Tag Archives: giving

poor me

glass piggy bank with change inside

No, really – I’m poor. The question is why?

Let me begin by telling you something about me that not everyone knows. During my recent YouTube interview with Facilitation XYZ, I was very open. At one point, I revealed that most people see me as extremely open and honest; and as far as that goes, it’s true. But what people don’t always realize is that I’m perfectly willing to talk about just about anything after the fact – a year or a month or a week after a hard thing is over.

After I’ve answered my own questions.

After I’ve worked through my fears or feelings of hurt.

After I’m already back to “me as I know me.”

Granted, this is more than most people are willing to do. So, when I do talk with people openly about what they see as “recent events” that were difficult, they feel I am unusually candid and emotionally open. Again, to some extent, that is absolutely true. But I know me better than anyone else knows me. And I know that my tendency is to close down the fortress while I’m going through trying times, feeling the raw pain or struggling with the live questions.

Give me even a day or two, and I’ll tell you all about it; that’s generally all it takes for me to move past the “messy middle” and into that place of 20/20 hindsight.  You may even see my eyes well up as I tell you about “what happened then”; but the best I can explain this is that it is more an expression of empathy for my past self than evidence of any current conflict.

All of this isn’t really the point of this post. But I give you this peek behind the curtain so that you understand what comes next, which is that I am about to let you in on a live question I’ve been pondering – one about which I have not yet come to any set conclusions – which is a rare occasion, indeed (not having question, which I have all the time, but sharing one before I’ve already had the time to work through it to a satisfactory solution). No, it’s nothing earth shattering; but it is perhaps something life-changing. And, hey, it’s a step, right?

So, as I said at the start, I’m poor. But the question is … why?

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our gang: part 2

our gang part 2 - Best Advice So Far

In May, I wrote a post called “our gang,” which turned out to be one of the most read, shared and discussed posts in my more than four years of blogging. This Thursday having been Thanksgiving, I got to hang with “our gang” again; and it prompted some cool new thoughts.

I often say (and, in fact, mentioned in the original post in May) that holidays with “our gang” are as close to walking into a Norman Rockwell painting as anyone could hope to get. Traditions run deep with us. The Thanksgiving meal has included the same items made the same way, for the twenty-two years I’ve been part of the celebration; but those recipes actually go back a century or more, not merely decades.

Since my addition to the mix in 1994, I’ve taken on two very important traditions at holiday meals: rubbing garlic on the toast (two pieces) and tearing it by hand to make the croutons for the salad; and lighting the many candles as the last of the afternoon light fades.

(Side Note: The right lighting is very important in life.)

(Side Note to the Side Note: My mouth literally just watered at the thought of having a turkey sandwich made with mashed potatoes and that gravy, on one of Holly’s rolls!)

But mood lighting, special traditions and phenomenal food made from recipes handed down through generations are not the main reasons for the enveloping feeling of having walked through the looking glass. No, it’s the people. And as I thought about it throughout the day Thursday and continuing through to today, I caught a glimpse of something that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but surprise me it did all the same. It occurred to me that the magic really comes down to one thing: choice.

Today, I want to share with you just a few of the choices that our gang makes consistently with regard to one another – choices that have resulted in the best darned friendships someone could ever hope to have:

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sweet somethings

how to compliment, sweet somethings, boy whispering to grandmother

It’s somewhat alarming to me how many social kindnesses are rapidly going the way of the dodo. But the effect of a simple and sincere compliment is still as profound as ever. If you’ve gotten out of practice, getting ready to give a compliment may very well make the back of your neck go all tingly. Take that as an indicator of the positive power in what you are about to do. (And isn’t it wonderful how alive that *zing* makes you feel?)

Maybe you’re a leader who is committed to honing your skills as far as praising and encouraging those around you on a regular basis.

Maybe you want to know how to compliment a girl or guy you like. (Note: If you’re looking for self-serving pick-up lines, I’m afraid you’ll need to visit a different kind of blog.)

Perhaps you’ve been really wanting to show your appreciation for a family member, but it feels foreign and a little weird.

Or maybe you just aren’t sure how to compliment anyone at all in a way that will be well received.

