Get a Life in Which You are Generous

“Get a Life in Which You Are Generous”

In May, the TED-Ed blog had a post called “10 Inspiring Commencement Speeches About Creativity and Courage.” The post features little blurbs from the speeches, but you can read the speeches in their entirety, which I haven’t yet, by clicking on the names of the speakers.

Here are some of the blurbs that stick out to me:

-From Maya Angelou: “Speak to people you don’t know. Say good morning, good morning. You have no idea what you may have done for someone. She may have just hung up the phone from having a nurse say, ‘Miss Jones, the doctor wants you to come back in, he’s not satisfied with these X-rays.’ You don’t know.”

I think about this when I am in contact with customer service people. I think about this when I am helping students at the library, too. We don’t know all of their stories, but to quote our retired library media technician, “Each one has a story.”

If you’re looking for something specific you can do in this regard, a newer friend of mine who teaches third grade says one positive thing to five people a day.

-From Shonda Rimes: “Focus on something outside yourself.”

My service to the community has definitely suffered during the last year or two. While I don’t talk about it much, my faith is important to me, but I have been passive about it the last year or two, so I think there’s a correlation there. It might just honestly be my struggle to adapt to the commuter life.

-From Anna Quindlen: “Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.”

I’m definitely learning how to “best treasure my connection to others.” I have a friend with chronic illness who has written about the time she spent on academics before becoming very ill. (She was the graduate assistant at the Writing Center when I was an undergraduate, and we were both hired full-time at the community college district at the same time.) I have never told her how much that post hit home. It really made me re-evaluate myself, how obsessive my career has become. She writes:

Part of that drive was never ever taking time off and I neglected my friends, family, hobbies, myself. I could never just slow down and enjoy life. I’m still learning this lesson but I’m getting there. I’ve had to reevaluate my values also. My value doesn’t reside only in work and achievement. I look at my husband napping on our couch spooning our cat and that fills me with bliss. I watch crappy tv with my parents and know that time is valuable. I play board games with friends and destroy them (with love and tenderness). We taunt each other and ridicule each other’s mothers, and it’s brilliant. When I make hard choices to protect my health, I see value. It’s cliché, but I learned a good, difficult lesson the last two years that was invaluable: focusing just on a career is a zero-sum game. I am already surrounded by what fulfills me.

I definitely started to view things like family, friends, and exercise as “things to focus on when I am not busy,” which meant I wasn’t investing in these important things. I am going out a little more, spending time with friends and family. I am not great at it, but I am trying to change my habits.

I really like Quindlen’s idea about writing a letter to people. Earlier this summer, I sent a card via snail mail to a friend of mine who has been having a rough time. It cheered her up. While there was a time in my life that I really enjoyed making cards, I now have a ready-supply of blank note cards handy, mostly for thank you cards, but I think I will go on a monthly card-writing campaign now. I can commit to 12 cards.

How do you live generously? Is it something you struggle with?

I’m off to celebrate my sister who is another year older today. We’re not really doing anything special, but regular life is special. ❤

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