Subpar Service & The Pursuit of Bettermment

When I was 9 years old, I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska on the Ft. Wainwright military base. My mom was always the one responsible for cutting mine and my brother's hair, but there was one summer when she was visiting her family in Idaho that the responsibility fell to my father. Now, my father was an Army Ranger, and as one, I honestly don't believe there was any task too big or too small that he considered to be beneath him, and he raised me with the belief that every task should be approached with the intent of accomplishing the desired goal. I have a ton of respect for the man my father was and the man my father is, but over two decades have passed and I still remember the summer of my worst haircut ever. My mom came home wondering what the hell he had done, and I just remember never trusting him with a set of clippers well into adulthood. It's a random childhood memory, but one that will serve a purpose at the end of this post.

I have been complaining to Hailie for two weeks about the same thing. "I need a haircut." It used to be easy to get my haircut working in the barbershop because Chase and I traded cuts. Working in a salon, I don't really have anything to offer the women of the shop in regards to trade, so I decided to start getting my haircut at the school again. This is easier in concept because my schedule is similar to that of the school, we are a single vehicle household, and my days off are filled with so many random things that my haircut falls low on the priority list. I could combat the roadblocks by choosing a different place to get my haircut, but one of the biggest reasons I choose to go there is my desire to become an educator. I believe that you aren't truly tested on your knowledge until you are forced to teach someone what it is that you know. I've gone into the school and demoed a haircut for the students, provided marketing lessons, and I've set a goal for myself to fill in the gaps of education created by the curriculum to the future professionals of my industry. Additionally, as simple as I think my haircut is, it's a style that doesn't typically make its way into a school that primarily focuses on cheap haircuts. I love seeing people get excited about the things I get excited about, and I never thrived until I was pushed out of my comfort zone, so I can have patience for students that are in the same place I myself was in recently to provide them an opportunity for growth.

A lot of people simply will not go into schools for haircuts due to completely justifiable decisions. Some are poor experiences they or their friends have had, although I've found that the majority are related to the time constraints of an educational experience. Most cuts can take upwards of an hour due to the lack of opportunity to become proficient with newly acquired motor skills through repetition. Others worry about the quality of the haircut itself, and I feel that the fear of a possible outcome is an unjustifiable excuse to skip out on the experience's potential. I have had great haircuts from students, and I've had terrible haircuts from professionals, and I like to trust that others are honestly putting forth their best effort the majority of the time.

Today was the first time I've been downright pissed off as a direct result of a haircut since I started cutting hair. I went in and did my whole spiel on what my haircut is, "My tattoos are going to screw with you, so there is no point on wasting your time trying to create a fade because nobody will be able to appreciate it anyways. I would like a solid 2 on the sides, with a mid-temple taper for a classic side part." I led the consultation because I know exactly what I want and I know the jargon to try and make it simple for the barber. I didn't think the conversation would stop after my request, but it did. No questions, no dialogue, no real interactions, just me sitting down and having a stranger cut my hair. Awkward as fuck.

An hour later and I'm finally walking to my car where Hailie had finished a long conversation with her mom that included multiple statements along the lines of, "Chris is still getting his haircut?" As we were driving home, Hailie mentioned the blend could have been a little better, but it probably wasn't that bad since she didn't know what she was looking for. I decided to take a picture of the sides of my head and I quickly saw what she was talking about. In addition to not being blended whatsoever, the left side of my head was a solid two inches higher in the taper than the right side of my head, there were entire patches of longer hair that got missed, and the icing on the cake was my beard. He shaved off half of the facial hair on my left cheek while trying to block off my sideburns, but not my right side. After growing out everything for close to two months, I now have to shave off all of the progress I've made towards my beard.

Before I get too far into this story, I want to provide context to my educational method. The most valuable lessons I have ever learned were never from my success. The best lessons were provided in the lowest moments of my largest fuck ups. I learned what NOT to do because I never wanted to feel that disappointment again, and by avoiding what I knew to be wrong I slowly found myself gravitating towards a better definition of what was correct. While I strive for perfection in my professional career, I know that I am human and simply cannot do that. I don't expect others to be perfect because I constantly dwell on the numerous reasons I myself am not. There was one night that I received an e-mail from a regular client with an explanation of why he wasn't coming back to me. It broke my heart reading the words, but I admired him for giving me constructive feedback and not simply disappearing from my appointment book. I've kept that e-mail and read it over a number of times since it was originally sent to me because it reminds me that at any point, I could lose any number of my clients from a single poor experience. If others hope to be successful, they should be able to learn from the failures of others in addition to their personal shortcomings.

I'm home, and I can't stop analyzing my haircut in a mirror, so I call the school and say I either need a refund for the service or the option to have it corrected. I can have it corrected, but now I will need to take another hour and a half out of my one day off in order to get the resolution I want. I've now had a poor experience, I'm pissed, and I wanted this kid to learn a lesson. I drive back to the school and my former instructor greets me at the door. We have a good laugh at how bad the haircut is, and he tells me which one of the other students will be fixing the cut. He starts walking me to the station when I stop and say, "I want to talk to the original barber before I have it fixed. How will he learn what not to do again if he doesn't see the impact of his actions?" I walk to the station I had been at an hour prior, but he was nowhere. Another student told me they thought he was out smoking in his car, and my response was immediate. 

"What color is his car?"
"Are you really going to call him out about this?"
"Why wouldn't I?"

I walked out to the far side of the parking lot and found him in the car smoking with his friends. I wouldn't describe myself as rude, but I was easily far from cordial "You and I are going to have a conversation." I didn't want to completely embarrass the kid, but I definitely wanted his balls to be sore from how hard I planned on busting them.

"How could you let me leave like this?" I said with agitation pointing to the uneven blend on either side of my head. "Do you see this line that surrounds my head? Do you see this uneven neckline you put on me? But past all of this, you took off half of my beard! You did this, nobody else but you. I want you to understand one thing, most people won't give you the courtesy of letting you know they're pissed, they simply stop coming back to you. This is me showing you that I am fucking pissed at what you did. Enjoy your break, because I'm going to go in and have someone else fix it." I turned around and walked back into the school to complete my haircut before he had any opportunity to defend himself. The next student took his time, had the instructor on hand, and recognized that while the situation wasn't ideal, he was being provided an opportunity to learn something new by having me in his chair. 

When I supervised agents on my team and found myself in a situation where I had to provide difficult news, I would always go back to a phrase someone told me early in my career. "Feedback, whether it's positive or negative, is a gift. You can choose to accept it, or you can choose to do nothing with it. Positive feedback is great because it allows you to know where you excel, but negative feedback should never be looked at as a downfall. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity for personal betterment."

I don't think people should fear the outcome of constructive criticism. If you approach providing feedback with the intent of creating a better scenario for all, you cannot be faulted if the other person fails to implement changes. Maybe I was an asshole, maybe I was the lesson that finally got through. It's likely I will never know because no connection was made in the hour I was sitting to get my hair cut the first time. I do know that I will go back to the school to continue providing opportunities for personal growth because at the end of the day I really enjoy the way my haircut turned out. Sure it took over two hours, but at least I can finally let my dad off the hook for giving me the worst haircut experience of my life.

Chris BentleyComment