Land of the free

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

The internet is blowing up with Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem.

What a jerk, people say. If he doesn’t like it here, he should leave, they say.

Well, my friends, that same flag you’re protecting—and the Constitution it represents—gives him the right to show his displeasure. Just as it gives you the right to protest his behavior.

I’m not saying I agree with his decision. In fact, I was sad to see it. I’ve always stood for The Star Spangled Banner, even though there are many things going on in this country that break the heart my hand is covering. Still, if I would choose to sit in quiet protest, I have a right to do that.

Both my grandfathers and my father fought for this country. They didn’t just serve, they fought. With guns and grenades and bombs. They placed themselves in mortal danger and were even wounded doing so, and I love them all the more for it. And yes, I hope all our citizens respect that kind of service and honor their commitment to perpetuating the liberties we all enjoy.

Including the liberty to express one’s opinion.

Like Colin Kaepernick.

Think about it, folks. This country was founded on the right to speak out. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (the first amendment of which is the one we’re discussing here) represent a fundamental protest against government. Our freedom of speech exists today because a bunch of powdered-haired (white) dudes went rogue and told their rulers they didn’t like what was going on.

It’s not important whether you agree with CK. It’s not important whether he’s right or wrong or whether you think he is. What IS important is that, like it or not, our founding fathers and every soldier who followed fought for this guy’s right to sit down during the national anthem.

If we tell this guy he can’t express himself, what are people going to be able to tell YOU you can’t do or say?

Which means you can continue to protest, just like he can continue to sit. The same First Amendment supports you both. Think about it.

Burn, baby, burn

Fire flames isolated on white background

Every day (mostly), I write a quote on the dry erase board that hangs on the door to my office. Some are inspirational, some are motivational, some are snarky, and some are just downright funny. Each one of them speaks to me in its own way, and some of them stick with me longer than others. I’m still chewing on Tuesday’s maxim.

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

I was feeling a little snarky when I found that one, and it seemed to fit my mood pretty well. I didn’t give it much thought as I scribbled it onto my board, but two days later, I can’t stop thinking about it. Each time I turn it over in my head, I think of it differently.

I had someone in particular in mind when I selected that quote, and my initial reaction was, Darned straight. That person doesn’t deserve my consternation. (Okay, my actual thoughts were a little more colorful, but you get the point.) Once the steam started dissipating, the mental revolutions commenced.

First revolution: Don’t get all jacked up for someone else’s cause. Yeah, I’ll buy that. I’ve got to buy in all on my own or it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to be a lemming.*

Second revolution: Don’t ruin yourself trying to fix someone else’s problems. Sounds good to me. It’s not that I don’t care, but I’ll be no good to anyone if I break myself in the process.

Third revolution: Don’t sacrifice yourself to help others. Hmm. A little self denial for someone else’s benefit never hurt anyone. In fact, I would argue that in many cases, it builds character–and it’s the right thing to do.

Well, crap.

I wanted to nurse my irritation, not untangle it. I wanted to wallow in the darkness, not see myself illuminated in the mud. Sure, it doesn’t make sense in the long run to wind up so depleted that I can’t help anyone, but how often does that really happen? Putting my needs (read: wants) aside to help someone else is a noble endeavor. It’s the difference between being focused on the bigger picture and being self-centered.

Here’s the caveat, though.

Every fire needs fuel. If you don’t feed it, eventually it will burn out.

So those times when I feel snarky and just, well, done? Those are signals that I need to pull back, take care of myself, and re-energize. Refuel. Find my zen. Untangle the knots. Maybe even dump the lost causes. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t mean quitting–it means taking a break to get healthy and strong so I can get back at it. Someone once told me, The wounded can’t carry the stretcher. It doesn’t mean we don’t need stretcher-bearers; rather, we need stretcher-bearers who won’t drop the darned thing.

And that leads me to the fourth revolution:  It’s not about NOT setting yourself on fire. It’s about not letting fire consume you. Do good. Take care of yourself. Do more good.

