What’s Behind the Refrigerator Counts Most

Stylized kitchen

I am the fortunate product of an immigrant. Not just a descendent but the product of an immigrant. Let me explain.

My Father is Klaus. An ordinary person as we all are, who grew up under extraordinary circumstances. He was born in 1938 in Germany as a war unfolded. If I’m right, he was seven or eight before a real bed was a regular occurrence. Think about your kids right now and let that sink in.

He is a Malermeister—so were his Father and Grandfather. That’s a fancy German way to say “painter,” someone who turns liquid color into timeless beauty. He can change paint into wood, and glaze into marble—and you can’t see the difference. Artisans like him apply paint, wall coverings and textures that make the spaces in which we dwell the places we want to be.

He emigrated to the United States when he was 19, and while knowing no English he impressed a young nursing assistant. She would soon become his wife and my mother. And that takes me back to the late 70s, helping him out on a Saturday morning. It’s a simple story that startled me decades after it happened, when old memories ignited real insight.

In the kitchen of a customer we hung wallpaper. You didn’t just start anywhere, but rather you planned where you started and where you finished. It wasn’t just paper and paste, but the living space of each customer. You had one chance to do it right.

We worked until we got to what I thought was the unceremonious end of the project—sliding the refrigerator out to tackle the final corner of the room. With the heavy appliance out of the way, I positioned the paper on the wall, brushed it bubble-free and backed away. And that’s when the lesson began.

"Finish it,” he said. “I did!” exclaiming with conviction. And so he said, “What your customer will never see is what matters most. When that is perfect your work is perfect.” I spent another half hour making what would never be seen “perfect” for no one ever to see. Patterns aligned, and seams—seamless.

I’ve kind of been a detail freak ever since. And with full admission, complete with my share of dingers along the way—and to this day—just ask my clients. But recognizing mistakes means they matter and that I seek to ensure they don’t happen again. We’re all imperfect, ordinary people. Yet we have an innate sense of perfection that tugs at us when we know we don’t achieve it—even when others may think we have.

If what you do is perfect where it will never be noticed, then it’s something that should make you proud. Because that’s what really matters. An ordinary guy taught me that lesson. And what an extraordinary lesson it was. Thanks, Dad!

We can prattle on for days on end about all sorts of things marketing, marketing communications, strategy, content …you know what I mean. Blog on. Blog off. But there’s a human side to all of this that gets lost. What actually matters? What am I doing to perfect what matters?

Heavy stuff, but lighter than the refrigerator.

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