Thursday, December 08, 2011
When you own the business you work Christmas Eve, especially when you are a “mom and pop.” It’s not really fair to your twenty something’s. Even though the sign screams “No Vacancy” there is always the random stranger who came home from college at the last moment to surprise the family on Christmas morning or the traveler who ran out of steam half way through their journey. It’s hard to say no. But where would you put them, on the roof? Besides, this business is yours. Maybe it only has ten rooms and there isn’t a buffet breakfast served in the morning, but every inch of it is yours. You aren’t large enough to give a Christmas bonus and you barely have enough money to pay for your own benefits so you let them have Christmas Eve and Christmas day off with pay. You do it, your dad did it and his dad before him did it. It’s just the way things are. It’s your obligation.
So you sit on the same stool as those who came before you and you work through a Sudoku book. At midnight you’ll turn off the lights, lock the door and ease yourself on to the cot in your office. All your guests are tucked in; everyone has soap and towels for the morning. “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night…”
The headlights blind you for a second as they glance off the wet window pane. A kid gets out of the car. You are half way to the front door mouthing “no room available.” His shoulders slump a bit, he stomps the rain off of him and asks if you have a cup of water. It’s for his wife. They are headed home to see his mom and she can’t go much further without a break. She’s tired and aches all over. She wanted to stretch her legs a bit and maybe get something to drink. By the way, you don’t happen to have a room do you. He’ll pay double if you could see your way clear.
This is the part you hate. As you fill a Styrofoam cup with water you politely but firmly tell him no, you sure don’t. As you ease him towards the door you watch his wife stretch her back and then lean against the car. You mutter a profanity under your breath and tell him to bring her inside for a bit. She’s pale, tired and you think of your wife and two daughters and………… The cot in the back is not much. It sags in the middle and could use more than a heavy dose of Febreeze. There is a look of relief in her eyes as she lies down. Her husband sits next to her and you can hear them talking through the curtain.
The baby is born around 2:30 that morning. Mrs. Trotter in room 7 calls the front desk to complain about the racket and the flashing lights when the EMT’s arrive. A few other curious guests poke their heads through the door and one cracks wise; “This is just like the first Christmas.” You sigh and put on a pot of coffee. It’s going to be a long day.
Unsung heroes are unsung for a reason. They are never on page one, they never receive an achievement award, they are largely forgotten. Amidst the trophies and mounds of recognition they become the people who make our successes possible.
We rarely know they are there and they never understand what the big deal is anyway.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
I used to wonder how they did it. Those guys in the tailored suites and ladies in little black dresses standing at the buffet table laughing, talking and grazing on food that isn’t even in the remote vicinity of being healthy. I used to think it was in their genes. They were predisposed to being thin and there was a huge hormone floating inside their bodies that gobbled up anything that appeared to be fattening. They were lucky I was not. They were favored, I was not.
So I studied them. I studied them at length and I came to realize that they possessed one absolute quality I did not. They had complete confidence in their ability to control their lives and their destiny. They knew who they were, and what they were capable of doing. They could stand relaxed and comfortable at the buffet table, scarf down a few fattening treats, and walk away to find interests more intriguing and exciting. I don’t believe they are perfect. I simply believe thy tried and failed, tried again and never quit. The experience steeled them.
The external manifestation of health, wealth, success, go ahead and pick one that’s appropriate, is simply the total sum of you and I value ourselves, our lives and our place in this world. I sometimes think the scale doesn’t move because deep down inside I don’t want it to move. Fat and happy as they say, safe, not having to take risks or chances. Scary stuff.
It’s easier to be jealous, envious and spiteful of the folks who slide into size zero clothing without effort, it’s much more difficult to emulate them. It’s hard to admit that even when we proclaim equality with all the world deep inside we don’t really believe it. We just hope it happens.
Suppose we stopped dieting? Oh I know the mantra here is that we are not on a diet. Suppose we just walled off all our nasty, silly eating habits and stopped keeping track of them? Instead of tracking calories and water intake we kept track of most amazing things we did each day and that we shot for a high number rather than a low number? Suppose we quit competing with everyone to see how fast or far we could run, swim or cycle and instead focused on tracking activity as it concerned giving or helping others? We might not have time to eat and when we did we’d gravitate towards food that gave us the energy to be that evolving person we wanted to be. Not a lot of rules, just a concentration on locating our true self. Every night before we went to sleep we’d close our eyes and weigh our self worth and find its getting heavier!!!
Impossible you say. Really? Ask the size zero at the buffet table.
Saturday, December 03, 2011
It’s early on a Saturday morning. It’s cold and in many ways I’d rather be on the couch with a cup of green tea watching CNN. I’m not. I am dressed, showered and ready to go. You see this morning along with the local YMCA, Joan and I, as Owensboro Noon Optimists are hosting a Breakfast with Santa, complete with picture taking, face painting and sanitary wipes so Santa’s new suit doesn’t need cleaning later next week.
Some of you are golfing today, some shopping, some hiking or running. We are all doing what we need to do to stay active and healthy. My kids are grown, my granddaughter is two hundred miles away and I don’t “have” to do this. We want to. For many of the kids, this will be Christmas. There won’t be many presents under the tree for them. We figured, along with two moderately reluctant daughters, that we could give up a Saturday morning to make life happier for someone else. There isn’t a price tag on a wide eyed smile and I also have decided there is no tangible present in this world that has the same value these raucous, happy kids have in my heart.
I’m not doing this to feel better about myself and the world around me. I am doing it because when the day is done, even if it’s infinitesimal, I’ll be a much better person because I gave something I have to give and that’s my time.
So many of you do the same.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
This is a cautionary tale…………….
