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I Learned to Pay Attention to Detail... The Hard Way

One of the requirements for most professions is attention to detail. Without that skill, you will produce subpar work. I don’t care what your profession is, if you do not pay attention to detail, there’s a good chance you’re going to make some unforgivable mistakes.

Think about how many lives would be lost if medical professionals paid no attention to detail. In my field as a communications professional, it is imperative to pay attention to everything I put out. If you know the feeling of sending a text message to the wrong person or hitting send on an email just before you realized that unforgivable typo, imagine what that feeling is like when you are responsible for the communication of an entire organization to its publics. What if you were on a flight with a pilot that ignored a few minor steps during takeoff? Or what would happen if a judge paid little attention to a minor detail that was extremely important to determining who was at fault? I think you get the point.

I’m not sure if the condition I am about to describe is a disorder (if you’re a doctor, please advise), but when I write a really really good email, blog post, etc. (which is every time I write) I get really excited and immediately want to hit that “send” or “post” button. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that I need to pay attention to detail and check my work over and over again. In fact, not looking over my work could be the difference between getting fired and getting promoted. I’ve become so thorough when I check my work that if you witnessed my process of editing my work, you would think it was psychotic. I am easily distracted, so it’s easy for me to miss errors in my work. I am getting better, and even though I end up spending more time on editing and sprucing up my work than it actually takes me to put that piece together, it has made me a better person and a better writer.

Attention to detail is not only important in our professions, but in our personal lives as well. Our relationships, our walk with God, our spending habits and even driving down the highway requires attention to detail because you are responsible for your life and the lives of the other drivers around you.

I learned the importance of paying attention to detail very early in my life, and the experience I am about to share made me a better person, but one I will never forget.

I was maybe 9 years old, in the fourth grade at Ridge Church School in Accra, Ghana. At 9 years old, my lovely mother was beginning to wean my sister and I off the daily children’s Bible stories, so she had bought us a daily devotional that I was required to read every morning before school. I was excited about it because I enjoyed stories from the Bible, I enjoyed church and I wanted to grow spiritually even if at that age, I didn’t really know what that meant. It also made me feel like I was growing up since I got to have my own daily devotion. I woke up every morning and read my small book and prayed. There were some days I wouldn’t remember what I read, and it was probably because I was failing asleep during my devotional time. (I’m not a morning person)

It was a Wednesday morning. I remember it vividly because we had church service (chapel) at school every Wednesday morning. As the name of the school implies, Ridge Church School is a private, Christian School, and that is why we had church every Wednesday morning before class.

I woke up and picked up my devotional as usual. I had one eye opened and the other closed while I read the passage for the day. I don’t remember exactly what the passage or the story was about, but I remember it being a passage or a parable about Pagans and Christians. I remember not knowing who or what a Pagan was. In order for me to understand the passage, I should have looked up the word “Pagan” in the dictionary or asked my mom, or my sister who is a lot smarter than I am, BUT I DIDN’T! I was too sleepy and wasn’t too concerned about understanding the passage. All I remember was the story talked about a group of people called Pagans, but I didn’t know if they were people from Paganon (not a real country) or if they were just descendants of Pegasus.  I closed the devotional, prayed and went about my day. In my mind, I had read the passage and that’s all that mattered.

I got ready for school, put on my blue shirt and khaki shorts and jumped into mom’s car and headed to school. It was Wednesday, so the first thing we did at school was go to the chapel.

On this Wednesday morning, the teacher preaching was Mr. Parker Yarney. Mr. Yarney was a young man and a student-favorite. His awesome name was just the cherry on top. Mr. Parker Yarney! Sounds like a movie star’s name, doesn’t it? I was always intrigued with how much the students loved Mr. Yarney. I had never had much of an interaction with him because he taught the seniors, but I knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was.

We had a quick worship session and then Mr. Yarney began to preach. As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew it was the same passage I had read in my devotional. In fact, I stretched my neck over the pews in front of me to get a glimpse of the book he was reading from. To my astonishment, it was the exact devotional I had. What a coincidence! I got really excited and smiled because I was going to learn who or what a Pagan was without even trying. Mr. Yarney was going to preach from the same passage, so for sure he was going to define and explain the word I should’ve looked up that morning. It was perfect. I ignored that attention to detail, but I was going to learn what it was anyway…

…Except I wasn’t. As soon as Mr. Yarney was done reading the passage, he looked up and said, “Raise your hand if you know who a Pagan is.”

He looked around the packed sanctuary, and not a single hand went up. Out of over 1000 students, no one had their hand up. I am sure some knew the meaning of the word but were just too shy to put up their hand. So Mr. Yarney said “Ok, I am going to call someone up to the pulpit to tell us who a pagan is since no one wants to talk.”

My heart completely sunk. Surely, he couldn’t pick me right? There are about 1000 students in here, there’s no way he picks me. I put my head down pretending to tie my shoelace to guarantee that his eyes didn’t meet mine. He didn’t know my name so the chances he was going to pick me were slim to none.

Then I heard the words I will never forget. “YOU! I know you know who a pagan is, so come up here and tell everyone.”

I looked up and he was pointing and staring directly at me!

Unbelievable! Un-freaking-believable. A teacher I had never had a real conversation with picked me out of 1000 students to answer a question I should’ve known the answer to.

In a perfect world, this is what should have happened that morning. I would have woken up, read my devotional, looked up the meaning of the word Pagan so that I could actually understand the passage, prayed, gone to chapel, been the only student in the entire school to put my hand up when Mr. Yarney asked the question, told him the exact meaning of who a Pagan was, dropped the microphone and walked back to my seat like a boss!

But that didn’t happen. Because I ignored that detail in the passage, I walked up to the pulpit, stood in front of the entire school and had to mutter the words “I don’t know.” And then I looked up at Mr. Yarney and saw the disappointment in his face. He asked me to take a seat, and I just walked back to my pew with my tail between my legs. If you know how obsessed I am and how particular I am about always presenting myself in the best possible light, my description of this event does no justice to how I ashamed I was.

I cried the entire day not because I was embarrassed, but because I should’ve known the answer to the question if only I had taken a little bit more time to ask my mom a question or simply taken a dictionary.

I never forgave myself, and I don’t think I have yet, but it has definitely made me a better person. It wasn’t a just a coincidence. I truly believe it was God’s way of teaching me to pay a little bit more attention and try to understand the word rather than just read for reading sake. Now when I read the Bible or any book for that matter and I come across a word I don’t understand, you better believe I look it up.  

I encourage anyone reading this to pay attention to the details. It makes a huge difference. Attention to detail is everything. You expect the pilot flying your plane to pay attention to the minor details, right? Why can’t you do the same in your daily activities? It will make your life and the lives of others around you so much better. Students out there; pay attention to details when you complete an assignment. It could be the difference between a passing grade and a failing grade. Also remember to pay attention to details when you complete tasks during an internship. It could be the difference between getting a full time job and having to prove yourself again and again.

Please share this blog to inspire someone else.