It had rained all day and as I walked that evening with my wife, I noticed the worms on the road, clambering to escape the torrents of water that were flooding their living spaces.
Finding a discarded drink cup, I started collecting them for our garden.
Counting them as I went, I was taken back to when I was a young teenager who noticed an ad in the local paper. “Worms wanted, $15 per 1000. Will pick up. Phone Mike for more details.”
My brothers and I called Mike and, after getting more information, decided we would pick worms, since we had the perfect worm beds in our barnyard.
I remember thinking about the money we were going to make and how we were going to use it to go to the fair that summer.
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The worm digging went well. Rob, Paul and I collected and counted worms by the handful. The harvest was plentiful and as the goats and sheep looked on in curiosity, our bucket filled with worms: 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 worms.
We were starting to feel rich. In the summer of 1978, $75 split three ways was more than enough to have a great time at the fair.
After three hours of picking worms, we called Mike. The worm buyer said he would come the next day to pick up the worms and give us our money.
All we could think about was the fun we would have at the fair.
To make sure that the worms didn’t dry out in the bucket, we poured some water in and closed the lid so they wouldn’t escape.
Mike came the next afternoon, took the bucket of worms and paid us our money. As we split the money, we made plans for what we would do at the fair that next weekend. The rides we would go on, the games of skill we might win and the 4-H girls we might encounter in the animal barns.
It was only a couple of hours later that the phone rang.
“David, Mike is on the phone,” my mother called out.
Why would Mike be calling me, I wondered?
“Dave, this is Mike. You sold me some worms and I’m sorry to tell you that when I opened the bucked, the worms were dead, they had drowned and then overheated. Did you put water in that bucket?
“Anyways, I’m bringing the dead worms back and I would like you to give me another 5,000. No, I don’t want the money back, I would like the worms.”
I broke the bad news to my brothers and we headed out with our shovels to find more worms, knowing full well that there were no worms where we had collected the first 5,000.
The next two days of looking for worms were dreadful. While it had taken only hours to get the first batch, finding the second 5,000 worms took days, which seemed like years. Decades later, I still remember how painful it was.
It would have been so much easier if Mike had asked for the money back instead of the worms. We would have learned that you don’t put water in a bucket of worms and then leave it in the sun.
But we might not have learned the value of doing things right, making up for our mistakes, or that we didn’t want to be in the worm business after all.
If it wasn’t for Mike, we might be known as the Worm Kings!
There are times in life when we have to do jobs that are painful, monotonous, difficult, strenuous, taxing and mentally demanding. Times when we know we’re not going to get paid for making things right. We’ve all experienced these emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally challenging times in our personal and professional lives.
For many people, the current economic climate is very difficult. There are serious challenges ahead in digging ourselves out of this barnyard.
For some people it will be easier and make more sense to pay the money back and walk away. Others will stay the course because they want or need the money for the future, or because people like Mike are demanding results.
There are some difficult decisions to be made, and we need to recognize that leaders are going to need support to make these decisions in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Please offer encouragement to those people who are discerning their future and working to rebuild organizations that have been seriously curtailed or even devastated by an economic lockdown out of their control.
David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.
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