Category Archives: gratitude

Direct Deposit

Once upon a time when I was young, ambitious and determined to make the world a better place (unlike now when I am old, mildly less ambitious, yet still determined to make the world a better place) I set about an exercise of enlightenment with my team at work.  Embracing the tenets of continuous quality improvement with every fiber of my being, I asked each of the 30-plus team members to schedule 30 minutes to meet with me over the course of 3 weeks.  In those 30 minute individual sessions, I wanted each team member to answer three questions for me:

1) What do you think is going well in our work place?

2) What do you think the opportunities for improvement are in our workplace?

3) What can I do to help you achieve a professional goal of yours in the next year?

One by one, team members came in to tell me what they thought.  Some were bashful and didn’t have much to say at all.  Some had put tremendous thought into the questions, and gave me new directions to consider.  Still others amazed me with the most trivial concerns that they’d been holding in for the longest time – things like a malfunctioning key on their keyboard or static in their phone.  You know, things I could actually fix.

As I was nearing the end of this project – laborious, time-consuming, but fruitful and worthy nonetheless, along came an employee who had been there long before I started.  I didn’t know a whole lot about her, but I knew she always had a pained expression on her face.  Like it actually hurt to be occupying her chair each and every day.  So in my usual way, I pretended I didn’t notice her pained expression and welcomed her into my office.  I gleefully started in with my “spiel” about my sincere desire to hear what was one everyone’s minds and make our work space the best it could possibly be. No surprise to me, my spiel fell flat and was met with any icy stare.

With no choice but to trudge bravely forward, that is exactly what I did.  “All right,” I said.  “Let’s dig right in.  First things first, let’s start with the positives.  That’s where I like to start.  Tell me what you think is going well in our workplace.”

The employee didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause for even a nanosecond.  She looked me squarely in the eye, and answered me as coldly and crisply as she possibly could.  “Direct deposit,”  she said, and it was as if she said it in slow motion. I swear as I replayed the story in my head I could see the mist of spittle spring from her lips as she enunciated the hard “p” in “deposit.”  She didn’t smirk, she didn’t shrug.  Her answer was so precise, so searing, that I pictured her getting ready for work that morning, leaning against the basin in her bathroom and practicing her intonation and expression in the mirror until she got it just right.  “Direct deposit.  Direct deposit.  No, no, no, that’s all wrong.  One more time.  Direct deposit.”

Flustered but determined to press on, I noted that while yes, we could all agree that direct deposit is a very handy tool for all of us, it is something that is surely available in virtually every workplace the days.  “Anything you want to add that you think is going well?” I bravely asked.  “Nope.  That’s it.”  She punctuated her point, and although she didn’t pound her first on the desk as she said it, she might as well have.

I carried on with the interview and listened to her very long and comprehensive list of opportunities for improvement in our workplace (no surprise there).  When asked what professional goals of hers I might support in the next year, she quipped she didn’t have any, and that all she hoped to accomplish was to not get so pissed off that he just up and quit one day without notice.

And lo and behold, about six months later that is exactly what she did.

I’ve thought about this person over the years and I’ve gotten a good many laughs from telling the story.  How on earth could someone stay in a job that has only one redeeming quality, and that one quality is direct deposit?  Or perhaps the more telling question is, how could anyone be so miserable that they can only find one thing to like about any situation, least of all a situation that pays their bills?

I’ll never be that person, I’ve told myself over and over again.  And to date, I’ve never been.  I’ve learned – by watching others, by watching me – that my professional success doesn’t bring me happiness.  Quite the contrary, my friends.  My personal happiness brings me success.  And that time that I save every other week by not having to go to the bank because I have direct deposit?  I use it to list my gratitudes.

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Giving Thanks

When people are in a situation where they are asked to list their gratitudes in front of others, the natural tendency is to focus on the big things:  their health, their job, their family, their friends.  And while that is all well and good, I believe it is also important to focus on the tiniest things in life that bring us joy. Joy brings more joy, which in turn brings more joy.  It’s how we create our contentment, our peace.

So today I am grateful for things like a funny joke made by an amazingly resilient friend.  (“I lost a husband this year and got a dog.  I traded up.”) For things like looking through the Black Friday ads and feeling confident there is not a single sale item that I will ever be compelled to go stand in line for at a Black Friday sale.  (I have abundance. I don’t need more abundance from Wal-Mart.)  For things like sprawling out on the couch with my family and watching a touching documentary.  (Racing Dreams – you should see it, too.) For things like the first and last bite of my sister’s coconut custard pie.  (It’s seriously amazing.  Every. Single. Time.)

I love this life of mine.  I really do. Today I am reminded why.

33 Words of Wisdom

Rain pelting against the glass. Leaves stuck to the pavement.  Melancholy feelings would be effortless to arouse.  Yet, there is a warmth in my heart that supercedes circumstances.  Hello, gratitude, my old friend.

