The icing on the cake

Kara80s-8Years ago when we were young and ambitious and thought we had a lot to prove, a friend of mine began to prepare a birthday celebration for his girlfriend. As on any birthday, the crown jewel of the celebration would be a cake, but this one would be her favorite flavor, made from scratch.

Everything went according to plan–until it didn’t. In the middle of the cake prep, the power went out. Okay, you say. These things happen. She’ll understand. I mean, really, is it that big a deal? Just go to the store and buy a cake. Take her out to eat and finish it later. It’s just a cake.

Nope. That wasn’t the point. That cake was his labor of love, an all-in dedication of the work of his hands. It was important.

The next step in the recipe was to beat egg whites into stiff peaks. You have to beat fast and hard and continuously for some time before those snotty little suckers finally submit and stand at attention, a feat normally best accomplished by an electric mixer. With no power and thus no mixer, my friend simply grabbed a wooden spoon and got started.

After nearly 25 minutes of beating (and probably laughter and sweat and finally, cursing), those snotty little suckers eventually submitted to his hand and stood at attention. Mission accomplished.

The power came back on in time for the rest of his cake bakery to proceed without incident; the birthday celebration went off without another hitch. In fact, I don’t know if my friend ever told his girlfriend what he had done.

In the grand scheme of things, is this really a big deal? People roll with the punches every day. We take detours, make allowances, adjust our expectations and move on.

Or do we?

How often do we go the extra mile for another person? More importantly, how often do we go that mile when we may not get credit for it? You couldn’t tell the effort that went into that cake just by looking at it, so did it really matter?

Yes, yes it did.

This, my friends, is caring. It’s what we do for the people we love to make their lives better. We go the extra mile when the bottom falls out, when we’re tired, or when they need us. We do it because we can and because we love them, not for the recognition. Real love is not transactional.

Love your people every chance you get.

 

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.

Mother-Teresa-Quotes-Do-Your-Best-Anyway-1