As we schedule our lives (my life is one part scheduling, one part trying to stick to my scheduled plan, and one part exhaustion). I expect this is true for everyone beyond the age of 10 with a school schedule, sports/activities schedule and the ‘family routine activities’ we must adopt. Add, as we get older, every kind of appointment, milestone, and task in the education-career-relationship-child rearing-retiring continuum.
Most people schedule (or have scheduled for them) trips to dentists, doctors, labs, specialists, and procedure clinics, atop the trips to accountants, lawyers, investment advisors, retirement planners, travel agents, and personal trainers; and some people, sadly, have also choices in scheduling their life ending actions …
Whoa, is this real-world, real-time juggernaut getting better or worse – so much to remember, keep track of and follow through? We are awash in helpful programs, apps, reminders, tools and techniques, but what about doing less but doing what matters most better?
I don’t have great answers – my thoughts are based on one simple attitude shift, and a few ideas worth incorporating have made an experience better for me and better for others, so I pass this along with my invitation to you to include this in your practice every time this type of situation arises.
For me, it’s an essential/must-do process.
If you disagree with me, I would argue that you haven’t thought it through enough yet, and I encourage you to do that thinking because this is one of the easiest ways to be thoughtful of others.
Don’t do it based on how you will feel, but on how these actions will impact others and how they feel – valued, appreciated, remembered, and thought about warmly.
This is my self-created rule/process about birthdays, anniversaries and events/milestones of celebration (i.e., anniversary of having heart-artery stents put in someone’s chest or the day your dog died). We MUST get it right; otherwise, we’ll be considered forgetful, thoughtless, or fair-weather friends. But before you think about how you’ll be feeling or thought of, focus on showing up for your friend because that’s what matters, full stop.
And if you don’t want to take time to recognize important events, milestones and pivotal moments in the lives of your friends, important colleagues, and clients – what kind of friend are you trying to be for them?
When you recognize or remember, check your diary and realize – whatever way you choose to keep track of things, DO THIS:
Don’t wait for a reminder from Facebook
Don’t send it after 8 AM! Don’t send it late or much later in the day; then it will appear as an obligation, afterthought or something you forgot – don’t leave them all day without your message; send it early or the afternoon/evening before – show someone you know it’s their birthday tomorrow, show them you are thinking about them. You’ll surprise and delight people who deserve your attention and appreciation. Please don’t leave them feeling unappreciated, not thought of or cared about by anyone; show them they are cared about by you. Later is OK, but it pales compared to being the 1st one, being 1st thing in the morning, or the night before because you demonstrated that you DO think ahead, that you DO remember, and show that you DO care.
Don’t send only that HAPPY BIRTHDAY message; write a sentence or two, tell a memorable anecdote about them, and give them a compliment that has nothing to do with their birthday. This will only take a minute or two out of your day, but yours will likely be the only one that someone took some time to show some caring and remind them WHY they are unique and important to you.
CAVEAT – be sensitive; having a ‘stock sentence or two’ to plug in is sometimes useful, but unless you invest time to personalize that note, show that person they matter to you and you genuinely want them to enjoy a fabulous celebration day – show them you mean it. It won’t always be the most important greeting they get that day, but if you make an effort, the value and impact on their day might be indelible. It might not be the best message, or the first, that day – but it also might be the only one. Think about that for a minute – imagine your best day, or remembering the worst moment in your life and having nobody remember or mark the occasion. Imagine if it was two-three word text or email. Would that show caring and lift anyone’s spirits, or is it more likely to be equivalent to not caring or remembering? This is not a self-challenge to set a high bar but to make a worthy and caring effort. Conversely, if you don’t give effort (as with anything), it will more likely be recognized immediately as not relevant or important, or self-serving.
If you DON’T feel strongly about this person, don’t care about them, don’t give a crap about they feel – then don’t reach out, don’t reach out when Facebook prompts you, don’t invest a couple of minutes of your day no matter how many ‘b-days etc.’ are you on your calendar that day.
And no, I’m no ambassador for nor selling Carlton or Hallmark products because most of the time, messages we send to help someone celebrate their highs and milestones or the comfort we send on occasions of sadness, trauma or tragedy are best written (not typed) and mailed. Sure, a timely or advance text or email note is good and usually appreciated, but why use a half-measure of thought when a few words of congratulations or condolence mean so much more?
One circumstance so many people struggle with, as I once did until a sick and dying dear friend of mine instructed me when I explained I wanted to call but had no words – I didn’t know what to say, I sent an email myself. Barbara replied, “Just call, let’s talk,” so I called, and we talked.
I expected a few minutes because when Neil answered, he said he didn’t think she would be up for talking much that day. I never expected two hours filled with laughter, story swapping, her expletive-punctuated explanation of her cancer messing with her body and brain, and talking about people we didn’t care for and reminiscing about times we’d spent and projects we’d worked on over 25 years of collaboration and shite-disturbing we worked on (City of Edmonton Advisory Board on Persons With Disabilities, Alberta Labour – Barrier Free Design Committee, Alberta Persons With Disabilities Boards), conferences we’d been delegates at together (Independence 92 in Vancouver, Secretary of State Advocacy Conference in Hull), people we’d worked with and ones we’d struggled to tolerate (EPSB/Mike Strembitsky-fight over open boundaries for kids with disabilities to attend neighbourhood schools of their choice).
And we laughed about how I teamed up guests in teams where none of them knew each other before heading out on those outdoor winter scavenger hunts I organized to get everyone out while I cleared away dinner and set out dessert at my dinner parties!
She talked most though about Neil and her boys she would soon leave behind, the legacy of policy work and political arm-twisting we’d done, and lamenting what still needed some ass-kickin’ she couldn’t do any longer.
There were too many people and experiences to talk about in only two hours; we adjourned to continue another day.
Barbara died a few days later. That last conversation, one I treasure for the memories we shared, and for the lesson I learned, for a powerful story I’ve retold many times, but mostly because I gave her two hours of my time when she had so little left. We share laughs and memories. What could be better than that?
My telling parts of that story other day, with someone whose family is dealing with a tragic recent loss – reminded me of how useful this learning was and how frequently experiences like that can guide us in dealing with the difficult, the awkward, and the painful moments. Worse, are those who never call, they never write, and they never reach out a hand in friendship to help, to listen, to care.
I could have sent Barbara an email or mailed something made by Hallmark – but instead, I took a chance and showed someone I cared about a great deal that I cared for and appreciated her, who she was to the community and why we admired her so much. I didn’t know what to say or how to act, and that mattered so little in a call that mattered so much.
The magical lesson that day, and on many occasions since, is that offering caring, concern, help and comfort is valued.
I’ve repeated this learning and have related stories like this one many times.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are alone, ill, or traumatized by bad/sad news and feeling lonely and helpless – and then a friend calls, comes over, or meets you for lunch or coffee.
It’s not the message or the messenger, but a few minutes of thought and action.