When does the careless person become careful? canstockphoto16225763

He’d been an intern for me for 6 months and a pretty good one at that.  He was punctual.  He stayed current on the news of the day and had an opinion that wasn’t without foundation.  He was courteous and likable and more than a few peers commented that he was, “a really good kid.”  That’s the kind of feedback you like to hear and he’d certainly earned it.

Thus when, a few months after he’d completed his internship, I got a call from a potential employer looking for a recommendation I had an easy task bragging up his abilities.  But the fellow interviewing me was a savvied manager and he let me finish my praises and then said, “So….. no one is perfect, what is it that he doesn’t do well?”

And before I knew the words were out of my mouth I spoke from the heart thinking of how often I found I had to double-checked his work.  “Sometimes he can be careless,” I said.  There was a silence on the other end of the phone and then this, “careless because he’s just 21 or careless and it’s going to stay that way?”

Now I was really impressed.  This guy was truly a talent evaluator.  “The former,” I said.  “His careless mistakes will lessen when he begins to answer for them.  His inevitable maturity will see to that.”

A week later he got the job and over time performed well there.  He advanced himself into another bigger company within 2 or 3 years and had moved out of state when I last heard.  I was happy to have been part of his career and I was also grateful for the lesson about carelessness.  Indeed there are degrees of it and as a person matures it typically dies a slow death.  Obviously this guy had shed that skin and his success was proof of it because I have come to believe careless people may be momentarily successful but rarely can it be something they sustain.  Carless habits always try to sneak back in.

I think back to when my children were engaging the “careless enemy.”  I can honestly say there were two very separate takes based on a male or female approach.  My boy’s carelessness could have simply been called oblivious.  They just seemed to walk around leaving a trail of clothes, books, sports equipment, etc.; kind of a general fog .  The girls were more deliberate in their delivery.  There was sort of a liberated, snobby air to it all.  “Yes my room is a mess, I left my coat out in the rain, I forgot my homework but I am somewhat entitled to this after all I am very tired after school and I am an adorable little princess.  Most princesses have people who follow them around and remind them of things don’t they?  You’re my people, daddy.  Tee hee.” Yes I accept the blame in some cases; see also “enabler.”

There are tests that can give you early indications.  The child that has begged for a dog for years and finally gets one and then never feeds or walks him after the first 2 weeks is likely to remain careless for a long time.  If the welfare of a helpless animal doesn’t touch his/her heart enough to motivate caring, chances are his/her consideration of others will never manifest itself in the later years.  On the other hand a young person who holds doors for others or lets people with only two items go ahead in line is already showing signs of consideration and it is that which I find to be the polar opposite of carelessness; simple consideration.

Because carelessness in youth can be “justified,” it is really a sign of immaturity more than anything.  It isn’t just restricted to humans either.  Visit your local zoo or pet shop and observe adult animals watching over, taking care of and correcting the younger animals.  They are careless because they don’t know better.  They haven’t connected the potential for self-endangerment with risk.  Take for example the impetuous baby lion that dives all over the male king of the pride.  They will nibble and claw at the old man in their playful, careless way and only due to the female who knowingly comes by and grabs the tyke by the scruff of its neck is he saved from a sudden angry outburst from papa.

But among humans it is believed that if you can understand language, carelessness can always be defeated.  Someone should be able to tell you what’s needed and what you should do. However, I dispute this with the simple example of the toddler who refuses to toilet train.  They understand language because they speak.  They know the diaper is more akin to babies than the older walking talking kid they are but yet some cannot be reasoned with and they stay addicted to the diaper.  There’s no doubt they know better but they simply cannot master the trigger that reminds them to go to a bathroom when the urge arrives.  So it isn’t just carelessness that makes a person do inconsiderate, immature, risky things.

The question then becomes “ when does the careless person become careful?” and this banter seems to make it clear.  Like all bad habits it is only when the careless person begins to suffer, due to their careless habits that things change.  When the delays they cause cost them personally you’ll be amazed how quickly they find ways to defeat their demons.

I had a college friend who was chronically late for everything.  It was a big joke among those that knew him.  Towards graduation he landed an interview for a job he really wanted.  The night before he set three alarm clocks at ten minute intervals; one was in his bed, one was on his desk, and one was in the doorway to our dorm room.   He had to get up to turn the last two off and by that time he was clearly awake.  He defeated his careless demons with a very clever dose of self-awareness.  As fate would have it he landed the job and I endured his three wake-up alarm routine for almost a month before he was able to pare it down to one clock.  One night I had a friend over as he was going off to bed setting his three clocks and she commented to him, “Do you ever worry about waking Ron up three times when all those clocks go off?”  He paused and looked at her quizzically and said, “Wow, I never thought of that.”

See?  Careful in one place doesn’t always translate to careful in all things.  Simple consideration and maturity would have seen to that.  I’ve kept up with him as the years have passed.  He’s still a great guy and he’s added those skills.  Time has a way of doing that but some carelessness will always be a part of him.  He’s doing well – married, two kids – a nice home, runs his own business (but I’d bet my mortgage that his wife keeps the books….and wakes him up for work in the morning).

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at .