Don’t burn out; burn bright.

*Side note on lemmings: be careful when you follow the masses. Sometimes the ‘m’ is silent.

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When I grow up

208247_5887814934_3245_nWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

How many times were you asked that question as a child? How many times have you asked it? Do you know the answer?

It’s a tough question, mostly because we feel limited by the labels in some mythic index of occupations. Besides that, things change. Technology changes. Society changes. Needs change. People change. Very few people carry that same dream forward and can actually present a business card bearing the label they casually (or passionately, in some cases) spouted.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be an insurance salesperson! But I do know people who sell insurance–and even reinsurance–who absolutely love their jobs. They love helping people feel secure and protecting their assets.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a be a logistics manager! But I do know logistics managers who find tremendous satisfaction in putting together intricate delivery plans to ensure that their customers have what they need, when they need it. They love knowing that their work keeps factories running.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a customer service rep! But I do know plenty of customer service reps who become energized by helping people get what they need. They love solving problems, fulfilling orders, and making connections.

*Cut to real life.*

One of my friends is looking for a job. His life path has removed him from the corporate frenzy for several years, and now he’s looking to rejoin the fray. When we talked about this, I found myself asking, What do you want to do? Of course, I was looking for a label to slap on his forehead so I could drop him into a category. Then I’d know which direction to point him.

He didn’t give me a clear answer, probably because he didn’t have one. Instead, our conversation digressed into the verbal pinpricks we like to inflict on each other. Slightly annoyed, I finally said, “You need to find a way to get paid for exasperating people.”

Boom.

I thought I had landed a jab and we’d move on. Then I started thinking about it. What if he could find a way to get paid for exasperating people? I concocted a plan and pitched it to him:

You could totally sell it. Call yourself a change agent and get hired for short-term gigs by companies that are having a hard time changing “the way they’ve always done it.” Your entire job would be to sit in meetings and be contrary. Force people to think differently by answering your pain-in-the-a$$ questions.

Maybe it sounds like a crazy idea, but I know lots of companies who could use this kind of thing. (And if you label yourself a consultant, they might even buy it.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about how we limit ourselves with labels. Crazy ideas like this don’t come from trying to fit someone in a box–and we need more crazy ideas so we can come up with some good ones in the process. We have to think bigger than labels.

Instead of asking what someone wants to be, maybe the better questions are What do you like to do? What problems do you want to solve? What is your passion? It might be hard to give that destination a name, but I’ll bet you find the journey more fulfilling.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. (Attributed to John Lennon)

Never forget

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)Yesterday I left my family’s Thanksgiving festivities feeling full, not only of food, but also–and especially–of love and warmth and goodwill. Compared to most of the world, I have a lot. My modest house might need a good cleaning, but it keeps me safe from the elements and has more than enough room for my kids, my dog and me. I live on a budget like everyone else, but my family has never lacked food or clothing or health care. I’ve gotten to see much of the world, Most importantly, I have a big, quirky, loving family with open hearts.

All those things were in my psyche, if not my consciousness, yesterday when I saw a woman standing on a corner not two blocks from the feast I had just left, tapping her wrist questioningly in the universal symbol of “What time is it?” I slowed to a stop, rolled down the passenger window, and leaned across my daughter to tell the woman it was close to 5pm.

She needed a ride to the next bus stop, she said. She wanted to take the city bus downtown to the Greyhound station, where she would catch a ride to Wisconsin and her grandmother’s funeral. She was sad and she needed help.

As my so-called street smarts kicked in and an invisible voice told me “Drive away, Tammy, this is a bad idea,” I heard myself telling my son to make room for the woman in the back seat. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride to the bus stop turned into tears and a donation of $40 for the ticket. By the time I let the woman out of the car to make her way to Greyhound, I felt more than a little uneasy and wondered if I had been the one who had just been taken for a ride. I’m doubtful that the woman actually took that bus trip.

