Tag Archives: recognition

One Good Day

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“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  —J.M. Barrie

I hate my job.  I have been unhappy since the second day.  I have wanted to do more, to be more from the very beginning.  I am sore, degraded, frustrated, bored and annoyed by the end of each day.  I wake up and dread getting out of bed because I hate what’s coming.  Days off are ruined because I know what comes next.  This is a huge reason why I am in need of a life change, why I write, why I named this what I did.  My job makes me hate the general public and want to move to Antarctica and avoid people.  And I had a good day at work on Friday–perhaps my first one ever. 

Very small things added up to one of the best days I’ve had at this job, by far the happiest.  I have had days where I have been productive, days that weren’t miserable, but I can’t actually think of another day where I left happy, not because the day was done, but because the day was happy.  Nothing was particularly noteworthy, but the little things made the day,  little things that caught my attention in a big way. 

I got a free cup!  This job takes everything out of me.  My energy, my patience, my drive, my hope.  It gives so little back: no satisfaction, no challenges, no growth, not nearly enough pay.  And I got a free cup!  Apparently my manager had a stash of cups that he was supposed to give out to all of the employees for a year or so.  He kept them in his office, I would like to think out of laziness or indifference, not malice.  I would like to think that he just didn’t think that we would enjoy a tiny little perk, not that he intentionally kept a little trinket from all of us.  It is a nice cup, one that I have considered buying.  It saves me ten dollars!  I expect very, very little from my employer, and this was the most generous they have ever been.  Who doesn’t love getting something for free?

I got a compliment!  It is incredibly, unbelievably rare that anyone compliments anything.  Customers complain.  Managers complain.  Coworkers are petty.  I try to do good work and every once in a while someone will speak up to a manager, but my efforts go largely unnoticed, or at least unrecognized.  But it wasn’t my hard work that was complimented.  It was me!  I feel like a failure more often than not these days.  I feel pretty darn worthless at the end of a long day on my feet and I, like many, don’t see much that I like when I look in the mirror.  But my customer complimented me!  Not my accuracy or politeness or attentiveness.  She told me I had “the most soothing voice.”  She liked how I sound.  She liked something that is me, that is unchangeable, undeniably me.  It’s not something that I worked at or practiced or could try to improve.  It’s just who I am.  Who I am was enough, was enjoyable, was worth complimenting.

I witnessed true love!  We see newly weds and engaged couples all the time.  I see people moving in together, parents shopping for children, children shopping for parents.  I see love and affection all around me and it is rarely refreshing.  Mostly it is depressing or annoying or frighteningly insincere.  With just a few minutes left in my day, a customer came up with his phone to his ear.  This annoys me and is an incredibly rude message that I am invisible, unimportant and not worth acknowledging.  As he listened to his phone, he asked me, “Do you want to hear something funny?”  Sure, why not.  He grinned and told me that his fiancée had accidentally called him and didn’t notice.  He told me he could hear her driving and singing in the car.  He said that she never lets him hear her sing, so he was just “soakin’ it in.”  He had been on the phone for more than a half hour just listening to her sing.  It was a smile, a gesture, an indulgence of pure, sincere love and adoration.  He left with the phone still to his head, a small smile fixed on his face.  He was happy.  He encouraged me, reminded me that romance is real and love is simple.   

I had a good day.  It was unexpected, unprecedented, and unimpressive.  There is nothing about that day that, to an outsider, would appear spectacular.  It was.  It was refreshing, like the chill of walking into an ice cream shop on a hot day in the middle of summer.  I want a job and a life where this is everyday, the norm, not the exception.  This is not nearly enough to make the job worthwhile or pleasant.  It is enough, however, to remind me that the little things are important, are everything, and that they beg to savored.  Good days really can happen, if I am open to them. 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  –Anne Lamott

In a Past Life…

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“Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart.”My So-Called Life

Yesterday I saw my high school Algebra teacher.  He was accompanied by his wife, who also worked at my high school as a counselor and vice principal.  This would be unremarkable if I were in my home town, but I was at work 600 miles from home.  I second-guessed myself when I fist saw him, but his wife was unmistakable.  I wanted to find a reason to speak to them, knowing that a decade after I took his class he would have no reason to remember me, but was busy with customers. 

My mood lifted when I saw them, a piece of home where I never expected it.  Finally I approached his wife and introduced myself.  She was never my counselor, so she also had no reason to recognize me.  When I told her my name she smiled and said that she remembered it from my time at the school.  While this may have been polite courtesy, she then asked who my parents were and nodded as I named them, making connections in her head.  Finally, she asked I attended the elementary school that, in fact, I did attend.  She laughed and said that she knew me through my sixth grade teacher, her close friend and walking partner.

This whole interaction left me glowing.  A woman who had no business knowing me and, in fact, did not know me, somehow knew who I was.  She remembered my name, my history, my people.  She could have feigned recognition, but she knew me through a teacher that I loved.  There was a time in my life when I was someone people knew.  I was involved, a leader, someone who stood out.  For twenty-two years, I was noteworthy.  I’ve spent the past three years being reminded how unimportant, unremarkable, insignificant I am.  I am surrounded by people who do not know my name, even when I am wearing a name tag.  I have come to have a hard time discerning which me is the real me, which is the fraud. 

Tonight I spent time with some friends from college.  I met many of their new friends, most of whom are pursuing post-graduate degrees or are working in fulfilling “real” jobs.  I felt out of place, embarrassed whenever I was asked what I do.  At the same time, I talked with new people, asked about their lives, was engaging and enjoyed getting to know them.  In a moment of clarity, I saw the me that used to be confident, personable and social.  I saw the person I used to be, that person that relative strangers knew.  Inadequacy quickly took over and I was ready to hide in my anonymity soon enough, but for a few minutes, the old me surfaced. 

