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  • James McNeil

What coffee and consistency can teach us

When is it okay to serve a bad cup of coffee? This is one of my favorite questions to ask, and to date one person has answered it correctly. Most business people want to respond by saying it’s never okay to serve a bad cup of coffee. In fact, that answer was repeated so often, I started giving a spoiler alert when I asked the question. “Spoiler: the answer is not ‘never.’”

You might be shaking your head, wondering why “never” is not the right answer. A business owner would naturally want to give his best product to his customers, right? And while that is true, something needs to be considered when it comes to coffee. If you were to do a survey of coffee drinkers asking how they like their coffee, you might have to ask over a hundred people before you get the same answer twice. Options vary from decaf vs. regular, strong vs. weak, bitter vs. smooth, and how much cream and/or sweetener are added. Also, there are options on what kind of creamer to use as well as what kind of sweetener. In other words, it is virtually impossible to please everyone with coffee. Someone will say it’s not good, and you’re back at square one.

So, it is an impossible standard to say that it’s never acceptable to serve bad coffee. You can give your best coffee to your customers, and someone will say it’s bad because it’s not how that person likes coffee.

So if “never” isn’t the answer, what is? The answer comes in the form of consistency. If you serve everyone the same type of coffee, brewed the same way, they will enjoy it. Even if they think it’s horrible, they know what they need to do in order to make the coffee “just right.” It is okay to serve a bad cup of coffee if you’re serving the same one every time you serve coffee.


Ray Kroc understood this. If you go into a McDonald’s in North Carolina and order a meal, then go across the country to California to a McDonald’s to order the same meal, they will look (and taste) alike. Kroc understood the importance of being consistent when it comes to the food he presented to the customer.

Quality is important. To say consistency is more important than quality is not a free pass to let your quality slip. As a business owner, you still want to give your customers the best you can give. However, it’s important to remember that consistency is only slightly more important than quality. Being consistently bad is just as harmful as being inconsistent. With this in mind, you should focus on both consistency and quality to be successful in business.

Just as consistency is important in business, it is important in daily life. It may seem boring to have a set schedule, but it will help you more than you realize. This is especially true if you take daily medication. If you take your medicine at different times of the day, you could end up forgetting to take a day’s dosage; or even worse, you could forget that you’ve already taken it and take it again. Neither of those is a good option.

I have to be consistent with my daily blood pressure medicine for this reason. I wake up at 0630 every day. There are days I want to sleep in, and I have from time to time. However, most of the time I am awake by 0630. Within an hour after waking up, I take my medicine. I tried taking it in the evening, but my schedule tended to be more sporadic during that time. It was easier to have a set time in the morning. Maybe if you take daily medicine your best time to set a schedule is in the evenings. Maybe it’s a lunch time. The important thing isn’t the time you use, but rather the fact you have a schedule that works for you and helps you to be consistent. It isn’t the tools we have, but the fact that we use them consistently that makes us successful.

This very same truth applies to your journey in overcoming suicidal thoughts and ideations. I believe it is an impossible standard to say you should "never" have a bad day or a self-deprecating thought. I still have them, and I've been on this journey for almost four years.

The question (and the consistent effort) comes with how you respond to those. Do you let them take over, or do you set a habit to reach out and let those closest to you know you need help? When you start while things are not overwhelming, then you will find things far easier (not exactly easy, but easier) to reach out and ask for help when things get tough.

The small habits you've instituted, such as self-affirmation, will help to hold you up when circumstances start to feel like they're over your head.

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