Ten years ago, I worked as an Accounts Receivable Clerk for a stencil company. Yes, it was every bit as thrilling as that description leads you to believe.
It was a boring, repetitive desk job, and most of the people in my office were jerky salesmen. But at the desk behind me sat a sweet, older German gal named Irma. She was one of those women who became a surrogate mother, fetching aspirin from her purse when I had a headache and offering a hug when my day didn’t go so well.
Irma was in her fifties, and described it as the best time of her life. I inquired as to what made her fifties so great. She said that she was comfortable in who she was and no longer felt a sense of competition with other women.
Competition. I know it well. Why are women so competitive with each other?
I’m only 39, but I am awakening to this assurance that Irma described. For maybe the first time, I have friends that I am at ease with. I won’t say that I have stopped comparing myself to them, but the comparison is more of a note than a judgment. Letting go of the competition has allowed me to learn from their examples instead of testing myself against them.
I saw an interview with Oprah (you know how I love my O), and she was saying something about how the goal of life is to be beloved by the people around you. This stuck with me. We all want to leave a legacy. In my younger days, I daydreamed about fame, celebrity, money, and big ideas. But the years add up and dreams change. Why fantasize about things that are never going to happen? I wanted to make my life matter to the people around me. But I am kind of a selfish asshole by nature. How does one become beloved?
One of my friends, B (at that time little more than an acquaintance) was having a very tough time. Another friend, L, suggested we each take a turn bringing her family dinner so she didn’t have to worry about cooking on top of everything else. Simple idea, but I would have never thought of it. In my mind, you set up a food share for births and deaths. Everything in between, you’re on your own.
When it was my turn, I could have dropped off my chili and left, but I stayed and had a beer. B and I talked, really talked. Pretty soon, our collective conversations were less chatter and more actual communication. That small act of kindness not only eased the burden for a friend, but drew us together as a group.
Another mom in the group was having trouble finding childcare for her son while she worked. We each took a couple of turns looking after him, but most of us were wondering when the issue would be resolved. L again stepped up. She offered to babysit him until the end of the school year. I thought she was insane. At the very least, I suggested that she should ask for payment.
“But then it wouldn’t be a favor. It makes me feel good to do favors for friends.”
That sentence stopped me in my “gimme gimme” tracks. I am always looking to get what is rightfully mine. I’m not exactly greedy, but I like things to be fair. I will swap babysitting. I will help out in a pinch. But I am not going to donate my time and sanity without compensation.
But L is adored by everyone she meets. Even on her darkest days, I love to be around her. She is giving and sweet and funny and makes you feel good just to be in her presence. I started to think a little less about what I deserved and a little more about what I could do to be more like her.
Of course, the nicer you are, the nicer people want to be to you. G knew I wrote a blog and dreamed of being published. A writer and former editor, she offered to read some pieces for me and provide feedback. With her help, I can now say I fulfilled that dream.
B knew I was stressing what to do with my pets while I was on vacation. She offered to care for them, even though it required driving to my house each day. Not the most glamorous of tasks, but it eased my mind and allowed me to enjoy my trip.
Today, I received a gift from these three ladies. It is a small pendant made from a penny- a good luck penny, I was told. Engraved on the penny is the word “tri.”
The card read:
“Your razor-sharp focus and unyielding dedication inspires us. Whether you’re writing or raising a tad pole or running a 15k or starting a preschool in your home, you possess warrior-like resolve. Not to mention your positive energy is contagious.
Your upcoming triathlon is no different, but just in case any seeds of doubt creep in…we wanted you to have a reminder that you are not alone. We support you and believe in you. Good luck!”
I wish I could somehow transmit through these words the level of gratitude I felt inside. Having consciously tried to be more of a giver and less of a scrooge, I knew how good it felt to be kind to someone else. But to have others recognize and acknowledge the person I am and say that it has brought value to them- well, it is the best feeling in the world.
What a lovely cycle. Because it just made me want to run out and give someone else that feeling, to let them feel the joy of being a recipient of kindness.
I am so lucky. Even if I didn’t have a penny to always remind me, I would know it. But it sure is nice to see that shiny copper luster, and know three ladies are always looking out for me. Thank you. You made my day.