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I’ve learned a lot about myself this past week. A whole lot.
And today, on this sunday morning where my house is still asleep and restless thoughts dance through my mind, I decided to rise early before church and get to writing this.
First off, I learned I don’t do traffic well *Anxiety central*. Secondly, I learned that coconut milk isn’t as good as it sounds *Tried it. Hated it*. Most importantly–there’s no such thing as my personal search for happiness. Let me explain.
This last Tuesday was my first day of training for my new job. And if you’ve been following my blog, you know without a doubt that I was nervous just short of the point of breaking out in hives. But on the long way there *hence my strong dislike of traffic* I prayed and I decided I’d do my best and do everything in my power to do well. I decided that I was going to go above and beyond and prove that I know what I’m doing. This training was about improving and creating ME. Help me to do well, I found myself praying, and grant me happiness with that confidence.
I arrived early at the training center and found a room filled with desks that made a half-circle. I found my name, cracked open the manual underneath it, and watched as one by one, a stream of new hires made their way in, each face reflecting my own nerves. Finally there was around twenty of us– new ties, ironed skirts, sweaty hands and all. And all I could remember at the back of my mind is during my interview when the manager told me that not everyone in the training group will make it. There are exams, assignments, verbal tests, and on-the-floor demonstrations that have to be mastered to a tee. It won’t be me who fails, I thought. It has to be one of them.
But then training took an odd turn. Instead of diving into the material, talking about the responsibilities, or taking us to individual work areas, the trainers divvied us up into groups and for the first handful of days we were taken back to elementary school in a sense. We had to come up with a team poster and cheer, we competed against other teams for poker chips that’d add up to a prize at the end of training, we went out to lunch and chatted about our lives and we played Catchphrase and team-building exercises that had us laughing so hard that each of us could swear by the end of it we’d found our best friends.
Without even being asked we started to form a study group to help those in our group who were having a tough time with the material, and we all started to find more joy watching our teammates earn those poker chips than when our own selves did. By the end of the week during an on-the-floor test I wasn’t even nervous for my time up to bat. I was more nervous for one of my teammates who was struggling with a portion of it.
And it happened without me even realizing it, I think. My original attitude of, “I’ve got this. I’m not going to be the one who fails” quickly turned into, “I want these people to succeed. I care about them.”
And I wasn’t alone. Our CEO must have known what this kind of training meant.
“The trick to being successful,” he told us, “is to surround yourself with good people, treat them well, and help them all to succeed. That’s the trick.”
My training grounds weren’t peculiar.
In a way that crowded room now filled with team posters, remnants of laughter, and fallen poker chips hidden under chairs was exactly what all of our lives are on a daily basis anyway. In life we can easily find where we’re supposed to sit or be, dive into what we need to know, ignore those beside us, and focus on getting it all right so we can succeed. But then there’s the other way. That’s the way that leads to friendship. That’s the way that leads to the focus on things outside of your personal bubble. That’s the way that leads to happiness.
It’s not a revolutionary idea or breaking news to share *there’s my newsy side coming through* but it’s something we often forget I think. It’s something I forget every now and then since rising above and over-achieving has always been at the forefront of my mind.
The idea stems back to when Christ sat with a loaf of bread and a few fish amongst throngs of people. He was hungry–so he could have eaten. But he didn’t. In John 6 he demonstrates to us the power of thinking outside of ourselves when he multiplies the food and therefore gets even more satisfaction when everyone is well fed.
We need to multiply our loaves of bread more.
We go through life thinking our troubles are so great that we only have enough time for those problems, and no one else’s . We go through life thinking our financial burdens are so heavy that no way would we have time to alleviate someone else’s. We go through life thinking that the search for happiness is a personal one and helping others is just a bonus. In reality they go hand in hand and finding happiness has always been a group activity.
Careers can teach so many things. Luckily for me, my job started with a game of Catchphrase, fifty-five poker chips, and a lunch talking to someone who lost her dad the day after I lost mine.
Luckily for me, I didn’t find happiness here alone.
And I choose to keep it that way.
My dad was an ordinary man.
He rose at dawn to go work at an ordinary job, tossing his lunch pail in the back of a maybe less-than-ordinary pick-up truck that lacked a solid floor on the passenger side.
He was quiet and attentive to conversations already begun–and he could pass through a room quickly without gaining much notice. He had a daily routine of reading the paper at half past six and watching every Seahawks game in his chair–it was only interrupted by play time with us kids–an ordinary hobby for many dads.
When I was a child I remember feeling sorry for my Dad. He mentioned he used to want to be a doctor before he decided it wasn’t for him. And in his youth he didn’t make much of a stir in his hometown newspaper or in sports–he just spent afternoons at the river’s edge with a fishing line and a can of worms. Ordinary things, really.
But me? I didn’t want ordinary. Not at all! I wanted to be extraordinary. I paraded around in dancing dresses, hosted backyard carnivals in the summer, auditioned for every school play, and dreamt of the day I’d see my name on a hardback book. I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind. I wanted to be ANYTHING but ordinary. And I loved my Dad so much–I used to cry that he could never be an important doctor.
And that mindset followed me well into my life. It wasn’t a mindset of pride or self-love. It was the desire to change lives and be known for something good–something special. But that desire, I’ve come to learn, is the desire of so many others who leave nothing behind except for a granite stone, piles of money, and bylines that quickly get shoved into archives. The desire to be great, if that desire is a sole purpose, will completely cloud over what really makes you someone to remember. But the desire to just live life fully and completely with love for people being your main purpose–THAT desire and THAT quest can change your life forever.
As for my father with his “ordinary” life–I’ve come to understand the beauty of such ordinary things now, and the importance.
Since his passing, I’ve began to take notice of things he left behind. Ordinary things. Sifting through his things after his passing, I noticed old notebooks filled with notes from church sermons and past General Conferences–notes that he took to heart and lived. Notes he never shared.
My mother found stacks of receipts from his monthly tithing slips–tithing that she never knew he paid when she stopped going to church for a short time and he would sit alone in the pew every sunday.
Friends–from the job that everyone said he was “stuck in” for years and years–have filtered through the front door and across our social media pages, telling stories of a man with quiet faith, great love for those around him, and kindness. Always kindness. Even my father’s insurance agent from five years back called with tears in his voice, just to tell us that he’ll always remember Dad and the way he was so patient.
Ordinary watches and worn-out wallets–thin from years of use–are now our flecks of gold. Yellowed photographs of summers at the river and tanned arms against a lawnmower are now precious heirlooms.
The ordinary, simple things that I once thought were like “every other dad”. But now, to me, are extraordinary. And he never tried to be.
I think it’s easy, since we live in a world dedicated to proving how “special” we are or how “unique” we are, to measure ourselves at the end of the day by how many awards line our desk or how many nods of approval we get for special projects at work. But putting all of our efforts into that kind of journey distracts from the truly extraordinary. We shouldn’t give up on success within the world and careers we hold, of course–but we should also remember where true success lies.
Like being the mom that finger paints with her toddlers and doesn’t care that some hair dipped into the blue. Like being the friend that sits at the lunch table with the bullied kid in complete silence, just offering a presence. Like being the dad that works a 9 to 5 at a completely ordinary office and always makes sure to make every single ballet performance. Like being the artist that paints, that writes, that sings, that creates–just to make life more relatable, or more beautiful, for at least one person.
How beautiful the world is when we count the little moments that make up our memories, our goodness, our friendships, our faith. How beautiful it is to leave behind something much greater than anything tangible, even while losing ourselves in ordinary tasks.
How beautiful that is. And how extraordinary.