Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Ant Lesson–Sometimes Hard Work Is A Waste Of Time

Want to buy some SueJanTina Ant Eradicator?

The summer I was ten, my friends Cheryl Sue Glaze and Janet Ross and I would spend the afternoons at Cheryl’s house making a concoction to kill ants–especially the ones near the swings where we liked to play at Frances Willard School in Arkansas City, Kansas.  We thought the huge ant hill there was unsafe and should be eradicated, so we decided to invent a liquid ant killer.  Also, mixing chemicals seemed like a fun thing to do.

Cheryl’s Dad told us we could mix everything he gave us but we couldn’t touch anything else.  We agreed (and it wouldn’t have occurred to us to disobey) and I would rush over to Cheryl’s house every afternoon so we could experiment with water,  tea, sugar, salt, soda, lemon juice, liquid soap and vinegar. 

When we had mixed a new varation of those ingredients, we’d take it to the school yard and dump about a quart on the ant hill. We were nearly always gratified to see that we did away with some of them. (I know, I know, that  sounds mean, but at the time it seemed like a fascinating scientific experiment.

We named our product SueJanTina and half-seriously thought we might be able to sell it. Looking back on it that experience was prophetic about what the three of us might do when we grew up.

Janet Ross English: Janet kept careful records of everything  and had a whole notebook of our various mixtures. (Her mother was a pharmacist, which probably contributed to her tidy approach.) As an adult Janet worked as an administrator in a school district.  She also was elected to the city council and served as the mayor of Arkansas City.  She passed away two years ago, after fighting  cancer for several years.

Cheryl Glaze Geske: Cheryl mixed the ingredients carefully, put the finished miracle formula in jars and kept the counter tidy. She was precise about measuring and telling Janet exactly what to put in the records. Cheryl became a nurse.

Tina Lewis Rowe: I never mixed anything or kept any records. Instead I stood on the picnic table in the backyard and yelled, “Come one, come all! Buy the amazing SueJanTina Ant Killer! Available now at a store near you!”  I had a complete spiel about the product and why everyone should buy it.

We never found the perfect formula for SueJanTina and the next summer we were interested in other things. However, in Janet’s last conversation with me she mentioned the fun of those times and said she remembered it every time she drove by Frances Willard School. 

Not all ants are effective in their work

I thought of SueJanTina the other day when I saw an ant in my kitchen struggling with a big bread crumb ten times his size. I often have a few ants in the house this time of year and generally sweep them up and put them outside in the dirt (I’ve become much more humane as I’ve matured!) This one was so valiant in his efforts I decided to watch him and see how long it took for him to get to the door where the ants emerged and disappeared all day.

The ant staggered and dropped the bread crumb but eventually picked it up and moved forward. He dropped it again and climbed all over it trying to get a better grip. He toiled, he worked, he worked overtime and probably through his lunch hour. Finally he got to the door. I was thinking how industrious he was and what a lesson there was for all of us in his refusal to give up, even though he was almost overwhelmed with his task.

That is when I realized the crumb was far too big to go under the door–and the ant realized it too.  He spent the next hour trying to get the bread crumb under the door, to no avail. He left twice and brought back other ants to help. Each time the helpers would give a half-hearted try but soon leave and go back to their own work.

Finally the ant went under the door without anything to show for his exertions. I purposely left the crumb where it was, to see if it would be nibbled into smaller pieces. Nope. It was still there a day later so I vacuumed it up. 

The ant showed perserverence by trying to move such a big crumb for so long. Unfortunately, he didn’t show good judgment about what crumb to move.  

Do you know someone who stays very busy doing work that shouldn’t be done? What about you?

Part Two of this saga is in the next post!

September 29th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 6 comments


  1. I once had an employee like this. She thought that the more she did, the better and more thorough employee she was. Her job was to edit but she ended up rewriting everything.

    My manager and I asked her to stick to the job at hand, and she became very passive aggressive and accused me of micromanaging her work. We tried many times to reason with her, but the situation could never be resolved; she finally chose to move on. Thanks for this article–I found it very interesting.

    Comment by Lisa M. | September 29, 2010

  2. You either are more observant than anyone I’ve ever met or you’re just plain weird! I was wondering were you were going with that ant story, but you made it work. I should have known.

    Actually, it’s a good point. I know somebody who goes overboard on everything she does, to the point of being accused of having OCD. She has lost two jobs that way and never catches on to her problem because she thinks they just were jealous of how good she was.

    I could picture you selling ant killer. Any photos?

    Comment by wiseacre | September 29, 2010

  3. Trying to work with someone who is like the ant in your story is terrible. It would be funny if the rest of us didn’t have to deal with the problems our ant causes! I don’t know why our boss puts up with it but he always has and I guess he always will so I just try to ignore it. But it sure isn’t easy!

    Comment by Ka-ching | October 1, 2010

  4. A few months ago you wrote about auditing work to know exactly who is doing what. I started doing that at least once a week and was so shocked I’ve talked about it to everybody. I was completely underestimating how much one person was doing and completely overestimating someone else. So, thanks for that idea because it’s helped me a lot. This post ties in because the “ant” in my office was really busy but then I found out most of it was because of the way she was doing things.

    Comment by B. I. | October 1, 2010

  5. Feeling a little frustrated at work today, so I pulled up your site for guidance and encouragement. This article was te first up under the “challenging and problematic people” header and was not only a fun read, it gave me some perspective and helped me gather my own thoughts. Thanks as always for the creative but practical posts!

    Comment by SMc | December 10, 2010

  6. Ant lesson sometimes hard work is a waste of time.. Reposted it 🙂

    Comment by more | February 3, 2011

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