STOP PLANTING A PARKING LOT

A good amount of my family in generations past were involved in farming. Being farmers they seemed to have a language that us city kids found both hard to understand and at the same time rather amusing. I recall my great uncle asking me, “Why are you wasting so much time planting parking lots?” Being a teenager from the city at the time my thought was something along the lines of, “What on earth are you talking about?” Of course, back then it was filled with the colorful language of a teenager. I was never fully able to grasp exactly the point he was trying to make. Roughly thirty years later it was made clear to me.

My great uncle Ray

This story comes to us from the friendly confines of the Oak Creek Post Office, which is where I can be found exchanging my time and labor for money Monday to Friday. Ever since I was hired by the United States Postal Service, I have found it a great opportunity to practice may many lessons in self-improvement and positivity. Today was such a day. While there are plenty of folks at the post office who could benefit from exploring the fields of self-improvement and positivity, there are often very few so inclined. Most words of encouragement are returned with cynical or sarcastic statements. It can seem as futile as…here it comes…planting seeds in a parking lot. Suddenly, my great uncle’s words came back to me and I understood what he meant. No matter how good your seeds (or words of encouragement in this case) are or how often you water them (share encouraging words to others, if they are laying on concrete or blacktop they will not grow.

It is, I imagine, a charming way of saying you should stop wasting your time on activities that stand very little chance of success. If you had words that could make someone’s heart take flight, it may be best to share them with someone whose heart is not weighted down with layers of cynical thinking and pessimism.

Just when I began to think of myself as having discovered a person epiphany and was giving thought to saving my kind words of encouragement for an area they may be better served, a caveat to this way of thinking was served to me. This enlightenment came from my coworker Sharon. Normally one to supply her healthy dose of cynicism, this time she brought up a very good point. “You never know when that seed might bring the smile someone needed.” she told me. I thought about that for a while. Even parking lots have cracks I suppose. If one of your seeds (words of encouragement) happens to find one of those cracks in the parking lot (the rare open-hearted soul in a sarcastic world) it might resonate even more for its rarity in the situation. Proving, even in great farming wisdom, there are two sides to every story.

These are both good lessons to carry with us through our lives. We should check to make sure we are not spending undo time planting parking lots. That is spending our time and efforts on whatever goal we are aspiring to, in a situation in which it is unlikely to succeed. That being said, however, we should remember that a small light may not seem like much in the darkness, but it stands out a lot more than it would in a well-lit room. We also must remember that a little light may be exactly what someone needs.

CHANGING THE WORLD ONE DELIVERY AT A TIME

Are you changing the world? Most of us would give an answer to the negative if asked that question. “I am just paying bills and living.” is what I have been told. Here is the shocking truth – we are all changing the world. To me it is funny that people think of grand gestures and accomplishments when they think of changing the world. While it is true those have a great impact on society and certainly do change the world, it is not the most common way the world is changed. I am going to give you two examples of how people changed the world for many without even knowing.

Recently, one of my coworkers, Jeff, called it quits after 35 years with the Postal Service. You can see Jeff in the picture above. As you can probably guess by looking at him, he was a very congenial fellow. Almost always in good humor. Jeff made coming to work a much greater pleasure. As his last few days were drawing to a close, he began to realize something he had not noticed. Jeff had spent 23 of his 35 years with the postal service delivering mail on the same route. As he delivered, he undoubtedly shared the same good humor and pleasant demeanor that he shared with his coworkers with his customers as well. As Jeff told some of his customers that he was retiring, they formed a Facebook group dedicated to making sure he had a fitting send off. On his final day at work, several dignitaries from the postal service took time out of their busy schedules to let Jeff know how much he was appreciated. Before he left to deliver one last time, I had a brief conversation with him. He told me he never realized what an impact he had on his customers lives. “Some ladies were pregnant when I first started delivering and now their children are in college.” he informed me. He was humbled at the outpouring of appreciation from coworkers and customers. “You never know how much you impact people’s lives.” he said. Jeff certainly had a positive impact on every life he touched and his presence will be missed both on his mail route and at the office where he was such a pleasure to work with.

I certainly understood Jeff’s situation. My own journey is quite similar. For the first 13 years of my career working with the Post Office, I worked in an office in the small village of Greendale. While assisting customers at the front counter, I did my best to make it the best few minutes of their day. The way I figure it, they are stuck there shipping something and I was stuck there working, we should have the most fun we can. I have a genuine interest and love for people and valued the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful folks while working there. I never thought much of it until one day on vacation.

It a sunny tropical vacation I took with my mother, her husband and my sister. I was relaxing by the pool with some rum. What did I hear? “Look it is the guy from the Post Office!” Even in a different country I ran into someone who wanted to thank me for being nice to them at the post office. I began to realize how much people appreciate being valued and treated with respect. The crazy thing is that this continues to this day. Just last Sunday as Margie and I were packing up our equipment after a night of DJing, a man came up and asked if he could ask me a question. Although tempted to alert him to the fact he just did, I assured him I would be happy to answer it if I could. “My wife told me you were the friendly guy from the Post Office in Greendale. Is that true?” I have not worked in that office for 10 years, but here it was, someone remembering me and the service I gave them.

With that appreciation comes a great responsibility. Knowing what an impact you can have with a simple interaction causes me to treat people with great care no matter where I am. When I DJ, I always encourage people. I tell Margie that I have 3 goals when we work together. I want to either make someone feel good about themselves, make them laugh or, if it is a couple, encourage a feeling of love between them. No matter where I am, whether it is the grocery store, a coffee shop or just walking down the street, I do my best to leave every soul with a little more cheer. In that way I know I am changing the world. I have seen Jeff do it, and I know that you can do it too. When you treat people with kindness and respect you change their world and positively affect the world in general. I encourage you to think of that next time you send a text message, pick up the phone or leave the house. In those moments, and countless others, you are changing the world.

