Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Which I Learn to Respect Tortoises

Okay, so I mentioned last week that I once competed in the McDonald's Decathlon.  Today, I'll tell you how that experience taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

In 1984, McDonald's (capitalizing on Winter Olympics fever) announced that it was holding "Decathlons" all over the country.  Rather than bobsledding and skiing, though, we'd be competing in...get ready...burger flipping, drive-thru service, "lot-and-lobby," etc.  We had to not only perform efficiently at each station but remember miscellaneous details like the temperature of the fry oil, griddle, etc.  A young college student, I was used to memorizing stuff, and I had fun at my job, so I decided to go for it.

To make a long story shorter... I did well at my store and earned the opportunity to compete in the Northeast Wisconsin Upper-Michigan Regionals.  Quit laughing--It was a big deal to some people, including (apparently) the owner of our store, because he's the one who drove me to the competition a couple weeks later, some place in Michigan (I think).  The ride there was a little awkward for me; aside from the fact that I was an insecure young woman, I was riding in a van with a guy I didn't even know. He was a store owner going to a lot of trouble; I hoped I would make the trip worth his time.

Anyway, we arrived at the McDonald's in which the contest would take place. Right away, my fellow fresh-faced competitors and I were given a tour of the store (which didn't have the same layout as the one I was coming from). I sized up the competition while we walked; they all looked nice enough.  There was one girl in particular that I didn't like right away, but only because she was pretty. (Let's call her Evie, short for Evil-Girl.)  Another girl I remember was sort of a Plain-Jane type, and she seemed to be too meek to be a threat to me. Still, I started to get really nervous. Was I going to be able to find everything in this new, familiar-yet-unfamiliar restaurant?

Suddenly, I came up with another reason to hate Evie. With a flip of her shiny, tight ponytail and a confident smile, she announced in an I'm-so-superior tone, "I don't know why I'm even taking this tour! This store is the exact same layout as the one I'm from. Everyone knows I'm going to win!"

And that was the moment my understandable insecurity bloomed into pathological hatred and distraction. Who the heck did she think she was?! What a snot!  I wanted her to die. (Just kidding, but I really did hate her.)

We finished our tour, and the competition was soon under way. I tried to put Evie out of my mind.

"Welcome to McDonald's! May I take your order?"

I did my best in Drive-Thru, making sure to answer every "Beep" within 30 seconds and get the food out the window within a minute or two. I cheerfully up-sold with, "Would you like fries with that?"  The contest judges stood by, making notes and keeping scores on little pads.  I felt pretty good about my performance, but I couldn't help but wonder how Evie was doing.  I hoped she was off in a corner, choking on a fry or something.

On to Lot-and-Lobby, cheerily wiping tables and bringing napkins to the old folks having their morning coffees, I couldn't help but hear Evie near by, competently performing her front-counter duties with grace. My blood boiled.

A little while later, I was at the Fry Station, busily boxing up those golden yummies. Plain Jane was nearby, pushing a mop bucket past the bun cart when the unthinkable happened. On the back of the bun cart hung a huge bag of ketchup. When I say huge, I remember it being about two gallons worth. (It was probably less, but that's how I remember it.)  As Plain Jane passed the cart, she somehow hooked the bag, and I watched as a flood of ketchup splashed out onto the floor. What a bummer!  I was too busy with my own task to stop and help her, but she didn't seem to need it; she quietly and quickly cleaned it up. I felt sorry for her; there went her chances, I figured.

Before I knew it, we had each gone through the various work stations and were waiting for the results. I don't remember that part, but I definitely remember the award ceremony.  My heart was filled with hope for a win, but moreso, a hope that Evie would lose. I wanted to see that smile wiped off her obnoxious face. A girl like that; so pretty, so confident conceited, deserved to lose, right?

I could only hope that I would place in the top three. I thought I'd done well enough, but could I really hope for 1st Place? Apparently not, because when they called out the winner for 3rd Place, I heard my name. My heart sunk.

What?! Third? Didn't I at least deserve 2nd?  My cheeks reddening, I plastered beauty-pageant-runner-up smile on my face to accept my award. That was hardly worth the trip!  I just wanted to leave.

[I'm sorry, I know I was being petty, immature, and snotty, but it was what it was.  This was long before therapy, after all.]

I had to sit there as they proceeded to name Jane the 2nd Place winner, and guess who took first? Yup--It was that beotch, Evie.

I actually wasn't that shocked that Evie took first. I reasoned that her confidence was clearly based in reality. What really impressed me was the fact that Jane had passed me right by and snagged 2nd, even after that ketchup debacle. I had been so distracted by my anger for Evie, my own immaturity and weak ego, that I never even noticed Jane sneaking past me like the infamous tortoise passing the sleeping hare. When that ketchup had dumped, she kept her cool; she persevered and barely broke a sweat. I knew she deserved to win. 

Sometimes, it takes a loss to make a gain. I was so disappointed in myself for getting psyched out and letting my own insecurities interfere with doing my best. That day, I learned the true meaning of the expression, Keep Your Eye on the Prize.  I learned that I cannot allow myself to worry about what anyone else is doing. Rather, I need to just be the best me that I can be...

because if you do that, you'll always be a winner.


  1. What a great story. Very cute. And a great theme.

    Weird, I just ate at McD's tonight and had an awful experience. Rotten service and food. But this post cleansed me of it. Thanks.

  2. You are such a well grounded dork! I say that with complete love and affection.

  3. Being a truly competitive person, I know it's important to stay focused on what your are doing and not let the competition distract you. That's a good thing to learn. Evie obviously had a bit of an advantage with being familiar with the layout, but she should have kept her mouth shut. I am happy to hear the Plain Jane took 2nd--good for her!

  4. Great story and lesson! If we only knew than what we know now!

  5. SO jealous you got to do this! :) I started my 2-year tenure with McDonalds in late 1984. Loved every minute of working there!!!

    And 3rd place really isn't too shabby...but I like the lesson you learned. ;)

  6. Excellent story, so well written, expressing your younger self inner insecurities. Nice lesson to come of the trip to the Upper Michigan Regionals. You are definitely a winner.

  7. I'm kind of laughing at the idea of this McDonalds competetion...

    But, a great lesson learned.

  8. Great descriptive story, and great lesson learned, and so soon in life too! :)

  9. Thanks for sharing and telling us your real feelings at the time. I think we often revise our stories to correct things.
    So the whole thing was done with real customers? They sure had the benefit of great service that day. You didn't mention how many were in the game. You are a winner. I also dislike big egos and who knows if you took first place maybe your ego would not have stayed in check. There's always lessons out there if we are willing to pay attention.

  10. Did you have to go to Hamburger U too?

  11. It would be interesting to see what became of Evie. In our book you won.

  12. Keeping your eye on the prize is tough when your belly wants some yummy fries. I am your 500th follower! Yay! I feel like I won a prize.

  13. Love it. Except now I want a #3 with no onions and Diet Coke.

  14. I loved this story, had me on the edge of my seat!!! I think it's soooo funny that an activity like this actually occurred. They should bring it back, because some of these employees now, could use some additional training.


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