Ordinary Days

Sometimes a memorable night is followed by an ordinary day.  I find that most often when this happens, it is precisely what I need.  A little extra sleep, a few odd chores, lunch with my family and a day of shopping together.  Shopping that includes $563 worth of savings at Kohl’s on behalf of my sister – talk about expecting great things!  And while there was nothing particularly remarkable about this day (aside from my sister’s Kohl’s associate stacked up savings), it was perfectly lovely.  In fact, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Ever have that happen – a day where you revel in the very ordinary? Ordinary is a beautiful thing.

Gratitude, from A to Z

I love sleep, but there are times it eludes me.  It goes in spurts, these bouts of insomnia that are so maddening they feel like they might never end.  I toss and I turn, I kick the cats out of the bed (who ignore my not-so-subtle pleas and jump right back up), I ruminate, I watch TV, I do all the wrong things.  But when I can center myself and tackle it in just the right way, I use the opportunity to list my gratitudes.  I started doing an exercise years ago where I would list a gratitude for every letter in the alphabet, and I still do it to this day.  This does mean I have repeatedly thanked the universe for “xylophones” and “zippers that stay up” but it is a worthy exercise nonetheless.

Too spent from last night’s insomnia to write a real blog, here is today’s list of A to Z gratitudes:

A- Abundance. of which I have much
B- Ben, who still believes in me after all these years
C- Curel, the life-changing lotion
D- David, who takes exceptionally good care of my sister
E- Emma Barth, the first person to love me unconditionally
F- Failures that I have learned from
G- Graduate degree, which has given me amazing opportunities
H- House, which is beautifully reflective of me
I- Inspiration, which I get daily one way or another
J- Jess, who gives me the strongest sense of family
K- Kindness, something we all need more of
L- Laughter, which is surprisingly abundant in my life
M- Margaritas, just because
N- Now, the only time that matters
O- Overwhelming drive
P- Peanuts, the first pet I ever loved
Q- Quick wit, which has saved me over and over again
R- Resolution to the problems that perplex me
S- Sleep, which I long for and shall return
T- Throwdowns that make me blog daily
U- Underachievers, as they only improve my image
V- Vacation, and that reminds me I need to plan my next one
W- Writing, my true passion
X- Xerox copiers that don’t streak or jam (I hear they exist)
Y- Yellow, as in my lucky yellow sweater
Z- Zippers that stay up  (Sorry, I could not resist.)

Bliss

A hug from a friend whose life just changed for the better.  A beautiful new baby in your arms.  A wedding ceremony of someone you adore who spent 25 years finding her way back to the man she would rightly marry.  A gorgeous starry night outside a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  An open bar.  A dress that feels flattering.  An accompanying sweater that feels warm.  The smell of burning wood.  Eight hours of uninterrupted rest.  Waking up to the sound of the Lake Michigan waves crashing up against the rocks on the shoreline.  Free breakfast.  A slow, meandering drive along the lakefront.  Fall colors that take your breath away. An apple orchard.  A silly picture that makes you belly laugh.  A clean house, fresh sheets and a stocked fridge.  Two cats peacefully napping at your side. A delicious dinner prepped for a sister you never get tired of. A week ahead you are actually looking forward to.

Some weekends you just really get it right.

Fist Bumps for Everyone

I endure the same slow, mundane drive to work every day.  I see the same landmarks, the same buildings, sometimes even the same people in the same cars.  I drive the same 26 minutes, five days a week, and even with a myriad of options, I almost always take the same route.  As I turn off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 92nd Street – the home stretch before I arrive at my second home – I see her in all her glory:  Fist Bump Lady.

Fist Bump Lady, who shall be known as FBL henceforth, is the crossing guard at a crosswalk that leads directly to the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital.  Short, pleasingly plump, and with an ever-ready smile on her face, FBL never fails to deliver.  Sunny days are met with an extra spring in her step.  Rainy days are no bother, and why would they be when you’ve got a bright yellow slicker and sturdy galoshes?  Sleet and snow?  No problem, for FBL is ready for that, too.  I can’t say for sure that she has one of those stocking caps that looks like a panda bear, but she seems like the kind of person who would.  She is ready for any of the Wisconsin elements, and cheerfully so.

Person after person, professional after professional, doctor after doctor – all are greeted with the same degree of enthusiasm, and all are offered a fist bump to start their day off right.  A few outliers avert their eyes and rush past FBL.  Most accept the offer, and give FBL a smile and a hearty fist bump back.  A few other outliers have taken FBL under their wing, and bring her coffee or other treats (after a compulsory fist bump, of course.)  It seems that in the land of all things Froedtert, FBL has become the mascot for healing what hurts us.

I admire this woman, FBL, because of her consistency and her zest for life. I don’t know a single thing about her, other than what I have witnessed as I wait at the crosswalk day after day, eager to move ahead 2 more blocks and make the turn into my home-away-from-home parking lot.  But I do know this:  she has made happiness her priority and nothing is going to get in the way of that.  Not working a job most of us would not care to do. Not crappy Wisconsin weather, which is crappy too much of the time.  Not even the occasional hater.  No, no, no.  FBL has made a choice to be happy no matter what, and through her deeds shows us it is a choice we could all make.  Thanks for reminding us how to be in this world, FBL:  That whoever we are and whatever we do, we can always be of good cheer.