On the way home, my friend played a “sweet” song for me.  Not being a fan of country music, I was biased and not incredibly inclined to listen, but I gave it a shot.  My polite patience turned into almost immediate tears.  The song was “The House That Built Me,” about going back to your roots when you’re lost.  It’s about revisiting a childhood house, but it’s so much more.  It’s finding the place that created the person you are, the world that bore you.  Finding that origin, that point of creation, might bring back the person we’ve lost. 

While there is a powerful healing that comes from visiting my house, home is much more.  Home is seeing the friends who knew me when I worked hard, achieved high and led my peers.  Home is seeing my parents, getting notes from them in the mail.  It’s seeing someone who knew you by reputation, who remembers you a decade later, and gently reminds you that you are someone worth seeing. 

I was someone important, someone impressive.  I do not say this arrogantly or lightly.  I say this because I was reminded, by a piece of home, of who I used to be in my past life.  I say this because I hope, deep inside, I still am. 

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/ This brokenness inside me might start healing/ Out here it’s like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself…”  –Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

“I am only one, but still I am one”

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“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willie Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being… so attention must be paid.  He’s not allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”  –Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

I love the new CBS television show “Undercover Boss.”  I have only watched a handful of the episodes that have aired, but there is something so moving about the show.  Leaders of vast businesses disguise themselves, which is somewhat unnecessary, and perform everyday duties at different levels in their company.  The show presumes that, while learning how to improve productivity and profits, they see what life is like for those they employ.  Almost every show follows this format: boss “slums” it by not shaving and changing their name.  They presume that they know how to do the work and laugh at bit when they are not as adept as they thought.  Then they get sore.  They see just how demanding the work their employees perform is and they see how little praise and recognition they get.  They hear the stories of those who work hard to eek out a life, then they reveal themselves as changed people.  Each boss does something huge and personal for the people they met and grew to love and something small to change the company based on their experience.

Despite my love for the show, I recommend it to everyone with one caveat: I don’t think it’s fair that they only help the handful of people they met.  It’s nice and touching, but for the rest of the nameless cogs in the company, it does nothing.  That is, until I watched the show tonight. 

Here I digress: this week I sent in my first census.  I have been counted under my parents’ household twice before, but this was the first time I sent one of my own in.  The commercials on television tout the importance of being counted and the implications that the census has on our lives, but it really was a remarkable experience.  I was somewhat disappointed by how simple and superficial the questions were: name, age, sex, race.  There was nothing to it.  Still, for some reason, I felt something exciting, something big when I filled it out and mailed it in.  I count.  I am on record.  I am important enough to take note of.  And I wasn’t a number.  Since high school I have been a number.  Well, I guess, since the day I was born, Social Security has seen me as a number.  I was a four-digit high school number, seven-digit college number and now a seven-digit work number.  All of this and yet, to the US Government, I am me.  There is something so personal about the clinical, standardized form. 

That digression leads to me being a little more forgiving of “Undercover Boss.”  Yes, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of employees who get nothing out of the show.  Tonight, the boss gave one man $10,000 to help pay for his wedding.  The part of me that is wired to want things to be fair dies a little bit.  Then there is the part of me that just mailed in her census.  That man, his story, his life touched his boss.  He became a part of his CEO’s story.  And he, in turn, became a part of his employee’s story.  It is intensely personal.  I fell into the same trap that I’m caught in everyday: a business isn’t a massive group, it’s individuals.  Yes, there are many, many others who will never benefit from this new perspective the CEO gained.  Then there are some, people with names and stories and families, that are effected for that precise reason: they are people with lives and hearts. 

This is the essence of why the show works.  People matter.  The work they do matters.  When the CEO of 7-11 went and made coffee, he saw how huge the job is.  He understood that sitting in the corporate boardroom does not keep the company running any more than the hourly associates who change coffee filters.  Working for a large retail company, I may be more moved by the show than others because I am on the nameless end of the deal.  I have managers that are in my store weekly who do not know my name.  I do not know who my CEO is any more than they know me.  To walk into our store, they wouldn’t need a disguise.  They may as well operate a million miles away from us.  There is such a huge disconnect, such an ugly separation from them and us

I’m sure that Karl Marx would have plenty to say about my alienation and discontent.  One a more personal level, beyond production and goods, so much of what we crave is to be known, to be noticed.  We want to be more than a number, to be a person.  A person is more than a name, it’s a whole being– all our joys and fears, our needs and gifts.  We want to count.  Jesus assured His followers of the importance they held, that their lives mattered to God.  They would be risking their lives, but there would be providence.  He reminded them that, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).  We want to know that someone notices us, the big and the small things.  Sure, I want my boss to know my name.  I also want my friends to know that my eyes are hazel, not brown.  We want to matter enough for someone to pay attention.  The idea that something as insignificant and ever-changing as the number of our hairs is noticed is humbling and comforting in a world where I rarely feel noticed.  One of the most quoted, most beautiful Psalms has the writer proclaiming “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalms 139:13).  Our Creator knows us that intimately, that closely.  He has known us forever.  While this is incredibly moving and beautiful, we still want others to see us too.  I still want people to see me.  It’s nice to think that in a country that stretches out over more than 3 million square miles, I mean something.  In fact, I mean just as much as any star in Hollywood or politician on Capitol Hill.  I am important enough to count.   

“You’re waiting tables and parking cars/ You’ve been selling cell phones at the shopping mall/ And you began to believe that all you are is material/ It’s nonsensical…” –Switchfoot, “4:12”