Monday, April 4, 2016

When you have a little “l” life in a big “L” world

Fresh out of college, I went to work in corporate America. There were uniform Mondays, multi-stories of cubicles and mandatory employee-of-the-month meetings.

At first, the employees who were recognized were people who had outperformed their peers. It was the employee the customer praised for topnotch service. Or it was the employee who saved the company oodles with an innovative cost-saving idea. It was the usual kind of work-ish stuff.  

But then, for a series of months, the employees who had done something self-sacrificing and extraordinary were the ones recognized. One month, the award went to an employee who sustained a debilitating injury assisting someone else on the job.  Each of these employees’ acts was remarkable.

As we were walking out of one such meeting though, I heard someone say it was impossible to get recognized anymore unless you’d performed a once-in-a-lifetime act. You basically had to give the 
Heimlich to someone in a crowded cafeteria to win. It seemed Machiavellian to hope for someone choking on a fish bone just so you could get a little acknowledgement and the reserved parking spot for 30 days but that’s pretty much what it had come down to.  

That remark, in the form of a grumbling, has stuck with me for years. It’s the cry of the every man. How can I make my humdrum, ordinary existence have meaning and significance? Isn’t this what we’re all thinking? What we all want to know?

How do I make my life count when I’ve got a pocketful of change and a mortgage on my dreams?

The short answer is: I don’t know.

The long answer is this: You show up when it’s raining and you’d rather stay home. You show up when the sun is blistering hot and the shade looks inviting. You show up when the alarm clock is shrill and sleep has been short.

You keep on keeping on.

You don’t have to live big to love big.

You don’t have to have a wow! moment to make an impact. You just need a series of intentional moments.

Don’t devalue a life lived small. Don’t underestimate kindness and compassion and character.

People often talk about compounding as it relates to interest or habit formation: The idea that doing something once doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s true.  One cupcake, one workout missed, one lunch out instead of in will not kill you, but it’s not about the one act – it’s about the cumulative effect.  

Small actions repeated over time transform us.

The little things matter, even in our loud, noisy, you-only-live-once world.

Especially in our loud, noisy, you-only-live-once world.

In every corporation, organization and family, someone has to show up every day, turn on the lights and plunge the toilets.

There is no shame in faithfulness.

One day the kids and I were at my Nana’s retirement home visiting. When it was time to leave, I had a bag on one arm, a kid on the other and another running ahead.

One of the other residents, a man well into his 80s, offered to get the door. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture. From his polite offer of assistance, it was clear that he’d opened a lifetime of doors.

Even though I declined his offer (it would have taken him a considerable amount of time to shuffle to the door), this small courtesy has stayed with me, even past this man’s death.

It’s never too soon. It’s never too late.

It’s never too small to matter.