WORK IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT

Today is Halloween so I will share a scary story with you. As most of you know, I have a day job at the United States Postal Service. In addition to the monetary aspect, it also allows me to practice many of the tools I put forth here. I always strive to be a source of positivity and help my coworkers foster a sense of gratitude and joy. As a matter of course, I always welcome the mail carriers back when they return from their routes. I also routinely ask my coworkers if they are having a good day or having fun at the moment. A gentle reminder that while doing our best to get our jobs done, we can still focus on having fun. Most of the time this is met with some jocularity and on occasion, some comments of encouragement of their own.

There is one young lady, however, that seems quite sunshine challenged. When I inquired if she was having a good day she informed me in no uncertain terms that I should never ask her that as long as she is at work because the answer will always be ‘no’. After 21 years of working there, I am no stranger that the Post Office can supply some challenging situations, as can any job. There are days that are tough, and days that are not. I could not imagine going to some place every day where you know with certainty that you will have a bad day, and doing so voluntarily.

This young lady is a carrier on what they call a ‘rural route’. This means she seldom has to leave her truck and drives up to the mailbox to put the mail in. I think on a nice spring or fall day driving around in a rural setting listening to your favorite music all while getting paid a good wage could sound nice to some people. Sure, there are days when it is raining, or here in Wisconsin snowing, that I can imagine driving for several hours could be a drag, but not every day. How could this be?

The answer was supplied to me last Saturday. This young lady called me over to her case where she sorts her mail. She handed me the scanner all carriers use and said in a rather angry tone, “This is the f*&king sh*t I have to deal with!” I glanced at the scanner. On it was a warning to pay attention to the signs of heat stroke. On this day we were experiencing an early October snow storm. Ironic? For sure. Funny? I thought so. As far as something she had to put up with, I found a message that could easily be deleted and even laughed at to be not that big of a deal. Her perception was that everything was against her and that this was a large obstacle. When viewed through a filter of that nature any job will seem terrible.

This brings to mind a great reminder. We have the option to how we see things. We can find the humor, or we can find the frustration. We can find the gratitude, or the lack. We can find the joy, or we can find the pain. It is all up to us. When we look for the good in things it can transform our days and jobs into things we enjoy, or certainly do not dread.

ARE YOU THE CANDLE OR THE MIRROR?

It took me a while to truly grasp the power of this quote. The candle represents sources of light in the world. It could be good-looking and charming authors who double as postal workers, social workers, emergency workers, great parents and teachers, religious and spiritual leaders or anyone else who inspires us or makes the world a better place. In some ways I think we are all candles, or at least have the ability to be so. In being the best at whatever we do we set an example for the world to follow. Even the shyest and most reserved of us have opportunities to be kind to others.

The mirror represents those who promote those who are candles. This can range from sharing a motivational website that inspires you with others, to showing appreciation to wonderful people who make a difference in your life. Did a teacher or coach push you to be the best you can be? By telling others that story you bring to light how special they are. This holds true for talking good about anyone. Did your spouse do something thoughtful for you? By sharing the joy they gave to you it brings more light and positivity to the world. This is a double-edged sword. Imagine what we do when we complain and share with others the terrible things people do?

I find by both being a candle to inspire others as well as a mirror to reflect the flame of the fabulous people I come across is the way that I can bring the most light into the world. Starting today, do your best to not only be an inspiration to others, but to recognize and help share those that inspire you as well.

WHO THE HECK ARE YOU??

This may sound like a rather silly question. I hear lots of you saying “I’m Bob, I’m Mary”.  No, that is your name.  I am talking about your identity.  Who we are is how we define ourselves.  So I ask you again, who are you? Notice what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  For a lot of us, it is our occupation.  We may not realize it, but we often identify ourselves by where we work or what kind of work we do.  Especially if we have done that job for a while.  I learned this the hard way.  After giving the postal service 15 great years, I was faced with the real prospect of losing my position for nothing more than office politics.  Suddenly I felt like, “Now what? What will happen to me?”  Those feelings of fear were because after so many years I identified myself as ‘Neil the postal worker’.  Lucky for me I had a few friends I could talk to who knew me before I worked for the postal service.  I had to ask Jason, Jenny, and Russ, my good friends, what was I like 16 years ago before the I started working there.  After a few jokes about stress levels I came to realize there was a Neil before the United States Postal Service and there will be one after as well.  Here we are a few years later and I find myself in the same situation.  What is different now is I realize I am not my occupation.  So who am I? More importantly, who are you?  We are who we choose to define ourselves to be.  I heard something recently that may help to show the example I am trying to get at.  “There is a great difference between doing something stupid, feeling stupid, and being stupid”  We have all done something stupid in our lives.  Some more than others. We have all felt stupid at times.  When we say we are stupid, that creates a whole different mentality.  If you say you are stupid, or overweight, or lazy, whatever term you use it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I’m really good at this for saying “I am a procrastinator”.  Now if I hold that as a belief or even more so as a conviction, my actions will have to be in line with that identity.  So really think how you define yourself.  Take a moment to write a few beliefs about yourself that you hold.  See which ones serve you and which do not.  If you are like me and have one or two that may be holding you back it is time to switch them up.  Write down the person you wish to become.  Carry it with you and read it throughout the day.  At first it may seem like you are lying to yourself especially if it is the opposite of what you currently believe to be true of yourself.  Stick with it. You didn’t develop the beliefs you have about yourself overnight and you are not going to change them overnight either.  So let us all redefine ourselves and become the people we desire to be!