I was talking with a colleague yesterday during lunch and the topic of giving back came up. How often do we sit in our own world and think about how hard our life is each day? What if we took time each week to help out another individual? I do not mean just to sit and listen. I mean something that we do with our entire body. We help out in a soup kitchen, donate our time in a homeless shelter, adopt a family, be a big brother or sister.
I spent many hours each week doing community service in college. There was a part of me that related to those in need. Obviously I did not relate to the incarcerated youth I worked with each week. I related to their need and desire to matter. I related to their desire to be cared for, loved, and respected. I taught a writing course one evening a week, and while there were times where I was absolutely out of my element (not on the writing portion) but on relating to teenage boys who did something in their life to be incarcerated. How did I have a clue what they needed? How do we ever really know what another individual needs?
Back to my lunch conversation. We discussed that many of us in our own ways want to support and give to others in our community. At times when we might feel most alone in our life and might not know how to give to others is when our world has been turned upside down. Yet, maybe that is the time when we need to give the most. When giving pulls us out of our own mucky world and shows us all that we truly have each day. How do we do it though? How do we get out of our comfort zone and take the leap to get out of our own world and make the difference in someone else’s life?
I have always told Chris that whatever child/children we might have, community service, taking care of our neighbors, and giving back is something that will be integral to how we raise them. I want them to see the difference between the have and have-nots. I want them to know that the world is full of people who are very different. We should never take for granted where we come from and all that we have in the world. Sometimes our gratitude comes from seeing all that we have through the lens of another person. If we are full of love to give to others how can we ever feel alone?
We could go through much of our life and not give a damn about anyone else. What a bore that would be, right? I was a sociology major in college, which for some of you that might mean a chuckle and a smirk and a comment of the sorts of: “Where did that get you?” Well I am not a doctor, or an architect, or an engineer. All professions that probably need a highly skilled sort of curriculum in school to ensure that we are not given the wrong drugs, our homes and buildings are do not collapse, and, well, engineers — they solve all sorts of problems.
I am here to tell you that I am an engineer of people. As a sociology major, I studied people. While many might think: “how are you applying your degree in your career?” I want to say back to them, “Every damn day.” I work with people all day long. Most of my days are filled with meetings, which are filled with people. Not everyone has the desire or patience to deal with people all day. Maybe I should make a button that says: “I was a sociology major, and I give a damn about people.” I would get lots of laughs, or perplexed looks, maybe a few strange questions.
Regardless of what I studied, or what others think about how that prepared me for the real world. I live my life caring about people, their todays and their tomorrows. Their feelings matter, what they are going through, what challenges them, if they take a stand in life. I care about it all. At the end of the day, we all work for different types of companies, businesses, non-profit, for profit. Whether we make art, sell a product, are in sales, provide customer support we all somehow have to deal with people. The business or company could fade away, the product could bomb, and yet we would still have people. So why not treat them right, take care of them, and help them to be better.
We all have things in our life that are the constant battle for us. For me, it is finding balance. I have my ups and downs. There are days and weeks when I nail it and others when I struggle horribly. I try to do too much, help too many people, my to-do list is too long. I want a clean house at the end of a weekend, clean laundry, my personal life caught up and in order before I start into my week of craziness and full days. I want to connect with people, listen, and do what I can to help. Sometimes though it means my life is a little out of whack. Learning to even out the teeter totter of my life is all part of how I continue to hone me.
At times I find an idea that helps me remember that I am not the only one that struggles with the adventure of learning more about myself. A recent example comes from Shauna Niequist’s blog post: “Glimpse:”
“But I am inching, and I’m learning so much, and the awkwardness is worth it and the fumbling is worth it and the growing pains are worth it, because every once in a while I feel something inside myself that I haven’t felt for a long time, and it feels like peace. And every once in a while I experience a moment of connection with Aaron or the boys that feels so much deeper than my old way of living used to allow.”
As well as from Oprah’s: “The Life You Want” tour, Elizabeth Gilbert spoke about wanting to remove the word: “balance” from vocabulary. She says:
“‘With no offense to the word balance, I feel that that is a word that we have to be careful of lately because I think it’s become another tool in the arsenal that women especially are using against themselves as one more thing they’re not doing right.’ She later says: ‘let go of the word. For me, peace comes when I … embrace the beautiful mess that I am,’ she says. ‘And embrace the beautiful mess that you all are, and that this world is, and just let it be that’.”