I had helped someone in need, but I felt bad. It bothered me all night long and into today, until I recounted the scenario to my brother.

My big-hearted bro had no words for me but my own. He reminded me that over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve taken offense to the knee jerk reaction of many to recent acts of terrorism, I’ve staunchly supported continuing to help Syrian refugees. All refugees, really. I rarely get into political discussions, but this one is more human than political to me. My deep-seated belief is this:

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

We have to keep helping people, even when there may be danger involved, simply because it is the right thing to do. It sickens me when others use a cry of Never forget! in response to acts of violence or terrorism, not to make the world a better place, but to justify their own prejudices.

And yet I still felt silly for having tried to help that woman. I wondered if I had put my children in danger, if she was really who she said she was, where that money was really going to be spent.

With a gentle nudge, my brother told me, “Anything we do that opens our hearts is not a wasted effort. You cannot control what happens in someone else’s heart, only that you yourself were kind. Why should you ever feel ashamed or foolish for having human empathy and caring for the suffering of others?”

Then I remembered something I had posted on my Facebook page just last week.

To the people who cite our nation’s hungry and homeless population as a reason to close our borders, please tell me what YOU’RE doing to help the people you call “ours.” If you’re just spouting statistics that you found on the internet from the comfort of your warm house with a full belly, I’m not listening.

And if you want to do something about it but don’t know how to help, contact Donnie/Kelly Foster (MISFITS), Street Reach for the Homeless, Samaritan Homeless Clinic (Dayton), or just head downtown with blankets and food.

If you really care that much, let’s do something about it.

You know what? I DID something about it. I don’t know how it turned out, but that’s not mine to judge. I walked my talk, and today I feel good about that. This year, more than anything, I’m thankful for a heart that sometimes has to guide my mind when I try to think too much, and for a brother who keeps me pointed in the right direction.

The next time you hear the words Never forget! be sure that what you’re remembering is how to be a better person and how NOT to let the actions of a few justify anger and hatred, no matter how scared you are.

Never forget that preserving our existence is not worth the sacrifice of our humanity.

Giving back

homestead girls xc 2015Remember that big trophy case in your high school? You know the one; it houses all the awards from sports and band and club competitions. It’s filled with statuettes and plaques and medals and team photos, and you always stop to look at it when you go back for a visit. Heck, my daughter’s school is big enough that it has a trophy case for each sport.

Except hers.

No matter how hard you look, you won’t find any awards on display for the girls’ cross country team, even though the team has historically been successful. Heck, this year alone they placed ninth at the state finals, piling up wins and places along the way. So where are the trophies? Where are the ribbons? Does the school hold girls’ xc in complete disdain?

Nope.

When I attended Awards Night, I saw all the hardware displayed in its shiny glory. One statuette must have been at least two feet high; it stood on the table like a beacon, luring the girls to come back for another season, another success. And that was only one of the awards. The spread on the table would have wowed anyone.

By the end of the night, it was gone.

That’s because the coaches felt that since the girls had earned them, they should keep them. They’ve made it a tradition to present each senior runner with one of the awards from the season, choosing according to some anecdote that matches each girl with a particular race.

These aren’t just the varsity runners; they’re ALL the senior runners. That includes seniors on JV who may never have earned an individual award in their high school careers. By the end of Awards Night, everyone had something to commemorate her contribution to the team.

That’s pretty selfless of the coaches, if you ask me.

After all, they’d have one impressive trophy case if they accumulated all that hardware in a single location. They could revel in their success every time they walked past. Look what we’ve accomplished! Don’t we produce great teams?! 

Instead, they tuck their successes away in their hearts and memories and give the credit to the girls who showed up every day and worked their tails off. To the girls who ran two and three and four hundred miles over the summer to stay in shape. To the girls who collapsed after crossing the finish line because they had nothing left.

