Rediscover joy and purpose in the everyday and the mundane
An innocent question we get asked daily; if not at home, then by the cashier where we pay for our groceries or by the barista who prepares our vanilla latte. A standard question, with an often standard answer: “Oh, it was fine.”
Most of us don’t get up in the morning deciding to go do something sinister and diabolical. We have an honourable profession, an honest job to go to, to put bread on the table. Some only scrape by, others are more fortunate; but at least we have our honour intact.
When you fill up the grumpy customer’s gas tank with a smile and effervescent bantering about the latest cold spell and the afternoon’s football game, you’ve done something important. It is no less significant than the neurosurgeon who carefully clips the cerebral aneurism and save the patient’s life.
The gas station attendant may have brightened up the depressed customer’s day, enough, to make him reconsider going home and end his own life, as was his original plan. Instead, he phones his therapist and arranges another session, hanging on to living, for at least another round.
You finally had a breakthrough with this middle aged patient today—she’d been in the ward for the past four weeks, refusing to leave her hospital bed, believing she would never get better and go home. She had surgery twenty-eight days ago, and just gave up on herself. She wasn’t physically prepared and strong to begin with.
Today, with the help of your physiotherapist colleague, and ample encouragement form the nurses, she took her first of several hesitant steps in the parallel-bar walking-bridge. She could watch herself in the mirror, and after the third hobble, the light went up—she realized she could. She rested five minutes and insisted on another ten steps. She pleaded to go on the walking bridge in the afternoon again. Last week she had told you she wanted to die.
So, how was your day?
You were close to the end of your eight-hour shift of food-court housekeeping. Your blood boiled, as yet another family jumped up, leaving their half-eaten meals on the Styrofoam plates and knocked-over paper cups behind. As you cleaned up after them, silently wishing them ill health, your eye caught movement at the adjacent table. You had been so preoccupied.
A young man, his contracted body pulled sideways on his motorized wheelchair, hands clasped to his chest, grins at you with a wide open mouth. “Thank you for cleaning the tables for us.” He lisps. “I love coming here. You keep it so neat!” His petite mother, hovering over him, smiled proudly at you. “Oh, you’re welcome!” You stammered as you grabbed your cart—now ready to face a hundred more half-eaten meals on Styrofoam plates.
The three meetings that you had today, were they necessary? If so, were they effective? What is going to change? Will there be more rules? More red tape? Or less? Perhaps you had an epiphany and you shared your new insights with the board—your organization is in need of a shift in focus. You envision a road with less carrot-and-stick approaches, and more employee freedom to take initiatives.
Most of the board members listened to you in disbelief—how could the organization depart from the comforts of the status quo? You remained determined enough to explain your vision a second time, but from a different angle. Some of them eventually nodded their heads.
So, how was your week?
Oh, I just sold this house to a young couple after we had convinced the owner to replace the faulty furnace and air con, as well as the major appliances. It was no small feat, he was a hard nut to crack. But, I also got them a home-inspector who discovered a crack in the basement wall, which we got fixed as well. The owner was fuming, spitting fire, but we persisted. It felt so good, seeing their faces once they realized how much heartache they were spared.
I’ve taken this weird doctor’s advice and now walk the length of the hallway twice, every time I use the elevator. She also gave me this strange red resistance band to use, sitting on a chair. I’ve been doing the chair exercises for a week now, and I can feel the difference! It’s as if I’m more in control of my life. She said I may eventually need this walker less, as I get stronger.
Next week I’m going to stop on the eighth floor and climb the one flight of stairs to my apartment. And you know what’s really funny, she made me get my son to buy me a large container with whey protein, which I now use everyday after my exercises. I feel like a beach baby again!
So tell me, how was your day?
What is a legacy? Something, people only talk about in hushed tones at your funeral, once you’re gone?
That is not entirely correct. You live and build your legacy every day. Right now. Right where you are. At the water cooler, behind the wheel of the semi-truck, in font of the classroom with students, in the operating room, in front of your computer.
Do work that matters. Do work in such a way that it matters. It can be preparing a half-sweet, low-fat, extra-hot hot-chocolate. Or, it can be placing a plate and screws into a broken bone, or wiping a tear off a child’s cheek or publishing a book. That is not the point.
Do your work, because it matters.
Who will know whether you’re dishonest? Who will know whether you control your staff with fear and intimidation or through true leadership with respect and collaboration? Who will know whether you made peace with your sister, you haven’t spoken to in three years because of a fallout long ago?
You, for one, will know. That is important.
Doing your work, and doing it good, because it matters—that’s a legacy. Making a tonne of money may be impressive, but it’s no legacy.
There is joy to be found in the seemingly insignificant everyday-tasks we perform. There is purpose to be found in the commonplace that surrounds our daily routine.
Go, do the right thing. Be a blessing. Make today count. Go live.
Question: What is one thing you can do today, that matters? Oftentimes it’s something simple, that can count so much.
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