So let’s all embrace our beautiful mess of a life. Enjoy it, soak it up. Let the dishes go, sit on your butt a bit more, have someone rub your feet, and just be you. Let go of what you did not get done today, or how much you might berate yourself for doing too much. It is what it is. Be you. Beautiful mess and all…
My sister is having a big birthday today. It is funny when you think back to when you were a kid, milestone birthdays really mattered. When you turned 16, 18, 21, 30, 40. They do matter, and maybe they always will, but sometimes life just happens and a birthday is just another day. Maybe I feel that way because growing up birthdays and holidays were often a non-event in my life. Real life shit was happening and was often way more important than getting one year older. Due to that fact, I do not put much stock in Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and many other holidays. Often I think we wait for these Hallmark holidays and take those moments to spend time with our family, buy them gifts, or even to pay attention to them. Rather than wait for those dates on the calendar, why not make them important all the rest of the days of the year?
I digress. It is my sister’s birthday. I told you all that back story to say that while she might have too much happening in her life to worry about her birthday I want to share what she means to me.
We have been through a lot together. I will not go into detail, but we had to grow up early and fast, and that does something to a person. My sister spent her teens taking care of me and my mother, and holding my father up in life. She spent a good part of high school never sleeping through the night because my mother needed her (and I was too heavy a sleeper to know otherwise). In so many ways she was a mother before she left high school without ever giving birth. There were times during that period when we fought horribly with each other. Each trying to find our own place in a world where the adults in our life were dropping like flies. Both badly just wanting to be loved, to be held, and to know that somehow everything would turn out okay. That we would be okay. No one was there to tell us that, we only had each other.
As each adult we took care of passed away and our own adult lives began to take shape, I watched my sister become a child again (in a good way). She adventured down many different life courses learning and charting her way. Sometimes creative, others financial, and others to find the stability we did not have for many years. She continues down that path, always curious for a new and engaging endeavor, never willing to stay in something that did not nourish her soul. In addition to all her travels and professional explorations, she has explored writing personally and professionally, taught herself how to cook (we did not learn from our mother, and I still have not learned), and now she has paved the way into motherhood.
I have loved watching her this past year as a new mother. I see that she wants 100 times more for Charlie than she ever had (and I want that for Charlie too). While she is a quiet, gentle mother she is also a rock for her. In some ways I see my mom’s quiet strength come through, always wanting to teach us and understand the context behind something. I know that she will always encourage Charlie to try new adventures, be okay with her being as Punky Brewster as she wants, while also being sure she knows she is loved. As our lives have ebbed and flowed from childhood through college to adulthood, Charlie has helped to bring my sister and I even closer and make our sisterhood even stronger. Wanting to protect a little one makes love fierce and strong, and reminds you of all you already have in life.
Happy Birthday, Penelope. You are loved, everything will be okay, and I am always here.
Do you ever think about how you walk into a room? What does your body language say about your attitude, mood, and demeanor for that meeting? Do you walk in and stay within your little bubble? Or, do you walk in with a smile, your head held high, and engage with others in the room? Do you hide and quietly hope that others do not notice you so you do not have to engage in conversation?
“There is almost nothing better in the world than the feeling of showing up for our own lives. When we can do this, we become people who are more alive and who have the ability to make things happen in our lives and the lives of the people around us. We walk through the world with the knowledge that we have a lot to offer and the desire to share it.”
Showing up. This is a mantra in my life. You might not have a clue about everything that is on your plate, how to make it all happen or juggle it all, but you show up. Being present means we bring it (or it should). We bring the best of ourselves to each encounter and interaction. Our best selves mean we are raw and real and truly alive.
Yesterday I met with a recent college graduate and was asked for advice of what she could do to be most successful in her budding career. My advice to her: “Be willing to do anything and everything. Say yes to everything. Learn from those around you. Innovate in everything you do in order to make all projects you touch better and better.” The result: you learn more about yourself, you gain new skills, you find out what you love, those around you trust you, and you grow each and every day.
We all have a lot to offer. Show up. Bring it. Make shit happen.