Well, this one’s for you. Here are some guidelines for how to compliment others with class and maximum effectiveness:

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and then there was

creativity unleashed

The power and wonder of personal creativity is as stunning to me today as ever.  Whether you view yourself as a creative person or not, you are creating all the time. Don’t believe me?  Read on.

Now, please know that I realize that the babies we create are made out of “us,” who are in turn made out of meats and grains, which were in turn made out of dirt, which was made up of rock and trace chemicals, which are composed of base elements.  Likewise, I’m aware that there are a limited number of sounds and letters in the English language with which every poet or writer or speaker creates words, as there are only so many notes from which all songwriters and composers may choose. But let’s not ruin the moment with Spock-like ponderings. Instead, rather than quibbling over technicalities of definition, consider in this moment that to create is essentially to make something out of nothing.

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feet on the edge over water

If you know me, or if you’ve even read much that I’ve written, then you know that not much in life makes me nervous. Last night, for the first time in longer than I can remember, I was nervous – honest-to-goodness, heart-racingly nervous.

I also seem to know an inordinate number of people who work at convenience stores (due in part to that whole “name” thing).

Lately, my days have been so full that I’ve been heading to the gym between midnight and 2:00 AM. Last night was one such night, and on my way, I stopped at a convenience store to grab some quick energy boosters (strawberries and a chocolate milk). When I entered, the radio was blaring some too-loud infomercial, barely intelligible through the thick static of the station. The line of patrons at the counter was held up and continuing to grow longer while a large man was grumbling over at the ATM machine, where he’d needed to withdraw cash for his small purchase, since the debit card swipe was currently frozen for some reason. It felt chaotic. But this is not what made me nervous.

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big kids: part 2 of 4


Yesterday, I wrote the first installment in this four-part series.  It had occurred to me in a new way that, for all children don’t yet know, there is an equal amount that adults have forgotten. While it’s not absolutely necessary, I do recommend hopping over and catching up to speed by reading “part 1″ from yesterday, since it contains important groundwork for today’s post (as well as the next two).

2. Children know how to give simple gifts.

How many times have you struggled over what to buy for someone in your circles on their birthday or for a holiday?

Wondering if the gift will be taken as too little. Or too much.

Laboring over the fact that there is nothing they really need.

Or resorting to just grabbing a gift card or cheese wheel at the last minute.

Kids aren’t torn up about such things. Yet somehow, in the absence of high-paying jobs or cash flow, they still manage to excel at gift giving.

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big kids: part 1 of 4

Childlike isn't childish.

My friend Matt is celebrating his birthday this week – and by “this week,” I do mean all week:

BD Exchange

Matt is an adult – a tad older than me, in fact.  Matt is also Vice President at a well-known, multi-billion-dollar international company. Rest assured, people take him seriously.  He’s just learned not to take himself that seriously.

Before I go further, please know that Matt is not celebrating his birthday all week because he’s stinking rich and is just finding another excuse to lounge around having his servants feed him grapes and fan him. He’s actually a rather shy, nice, normal guy.

I told Matt that I have actually always celebrated Birthday Week myself (and sometimes Birthday Month). In fact, at 45 years old, I have never once worked on my birthday.

I can imagine the polar reactions going on right now.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine them because I’ve experienced them. On the one hand, I can think of the many people in my life who’ve heard me say this and are disdainful – perplexed at best.  Scowl lines abounding, they say, “Why on earth would you do that? Birthdays are for kids not adults. That’s just ridiculous.”

On the other hand, I have a small handful of friends who would respond, “Well, of course! Why wouldn’t you? I say take every single opportunity you can to celebrate in life!”

So who’s right?

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something nice to say

From the time we were in Kindergarten, we’ve heard the old saying:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

While I agree with this bit of advice on a certain level, it seems to focus on what not to say.  That is, it is phrased in the negative.  Usually spoken by way of admonition, I fear that it leaves most people thinking, Well, what I wanted to say wasn’t very nice, but by gum, I said nothing at all.  And so they pat themselves on the back, feeling they have rather smartly fulfilled their moral duty by having remained largely silent in life.

I might suggest a different approach, one rooted in the positive:

“Find something nice to say, and then say it!”

There is always something nice waiting to be said.  And I’m quite certain that it would be impossible to deliver too many sincere compliments in a day.

Here are some sincere compliments I gave in the last 48 hours (and not because I planned to write a blog post about it; this is a pretty typical couple of days for me, by way of compliments!):

While out with a teen at a local ice cream place, I saw Dave (I only know his first name).  Prior to this night, I’d only ever seen Dave working the counter at the corner convenience storeYet here he was at the ice cream place, also working as a bus boy.  It was the end of the night, and bussers hardly make motivational pay.  Yet Dave was hustling to clear tables, working with purpose.  When I said hello and introduced him to my young friend, shocked to see him there since he works more than 40 hours a week at the convenience store, he was all smiles.  He informed me that, in addition to these two jobs, he also works part-time as a warehouse worker.

When I left, I “bragged” on Dave to the nearest manager and in front of the other workers: “I don’t know anyone who works harder and with a better attitude than Dave there!  You better keep him around!”  All heartily agreed.  Of course, I said this plenty loud, so that Dave — just back in the kitchen scrubbing items in a sink — could hear me.

Later on, in the wee hours, I stopped in at the convenience store — and there was the seemingly ubiquitous Dave, stocking shelves.  Even after a full shift at the ice cream store, he was moving like his life depended on getting those energy bars neatly stacked in place.  And he was still smiling.  I told him how impressed I was with both of these admirable traits.

Yesterday, while grabbing a sub, I complimented a stranger on his choice to wear a pink polka-dotted bow tie (and a well-tied one, I might add) with a blue striped shirt.  I smiled when he walked in, since some of my favorite people wear bow ties.  I find it a daring move.  And yet it shows a willingness to take one’s self a little less seriously — a quality which you may have noticed that I find noteworthy.  The young businessman definitely did not see my impromptu compliment coming!  He grinned with pride, expressing his sincere appreciation for my having said so.

Later that evening, I told a teen I was with that he is one of the kindest people I know.

While picking up muffins for my grandmother this morning, as well as an iced coffee for myself, the drive-through line was quite long.  Yet I noticed that the server at the window, a young girl, smiled pleasantly at each customer while wishing them a great day.  Whether she was required to deliver the well-wishes to customers, I couldn’t say.  I only know that I believed her.  Her smile was authentic, not plastic and rehearsed.  When I reached the window, I said, “I noticed that you smile genuinely at every single customer when you say, ‘Have a great day!’  I’m very impressed that you can maintain that kind of enthusiasm!”  This elicited an even bigger smile from her.

In addition, I waved the young man wearing the order headset over to the window.  “I have a very complicated coffee order,” I told him [a medium decaf French Vanilla iced coffee, light with milk and with two Sweet & Low], “and you got it right without having to ask me to repeat it!  You’ve got a great memory!”  Though a bit bashfully, he too smiled broadly.

It’s easy, really.  And fun, once you get the hang of it.  If you are looking to feel more connected in the world, this is one of the best ways to do it.  In going beyond what not to say, to looking for opportunities where we can point out the finer qualities in others, our outlook on life as a whole changes drastically for the better.

“The Best Advice So Far” is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, “The Best Advice So Far” shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).

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It’s hard to believe, but this is my 100th blog post.  I have to say, I’m feeling a teensy bit proud of sticking with it.  What’s more, I could not have concocted a more amazing “adventure” than the one I’m able to share with you today to celebrate the occasion.

A few nights ago, I was driving through an inner-city area with one of the teen guys I hang out with.  We were on our way to pick up another of the boys in this circle of friends with the plan of getting some ice cream together (shocker, I know).  But due to some major road construction including a stretch of street lights being out, I missed a turn.  I pulled up a short side road and into an abandoned gas station in order to turn around.

What I didn’t realize in the dark was that the entire lot of the gas station had been dug out and planed.  My car dove off a squared 10-inch cliff, crunching loudly into what amounted to a shallow swimming pool.  The noise of it alone announced that the car had sustained significant damage.

Fortunately, there was a section of the lot where gravel graded upward making a sort of ramp.  I clunked up and out into the dirt street.

My car was already old and not in the best shape.  With inspection due next month, the list of necessary repairs was already — I’ll use the euphemism “challenging.”  Now, the car trembled with a deafening sound, as if an entire pack of motorcycles were passing on both sides.  The exhaust had severed.  Somewhere within the din, I was aware of a clank and rattle, as well.  Would I lose the entire muffler?  As we emerged from the construction zone onto more level pavement, the wheel shimmied violently.  Axle damage.

Well, we found our friend (his whole neighborhood heard us coming) and we went right ahead and had our ice cream anyway, laughing together at our predicament.  Well aware of my philosophy on finding the positive, Ben suggested that my broken muffler made my car sound like it had a souped-up modification.  I added that at least I would not have to worry about the muffler going before inspection — because now it had already blown.

Afterward, I called John in a cry for help.   If you don’t know who John is by now, do click the link and read about our connection; it’s important to the story.  But the short version is that I took John in about 20 years ago and we recently reconnected.  He is now a mechanic with his own shop.

John saw me immediately.  In addition to the exhaust and axle damage, he pointed out the myriad other problems the car had — both those that would need to be fixed before I’d pass inspection, and those that were causing other issues.  Among them were CV joints, wheel bearings, rusted gas tank connector, seized pulleys, sensors, bracings.  The list went on and on.  I knew there were issues.  He made it clear exactly how many there really were.  I asked him if he could just fix what needed to be fixed for now, and I’d find the money to make it work.

The next day, John asked me to come down so he could explain the work.  He was in the middle of replacing an axle.  He took me around the car and showed me all of the things he had already fixed — many of them certainly not necessities.  I began to secretly sweat a little as my mental cash register starting chinging figures.  At the same time, I noticed a sign in the shop:



I had less than $100 in the bank.

As nonchalantly as I could, I asked him what the bill might look like so that I could have the cash ready the next day.  I secretly held my breath.

“Well, I’ll give you a bill, but you won’t pay what it says.  That’s just so you have a record for all the warrantied parts.”

He’d used new parts instead of used or reconditioned.  I sucked in a slow breath and my heart rate picked up as that mental register kept cha-chinging.

“Ok,” I said.  “Well, can you give me a ballpark on the bill.”

“You have it,” he said matter-of-factly.

I literally looked down at my hands.  Had he given me a bill and I’d forgotten?  Scary.

No bill.

“I don’t understand,” I admitted, feeling a bit swimmy.

“You have it,” he repeated more emphatically, looking right at me with a sly little smile.

For some reason, it wasn’t kicking in.  I still thought he was trying to tell me that he was giving me a labor discount or even perhaps free labor, which would have been too much.  “John, don’t discount this.  You have to make a living.”

“Listen, Erik — shut up,” John said.  “You took me in for years.  Paid for my rent, food, transportation, books.  You took me to movies and out to eat more times than I could count over the course of five years.  You need to let me do this.  I want to.  So stop arguing and just accept it.”

Then it dawned on me.  John had done thousands of dollars of work on my car and was charging me nothing.

No labor.

No parts.


Of course, I welled up.  So did he.  I hugged him — he in his grease monkey suit covered in oil and I in my white T-shirt.  I didn’t care.  I wanted that grease on me.  I planned to proudly wear that shirt with those stains as long as its threads held together.

Today, I picked up the car.  I thanked him as profusely as I could.  A few things remain to be done, involving parts that will arrive next week.  As I drove away, I was overwhelmed with emotion again.  Then, hitting the highway, I laughed — full and hard.  Why the sudden outburst?  I realized that I was hearing something I hadn’t heard for many years while driving that car.


There was not one knock, ting, rattle, whir or chirrup.  No vibration in the wheel.  No galumph as I went over bumps in the road.  It was as solid as the day I bought it.

I don’t know how long John spent on it.  I suspect he stayed into the night yesterday and came early today.  I know that he set aside all work on other customers’ cars.  John had not only fixed the musts but a whole host of wish-list items — things I’d never even dreamed of having done.  Tightened screws and bolts and belts.  Everything.  To say I was overwhelmed is truly an understatement.  I felt elated.

