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.

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.

The Gift of Wisdom

As of 3:42 p.m. today, I will be 45 years old.  I suppose that I have accumulated some wisdom along the way. If only I could have shared that wisdom with my younger self.  But without all the mistakes and missteps I have made, I would not be exactly as I am today.  And truth be told, I think who I am today is pretty all right. Nevertheless, given the chance, here is what I would tell my younger self:

5-year-old Jen:  In a few months, you are going to start going to school. You will continue to go to school for a very long time.  Most of the time, you are going to love it.  Sometimes, you will not like it as much, but that’s okay –  in schooling endurance is everything.  It is important to be a life-long learner.  It is also important to seek knowledge and truth in everything that you do.  What is more important than knowledge and truth, however, is having the skills to find them. School is also where you will learn one of the most important keys to a happy life:  how to make and keep good friends.  Go learn and occasionally fail and have fun. School will represent some of the happiest times of your life.
 
10-year-old Jen:  Oh, Jen.  You are only ten years old, but you already have the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You should be giggling and frolicking and living without a care in the world, but for now that is just not you.  My challenge to you is this:  trust that the world will always be right, just sometimes in a complicated way.  Learn to lighten up and find the simple joys in life.  In a few months, you are going to have a baby sister and you will have to show her the way.  What you don’t know yet, though you will soon enough, is that sometimes your baby sister will show you the way.  Your world is about to open up in a brilliant and lovely new way.  Embrace it.
 
15-year-old Jen:  I’ll give you this:  Fifteen is hard.  Thirteen and fourteen weren’t so great either.  It’s hard to straddle the jagged line between being a kid and an adult.  I promise that you are going to come out on the other side of it, and magnificently so.  But first, there will be some significant challenges ahead.  Those challenges are going to hurt like hell but they are going to soften your sharp edges.  They are going to make you compassionate toward other suffering souls.  And they are going to later give you clarity about your life’s work, which will be work that defines the very essence of who you are.  Hang in there.  You won’t always see it, but you will be better than fine on the other side.  You will also be a much kinder soul.
 
20-year-old Jen:  You know this already – college is one of the best times of your life so far.  It will continue to be a cherished memory and a highlight for the rest of your days, so make the very best of it.  You are learning all the things you need to know to make it in this complicated world on your own – a scary proposition.  Most of the things you are learning can’t be found in a book.  You are learning how to help other people, how to lead, and how to mend a broken heart.  You are also learning that you are capable of making big mistakes, but equally capable of recovering from them and not repeating them.  Take it easy on the “Shots of Fun” but not too easy – you only get one chance in your life to legitimately act this foolishly. Enjoy it.
 
25-year-old Jen:  You think you have the world by the tail right now, but here’s a little something for you to think about:  you don’t.  What might make you a better version of you would be a little more humility. You are capable of great things, but you have a lot to do to prove yourself before that can happen.  You have your work cut out for you.  If you make the right choices, pick the right mentors, and follow your heart you will get there in due time.  Be vigilant in your pursuit of excellence.
 
30 year old Jen:  I am proud of you for finishing your graduate degree. This degree is really just a piece of paper, but it’s a piece of paper that will open up all kinds of opportunities for you.  Your career is about to really begin now.  As usual, you have your ideas of how things will transpire and you think you are in control. I must caution you, that is not the case.  You will have a tendency to get really upset when things don’t go as you’ve planned.  Let that go – the worry and the angst aren’t worth it.  The universe will always take care of you and deliver you exactly where you need to be.  Trust that, and appreciate the lessons along the way.
 
35-year-old Jen:  So your life just got turned upside down, and you feel like a hot mess.  The truth is, you are a hot mess.  The other truth is, you created it.  Yet another truth is, you needed it.  You are going to head into a dark place, and you are going to take a good, long, painstaking look at your ugliest self.  When you are done with that, you are going to make a vow of responsibility for your own happiness.  You will find joy in places and in ways you didn’t know possible.  You are going to travel, make new friends, and find true success in your life’s work.  The passion inside of you is going to open up, and you will find your authentic self.  Hang in there….at the end of this bumpy ride you will arrive at a most spectacular place.
 
40-year-old Jen:  I think you are really starting to get it, and that warms my heart.  You are learning to let go and to have faith.  You are not so afraid of change.  You have confidence in yourself as a leader, and you’ve learned how to lift up those around you.  You laugh more, fret less.  You care about your impact on the world.  You still have worries and doubts, but that only makes you human.  You have a new set of career opportunities before you that are going to challenge you in ways you may not be fully prepared for – hold on tight, and sharpen those diplomacy skills.  Above all else, keep working on achieving balance.  You’ll be needing it more than ever before.
 
What I will tell myself today:  Your life is imperfectly perfect.  You are doing work every day that inspires you and lights you up.  You are surrounded by people who believe in you, and a couple of haters who keep you humble.  You are armed with the strength to make it through adversity of any sort.  You have a beautiful home and two terrible cats to love.  You are not wealthy by any means, but you have everything you could ever want.  Above all else, you have the best possible family and friends, and this continues to be a source of joy you are not even entirely sure you deserve.  You have it all, my dear Jennifer.  Tend to all of it with loving care, because the gratitude you have found will continue to bless you a million times over.  Now go get a pedicure and eat some cake – you deserve it.

Jump Start

Being the independent gal that I am, I am a long-standing member of AAA. This is because I know just what the AAA website claims: “Each year, millions of motorists are stranded due to a dead battery.” That’s right, millions of them. (Now that I read that, it occurs to me they may be exaggerating just a bit.) Anyway, I don’t want to be counted amongst those purported millions, because stranded just isn’t my gig.

During ridiculously cold weather like this, the number of stranded motorists due to dead batteries increases exponentially. It’s easy to get frustrated by these little annoyances in life, because it feels like they slow us down, throw us off track, delay us from our goals. Afterall, we have places to go, and people to see! But I think it’s worth reflecting on this a bit, because everybody needs a little jump start once in a while.

Nobody ever got a jump start when things were running fine, or if they did that was really stupid. When things are running according to expectations, it would seem obvious that there is no need for a jump start. But in fact, over time our battery may be ever so gradually dwindling in power, slowing down and losing its charge without us even taking notice. And it takes a really significant event to grind things to a complete halt. It’s then, and only then, that we seek out that jump start.

Once we get that jump start, it’s like, “Wow!” There is a new sense of appreciation for what was temporarily lost, but there is also a burst of energy that results. It’s like you didn’t even pay attention to how poorly things were running or the preventative maintenance that was needed until the catastrophic event came along. Once that happens and the jump start is completed, it becomes ever so clear how things were really intended to run all along.

Batteries aren’t the only thing that need the occasional jump start, life needs them too. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that we are fully charged and right on track, when in fact we are not. That’s complacency, and everybody does it sometimes. It is usually then that it takes something getting in our path, hitting us up side the head or even taking us down for a minute before we realize what we really need. A jump start, of course.

AAA offers a full menu of services for its members to help keep things running smoothly. For those of us who are lucky enough, our lives have an equally valuable array of resources available to us. We have big brains to identify solutions, financial resources to fund the results, friends and family who will fill the gap until we make those solutions a reality. And let’s not forget…we also have the patience and wisdom to help us transcend the current set of circumstances when we need to.

I’ve got my AAA card, and I’ve got everything else I need for my road trip of life. Do you?