I’d be stating the obvious if I told you the job market was tight. In a phrase it’s a “buyers’ market.” Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people are competing for a few positions. The marvels of job posting web sites have narrowed the world to what sociologist Marshall McLuhan called a “global village.” No longer are employers bound by the restrictions of time and space. The click of a mouse button and an active Skype account can set up interviews all over the world for little or no cost. If you should be fortunate to become a finalist for one of these coveted positions the field of vision narrows. Do you have a Facebook account? Better peruse it carefully for pictures you’ve been tagged in. Be sure they aren’t something that would be scaring a potential employer away. A few days ago I reluctantly deleted a friend from my Facebook account because they punctuated a political rant with lots of inappropriate language. I wonder what a potential client might have thought had they read that posting.
But I digress
My phone rang one day last week and on the other end was a human resource intern who had been given the chore of checking references on three finalists for a management position with his company. One of the finalists had used me as a reference. You’d think I’d be flattered. Actually, I was alarmed. The candidate had never gotten permission to use me as a reference.
Let’s pause here for a moment and clear up a misconception. When validating employment information on a former employee, I am bound by some restrictions. I have to stick to what’s factual – Date of hire, date of separation, attendance, things like that. The scope is very narrow. This creates limited liability for the company providing the information. It’s all factual and can’t be disputed. When I was an HR Director I had a laminated sheet for myself and my staff that was read back verbatim any time employment was being verified. If, however, you cite me as a reference it means you are telling someone I will attest to your character, your abilities and other subjective information. I am bound very loosely by what I say and the scope of the questions a reference is asked are very wide.
You might understand why I was taken by surprise. I had three options and two of them were negative. The first was to give a less than glowing reference, which is what would have happened if I’d continued the call. The second was to politely decline to be used as a reference. I took the second option. The third would have been to give a false reference and I patently refuse to do anything like that. The person on the other end of the phone didn’t quite know what to say and I suspect the person who’d used me as a reference without my knowledge was removed from consideration for the position.
Be sure you “Dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s” when you are conducting a job search. In over thirty years of experience I have found it’s rarely lack of qualifications or education that disqualify someone from a job it is usually the intangibles, the seemingly small things that cause an employer to look elsewhere. As I said earlier, it’s a buyers’ market. Many of you have children just entering the workforce. Many have student loans to pay back and are looking for a solid position where they can use their education and develop new skills. The people you use as references are giving a potential employer insight into who you are in the workplace. It can make or break an excellent opportunity.
I stopped giving references about twenty years ago. One of the company’s vendors, who I’d gotten to know well, asked me if she could use me as a reference. A recruiter called me and launched into a list of question. One of the final questions was “On a scale of one to ten, evaluate the candidate’s appearance.” I paused for a moment. The recruiter asked me if there was an issue about the candidate’s appearance. I asked what he meant by the question. He wanted to know what I thought about “how she looked.” (This was starting to get creepy.) I told him she was well groomed, dressed appropriately for the work place, etc. He wanted to know if I “found her visually appealing.” I ended the conversation and called the vendor, told her about the conversation and what I’d said. As it turned out she had just sent a letter to the company asking them to remove her name from consideration, so all’s well that ends well.
Sometimes you never find out the “real reasons.” That’s why this is a cautionary tale…….
Monday, November 28, 2011
When Joan goes into work early on a Monday I’ll always shoot over to McDonalds and get her a cup of coffee after I drop her off. This morning the line was long, even for a Monday. People were impatient. Maybe it was the realization that for some a long holiday weekend was over or maybe the cold and the rain dampened some spirits. The hugged each other’s bumpers hoping that their actions would make the line move quicker. This McDonalds sits in the middle of a strip mall. There are at least three ways you can approach the drive thru line. As I waited my turn I saw a truck about ten cars ahead trying to slip into the line. No one would allow it. They moved closer to each other sending the alleged interloper a strong message: “You aren’t cutting in front of me!!!”
Call it coincidence, call it providence, call it great fodder for a blog, but just a few minutes earlier I had read a short inspirational piece that prayed this question. “Would you invite all the people you went to church with to your home for dinner?” It went on to talk about how we sit in Church or espouse a certain doctrine and when we have a chance to put it into practice we seem to have forgotten where we put that wonderful, glowing belief. I have to confess I am guilty of feeling this way, more often then I’d like to. So here was my chance to do so!!
I honked the horn and waved and allowed the alleged interloper to slide into line in front of me. Thank goodness I was in a car and it was raining or based on the sound of the car horns, I might have been stoned to death for letting them in ahead of me. Car horns beeped and I can only imagine the language. The person I allowed in line ahead of me rolled their window down and yelled back a “thank you.”
My wait in line this morning was maybe three minutes longer than it could have been, but within those three minutes I received a reminder of what I truly believe is all about. It’s about the significant acts of kindness that make a small but meaningful difference in other people’s lives. Like my fellow drive thru patrons I had right on my side. The interloper should have gone to the back of the line suffered with all the rest of us. But maybe, that very small act of kindness made the difference in their day and the day of those whose lives were affected by it. Some call paying it forward, some call it doing the right thing. I am beginning to believe it should be called a way of life.
Whether we embrace Christianity or not we are preparing to celebrate a season that is marked by kindness and generosity. For my part I can quote you Scripture until the cows come home, enter into thorny theological debates with you all day and all night if you’d like but as a friend of mine is fond of saying “That and $1.59 buys you a Coke.” What I have come to believe was put to the test in line at McDonalds this morning. Beneath the subterfuge of my self-righteousness lies the spirit encapsulated by the inn keeper long ago. He was the person who let a poor pregnant woman and her husband sleep in his stable, because they had nowhere else to go. They had no way of paying or repaying him but it dawns on me as I write, that very small act of kindness most likely made that man, the first Christian in thought and deed. There was no award or reward, just a natural outpouring of kindness to someone in need.
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