s life -- moments so exciting, so seemingly important, and so potentially traumatic they are etched in the brain forever. The power of this moment, of this paper, is wrapped up in the emotions, confidence and personal value system of each individual involved. The thought is, “If I put my best out there and they don’t think I’m good enough, I must not be. And that, changes everything I thought I was going to be. I have been judged, and the verdict is not in my favor.”

Talk about a test of character.

Of course, in the flow-chart of life, moments like these are only the most visible “try-outs.” If the truth were to be known, every day, every minute, we’re at a crossroads of sorts. A good decision or a bit of luck leads us one way, and a bad decision or a bit of bad luck leads us another way. The key is not necessarily whether we are winning or losing, but how we react to the circumstances thrust upon us.

Successful people have a tendency to handle these situations better – enthusiastically taking the good with the bad and working hard to make their little part of the world a better place.

I’m on an endless search for these folks. They’re hard to find, but worth the effort. Here’s one example:

The Kid

I spotted a kid working in a department store a couple years back and frequented the place often enough to notice that wherever there was a problem, he was there. He had what seemed like a thousand keys, a phone and a two-way radio clipped to his belt. I never saw him idle.

One day in the checkout line, one of the clerk’s registers ran out of printing tape. The above person was called, and he hurriedly opened the machine, fixed the jam, threaded the new tape in, reset the register and began to ring out the customer in seconds. I happened to be the customer.

He smiled and said good morning. I asked if he was just here for the summer. He explained that the job was what was putting him through a local college, so he worked a few evening hours during the school year as well. I asked if the store management had ever asked him to work for them after he had graduated. He said no. I asked if they would help him get his degree. He said they never mentioned it. I asked what salary he made and for his phone number. He wrote them both down.

That Monday I called some friends who were park managers and asked if they needed a resourceful and hustling crew chief. One manager in particular took quite an interest. He called the kid and made him an offer. Two weeks later the young man started with the park district.

Upon hire, he made an immediate impact and found solutions for the simplest to the most complex problems. He developed systems to eradicate repetitious problems. He also didn’t get “hung up” on whose responsibility was whose. If he saw something that needed improvement, he pitched in. If someone helped, fine. If someone didn’t help, fine.

His enthusiasm never waned. When the seasonal period was over, the manager went to great lengths to hire him full-time. The kid interviewed for the first full-time opportunity that came along. Although many other people applied and were considered, he shone through because his answers were based in experience, know-how and the integrity of doing the job.

Once on board, he took advantage of the tuition-reimbursement programs and completed his education, resulting in practical applications that helped the park district. He made three promotions in four years before he was hired away to another park district where he continues to thrive.

The former manager says “the kid” still calls him from time to time to remind him of things to take care of and things he has thought about to help the park where he once worked. As I recall, I never heard him whine about how tough things are “out there.” Never. I find this fact and his constant success to be more than coincidental.

You see, this “kid” didn’t just get a job and become part of the furniture. He made his job into a live version of his resume and wove it into the fabric of his life.

Still Going Strong

Which, incidentally, is something I’ve always believed in and striven for ever since I made my junior-high football team simply because I out-hustled everybody (according to a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear between my coaches).

This “gotta-hustle” attitude still serves me well. For example, after one particularly good end-of-the-year evaluation session, I asked my supervisor if the reason I achieved such high marks had been the savings I put together on a big project. He smiled and said no.

I pressed him. He sat back, contemplating, and said that a few weeks earlier he had noticed a piece of wood trim coming loose in one of the main hallways. He said probably 10 people walked by and saw it, including him. “But about five minutes later I heard a hammer pounding, and when I got up to see what it was, I found you repairing the wall with your coat still on.”

Evidently I had just entered the building, saw the problem and set about fixing it before I even took my coat off.

“If ever a moment stood to exemplify you, it was that,” he said. I smiled back and shrugged my shoulders, thinking of my coach’s words decades earlier, now just adding fuel to the fire of my theory.

So, what about you? Do you lead a life worth living? Are you setting the proper tone and example for the people you influence? Or, have you set the bar so low that anyone really could do the same? Is it easier to just complain with the rest of the world and blame your life on the victimization of you from the oh-so oppressing world?

June Carter Cash was famous for saying, “I’m just trying to matter.” If you feel you don’t matter, ask yourself the bigger question: Is that okay with me? If you determine it’s not, then ask the really big question: “What am I prepared to do about it?”

Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached at