Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Wait

During a seventh grade dance Anthony told me that if I lost 50 pounds, I would be really good looking. He was a kind boy who had stopped girls from calling me names. He was trying to be helpful and give me advice. A year later he was killed in a car crash. I can still picture the coffin going down the aisle.

In tenth grade Dominic dived into a quarry and never came up. His mother had hand-sewn a dress as my birthday present in second grade. Then Maria’s house was on fire and although she came to the window and people yelled for her to jump from the second story, she went back to get her mother and they both died. I found out in advanced chemistry that morning when they made the announcement. She had been the lead in the musical and had a beautiful, unforgettable voice.

Lately I can’t stop thinking about them.

At 43 years of age I finally lost the 50 pounds, so I think about Anthony … then it snowballs. Anthony was right. I wish I hadn’t waited my whole life to feel so good about myself. I was so tired of being overweight. No matter what anyone says about accepting their weight and it not mattering, you feel like a failure when the methods exist to lose it to be healthy and you don’t. My greatest fear is that I will fall into a bad place and gain all the weight back, hence the constant training and exercising.

We don’t know how much time we have. If you feel bad about something in your life then change it -- now. Find the epiphany moment before it is too late.

Often when people are interviewed they express surprise at deadly situations. Bad occurences never surprise me. I’ve always felt bad about taking them in stride. How could I do that? Clearly, a very long time ago, I accepted how life could be over in an instant. For good or for bad, it carries with me each day.

I only have five years until I’m the age of my father when he died. He didn’t have long. I might not either, and I don’t want to squander my time.

So I’m constantly asking myself, “What’s important?”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Burning Bridges

Recently a friend was contacted by an old business associate. My friend started this person in her career and helped her rise to the executive level. Then the protégé made unflattering comments in meetings and was untrustworthy with information. My friend wanted to know what to do after years of separation.

Earlier that morning I had wandered around the grocery store wondering if I burn too many bridges with people. Generally, I give people a few chances. I try to understand the situation if I’m approached with anger or high emotion. I’m accepting of different kinds of people and can put myself in their shoes. I revel in an eclectic group of friends and like to trust them. But if a consistent pattern of bad behavior develops, it’s difficult not to avoid the perpetrator.

Carrying around disappointment and anger can erode your soul. Forgiveness is tough. In my faith journey, forgiveness is the hardest part. However, not forgiving is grievously worse. If you burn a bridge with someone, you have the oppressive task of lugging around the charcoal pieces and can no longer continue your journey in that direction.

During my conversation with my friend, we decided on an email olive branch. Although a small gesture, it was a significant act of forgiveness.

I guess the gnawing in my gut has to do with a bridge that’s rebuilt in a shaky, piecemeal manner. The old level of friendship and trust are never reached. We do it all the time. I can’t help but believe that this really isn’t forgiveness. The bridge is still burnt.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Volunteer Victory

“I know this is going to sound dumb, but I’m really going to miss all the emails, editing, and back-and-forth of working with you the last few weeks.”

Wow! I didn’t know what to say to this volunteer. We had just sat down to celebrate the success of my organization’s annual fundraiser, but these simple words meant so much more to me than the event.

He had lugged all his professional video equipment to three different locations to tape my interviews for our award winners. A friend of our organization had asked him to help. He’s an up-and-coming videotographer who produces videos for athletes seeking college scholarships. Our project demanded a substantial time commitment. He had to make sacrifices in his schedule to accommodate our taping. This was my first attempt at creating videos and he had obvious technical talent. Along the way we discovered that we were an excellent team. People from all walks of life were comfortable with us and the conversations produced meaningful footage.

I do a great deal of volunteering and manage many volunteers, so I’ve experienced it from both sides. I’m never in it for the glory or recognition. Since that evening, I’ve been thinking about what makes volunteering special. Why do people continually give of themselves? What makes me personally want to continue?

1.) The cause has to be meaningful. If a volunteer is not familiar with your organization, you need to introduce them. In this case, the volunteer had never been involved with the population served by my organization. The first time the two of us sat down together, I talked about what we did. I knew what impressed me and told him.

2.) A volunteer has to have support from others in their personal life. A parent praising the work or a friend already volunteering make a big difference. Since volunteer time commitments can impact family and socializing, it’s no small matter to make sure volunteers are encouraged by the important people in their lives.

3.) The experience needs to be fun. Recently a co-worker told me about working in a car assembly plant for three years. The experience sounded terrible but he enjoyed it because of the other workers. The task doesn’t matter but the interpersonal relationships do. My video guy and I compared notes on many aspects of our lives, our community, and our dreams. We became friends which made our success all that much better.

4.) You need to make sure the volunteer winds up having the time to get the job done. We only have so much time and sometimes our jobs or commitments change. Never assume or demand that a job be completed. Continually ask if the work is possible. Volunteers need to know that they can change the project or timeline to fit their schedule.

5.) Your expectations need to be reasonable. Since I didn’t know how difficult it would be to switch out certain footage or change pictures, I asked the volunteer what could be done on the tight timeline then respected his expert answers.

6.) Make sure the volunteer job is a good fit. Obviously, someone who creates videos for a living likes the job but sometimes people get tired of volunteering for the same duties they perform professionally. In this case, a wonderful variety of people were interviewed so the project was a tremendously different experience. We both were enlightened by the people we interviewed.

7.) Volunteers should grow either professionally or personally. My volunteer needed to overcome a strange sound problem near the end and he discovered a cutting-edge program to fix it. Any technical geek will appreciate this reward. The volunteer gained valuable knowledge that will come in handy professionally. Many volunteers talk about wanting to become better pubic speakers or learn a new communications skill. Volunteering can create safe environments to improve or discover hidden strengths.

Each experience bestows new insights, so I’m sure there’s plenty more to add.