Don’t get me wrong. The coaches worked their tails off, too. They poured hundreds of hours into the season–after teaching all day. They ran and biked alongside the girls. They gave up time with their families. They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every practice and meet. They praised and prodded and encouraged, even when they were mentally exhausted. They earned those trophies, too.

That’s why giving those trophies to the girls means so much. The coaches taught the girls how to stretch, how to eat, how to race, how to persevere, but the most important thing they taught them was how to give back.

We gain so much more from giving credit than from taking it.

Thanks, Coach W and Coach B.

Take care

Aunt Gladys circa 1972When I was very small, my great-great aunt went to live with my grandmother. Aunt Gladys (unconventionally pronounced  GLAY-dus) would follow my brother and me around and we didn’t mind a bit because she never hesitated to join our games. She played with us unhesitatingly until the dark cloud of her dementia overshadowed the sunny side of her personality.

And that’s why she lived with my grandmother. Grandma was her caretaker–at least, that’s what we would have called her then. She fed Aunt Gladys and bathed her and tucked her in bed at night. Grandma kept AG safe and made sure she knew she was loved. She took care of Aunt Gladys.

Taking care. That term sounds so…detached.

It says nothing of the emotion my grandmother’s actions carried, the love and devotion that washed Aunt Gladys’s face or the tender care that removed obstacles so she wouldn’t fall. It ignores the sacrifice of unexpectedly rearranging a household to make sure a loved one won’t suffer alone in her time of need, or of stretching a threadbare budget to make room for one more.

Sounds a lot more like giving than taking to me.

Perhaps that’s why, somewhere along the way, we’ve embraced a shift in terminology. People we once called caretakers have become caregivers. Technically, both words carry the same meaning, but at least for me, the former screams duty while the latter emanates devotion.

I love how our vernacular keeps evolving to perfect itself. It amazes me how one little word–or portion of a word–makes all the difference to its meaning. And even if you give it little thought, your choice affects the perception of your listener.

Words matter; always choose wisely.

Opting out(side)

rei-optoutsideIt’s no secret that the mere thought of Black Friday sends shudders down my spine. It’s also no secret that I love good marketing–which, thronging hordes of turkey-belching people aside, is a big part of my aversion to this crazy day. (Read why HERE.) I stoically refuse to join the masses and stay home. Every. Single. Year.

Yesterday I came across an organized alternative to the shopping frenzy, and I rejoiced. In fact, I’m still rejoicing.

The surprising part is that the alternative comes from a retailer. Instead of discounting to the masses, REI has decided to close all 143 of its stores and encourage employees (and customers!) to go outside. If you aren’t impressed, remember that Black Friday is the biggest retail shopping day of the year.

Still not impressed? The company will pay its 12,000 employees anyway.

No revenue + paying employees = an expensive proposition.

That’s taking a stand for your brand.

And that’s why I love this idea so much. Who better to promote outdoorsy-ness than REI, a seller of outdoor gear and clothing, a company which professes that “for 76 years our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out, too”?

Sure, giving up a (big) day of sales is a gamble for a retailer, but oh, how very authentic its brand just became for me. The company believes so much in its mission (“we are dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”) that it intends to make the mission a reality–not just a sales gimmick.

And that’s the brilliant part of branding: walking the talk.

It’s what makes people seek you out. It’s what keep them coming back. It’s what builds your tribe.

When people believe what you say about yourself because they see you doing it, they trust you. With that trust, you start building loyalty. If you’re an individual, that’s how you make friends. If you’re a company, that’s how you grow your customer base.

Sure, REI is taking a risk with this move. It may prove too expensive for them to be able to ever do again, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run. After all, when you focus on fulfilling the mission and not the sale, you usually end up succeeding at both. I really, truly believe that.

While I wait to see how it turns out, I’m joining the movement; I’m going to #OptOutside. Kudos, REI, for the on-point brand lesson.

Read the Forbes article about #OptOutside HERE.

Check out the REI Opt Outside website HERE.