I felt loved.

I do not believe we ever give to get something in return.  But sometimes — we do get payback.  I can’t adequately describe the joy I felt, realizing that kindness I’d given freely 20 years ago had come around at such a perfect time and in such a wonderfully unexpected way.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories or questions. I invite you to leave your comments below.

Are you ready for some real change in your life right now?

The Best Advice So Far is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, The Best Advice So Far shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).


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Earlier this morning, I was helping my young friend Evan get a jump start on Chemistry before he starts the school year.  Many high school students view chemistry as tedious numbers and formulas; but for me, it’s always been fascinating.  Of particular interest today was one of the non-essential side inserts in the book.  Here is an excerpt (let the wonder begin!):

Strands in a spider web are about one tenth the diameter of a human hair.  Yet … the silk in the [golden orb spider] web’s frame and spokes is stronger than steel, more elastic than nylon, and tougher than rubber.  Scientists are always looking for lightweight materials with these properties, but they cannot set up farms to harvest spider silk, because a spider will fight to defend it’s territory.

Instead, scientists use biotechnology to produce spider silk.  Scientists have identified the spider genes that contain the instructions for producing silk.  When these genes are transferred to goats, the goats produce milk containing spider silk.  Scientists separate the silk from the milk, purify it, and then spin it into fibers.

©2008 Prentice Hall Chemistry, p. 43

OK, first of all … what the heck?  Who knew such things were going on in the world, on both a natural and perhaps not-so-natural level?  Furthermore, if you were not convince heretofore not to kill spiders, know all the more the wondrous little factory you are squashing if you do.

That said, getting this inside scoop on spider webs got me thinking back to last night.  I was online around 11:00 when one of the kids I mentor popped up in a chat.  We got to talking and, next thing we knew, we were heading off on a whim to see the after-midnight showing of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which, by the way, was a pleasant surprise).  Without giving too much away, there is one graphic in the movie that attempts to depict the exponential effects of a medical phenomenon.  A dot of yellow light appears on a grid of sorts and from it, arms shoot off in all directions like spider legs.  Where each leg touches down, another dot appears, growing new offshoots of its own, and so on.  Soon, zooming out from the grid, the “spiders” and their legs have become a giant, interlaced web.

Recently, Pinocchio was turning up at every turn in my life.  Now spider webs.  What’s the deal?

Rather than questioning, I decided to just with it.

I saw Chad off to Penn State this past Saturday.  But during the summer, we had several talks about something that also reminded me of spider webs.  Chad’s musings went something like this:

Imagine if I could zoom out on my life and see a map of the world that accounted for both space and time.  What if I were just one dot on this map, but I could see all of the strands that connected me to people I’ve positively affected in some direct way.  Then imagine that I could see the strands from each of those people to other people that they have positively affected due in some small part to my influence, and so on.  I wonder what I’d see — how far reaching in space and time one person’s influence really is.

As I considered this would-be map of my own life, I thought with wonder that it very well might look something like a spider web or the grid graphic from Apes.  It was a happy and humbling realization.

I’m convinced that when we allow ourselves to focus too much on our own little “dot” through me-centered thinking, investing most of our energies into making sure it glows brightest on the grid of our life, we actually leave a much smaller impression on the world than if we shine our light on the other “dots” around us.

Mother Teresa comes immediately to mind.  She gave little thought to her own needs or even her appearance, so focused was she on devoting herself to serving the poor, hungry, homeless and diseased of Calcutta.  She did not intend to make an impression or to “grow her web,” as it were.  She did not sit home thinking of what deep or wise thing she could say the next time the press were around.  Her only thought was to help one more.  And one more.  And then one more.  And yet, never thinking of herself, none can deny the influence she has had — and continues to have — on people the world over.

What do you see when you imagine the “web” of your own life?  Do you envision it as small and sparse?  Or expansive and inspiring?

You have enormous potential for positive influence.  What may in the moment seem like only the smallest act of gentleness, kindness, encouragement or good will may have an immeasurable effect.  Consider this until you believe it.  Then, like Mother Teresa, look around you for just “one more.”