“Let’s go on an adventure”

A dried creek in early Spring – Salado 2019

I’ve spent some time looking back at past relationships this week, and I figured it was a good idea to ruminate on the life lessons and concepts I’ve gained from them. As such, this article is dedicated to the memory of a friend I had before, during, and after a major turning point in my life, Ronnie Mattison.

I was looking around on the common meme pages and stumbled across a wholesome gem that sparked the old memories this past week. I can’t find the tweet now, but I wanted to give props to the person who wrote it. The message was clear as day: “Life is not a soul crushing ride that goes on until we die. Every day is an adventure to be shared and enjoyed. Do not let any moment pass you by.” It was this simple tweet and some spiritual guidance from books and friends that all held the same message.

19. Nearly half my life ago. I had a devil may care attitude and something to prove. I was defiant, as most young men I knew. Nothing was serious and those who took things seriously didn’t know how to have fun. To be honest, a lot of those days are a blur as at that time things just meshed. The next day didn’t start until I woke up, and the routine of each day with work and spending time with friends or watching television was just that, routine. I can’t remember the exact reason we met, who we met through, what led to that chance situation, but I do remember the effect it had.

At first we hung out every few days, drinking coffee at the local shop or at a mutual friend’s house to play video games or just chill out. We started to hang out more until it was almost guaranteed that where you found one of us, you found the other. We worked on car stereos, wrote crappy techno music, made stupid comedy home videos (well before YouTube, thank God), shot pool, sang karaoke, and saw local punk bands.

I remember one day in particular, nothing major was happening, and we were bored. Ronnie sat up from the sofa in my crappy little apartment and said, “Let’s go on an adventure”. Little did I know that this phrase would be the code we lived by. Everything we did had no rhyme or reason other than that we just had the opportunity and we damned any consequence. So what did we do that day? We went to Taco Bell. We went to WalMart. We went to the coffee shop. Nothing was different from any other day other than how we looked at it. This became an every day occurrence. Were the chips down? Let’s go on an adventure. Was the sun shining and everything seemed to fall into place? Let’s go on an adventure. Everything was an adventure.

For years, it was like this. Through good times and bad, hardships, family issues, we had adventures. We were like a D&D party, surrounded by the massive foe of life, trying to defeat it with laughter at every moment. We joked about our displacement after a massive hurricane, we tried to bring the same liveliness to Texas until it all passed, then we parted ways. Ronnie moved back home and I stayed. We both started to establish a life for ourselves in our own ways and lost contact for a period of time. Every now and again we would check in and discuss current goings on, reliving the past moments and trying to create new adventures, but it wasn’t the same. It was around this time that I started to turn my life around and see some of the mess I had created and trying to clean it up. I let Ronnie know that I felt we were going in different directions in life and I hoped he would find his way.

The next years were eventful, to say the least, and life changed. I started to take things to heart and really look at how I lived and what I was doing. New situations arose and I could face them with a different outlook rather than as a constant joke. I finally established myself in corporate America and started fixing my credit. Then, in 2011, I got a phone call. Ronnie had cleaned up his act as well and wanted to get together and talk. It just so happened that I was going to be in town, so we met up. It felt like old times. We joked, we laughed, we had fun at the expense of everything. Little did I know this would be the last time we would speak.

We attended a spiritual gathering together and reminisced of the good old days. Things turned slightly serious as we got caught up on everything, and then there was silence. Ronnie broke it by telling me that he wished he had someone local that could be there to help guide him spiritually. I had to chew on that for a minute. I had always looked up to him as he always had something comedic to say and was the life of the party, and now the tables had turned. It was in that moment that I realized we could never go back to how we used to live, and that we were too close to be of any guidance to the other. So I told him that as a friend, I couldn’t be a guide for him, but I could be his main cheering section. I wished him well in life and told him he was free to reach out any time he wanted. And with a last handshake, we parted for the last time.

It wasn’t until 2015 that I got the news that Ronnie had died unexpectedly. It was heartbreaking and I lost much of the joy I felt life had. I took things more seriously at this point, focusing more on my career and family. Trying hard to squeeze every last bit of joy out of life through hard work and force. I lost sight of what I had all along.

I won’t say I squandered the time after his death as I’ve made many milestones since then and encountered new situations that were exciting and joyful. It’s just that my perception of where that daily joy was had been lost, until this past week. I have several mantras that I use, the most common being “what have you done for someone else today, sir?” that keep me going. But it is time to add a new one for each day: “Let’s go on an adventure.”

As in Skyrim, I can adventure alone or bring a friend and find something new. Joy can be found everywhere and in every situation as long as I seek it. I’ve written on feeling good by doing things for others, but knowing that my actions have a result even when no one else is around and which I need to be accountable for can help me better gauge between that unbridled happiness and being an insufferable ass. The only foes in this adventure of life are misery, malcontent, restlessness, or irritability. I have to temper this though, I can’t overcompensate by going through each day trying to choke fun from every situation. I can be happy and slow down to savor the experience of life if I only choose to do so.

Let’s go on an adventure.

-James

New Portfolio!

I was recently suggested to submit my photographs to Getty Images and have now become a contributor for the iStock photography site! Please take a moment to visit my portfolio if you have any marketing or social media projects in need of stock photography.

Take care.

-James

What defines me?

Originally published 7/9/18.

When we’re young, we tend to ally and associate with people who share our thoughts and opinions. It starts when we are little kids asking about people’s favorite colors, moving through to favorite music or bands, and even as adults where we ask more delicate questions like “who did you vote for” or “what do you believe in?” I subscribed to the idea that these thoughts and ideas were my attributes and would garner a host of people who would be in my best interest at all times. What it ended up doing was bringing me to an understanding that I had nothing more than a cheering section for my beliefs with no substance. When faced with this truth, I had to ask myself: “Who am I?” 

A heady question with tons of different answers. Trying to nail down only one facet of what defines who I am opens more doors in my mind about other things I enjoy and do. This spirals, and the thought has to be banished or else I can get lost for quite some time. Sure, I could list things I like, things I think are moral or ethical, what groups I associate with, but do those things really define me? 

I was raised Catholic, so does that mean the church and its teachings in completion are a defining factor of who I am today? What if only a small part of the church or its teachings had an influence on my life? Does that mean I am under a generalized umbrella because of my affiliation past, present, or future, even without consideration of what amount I am affiliated? 

We see this in social media, news media, and forums where we join groups based on a larger idea, then get wrapped into the whole group when some of the members do or say something undesirable. Now we are labeled just as they, only due to our membership of that group. With the current news cycles, you can see that the idea of political affiliation has been watered down so much that anyone with even a slight belief in one topic or another is instantly labeled and immediately hated by the opposite group for their association. It is this ease which we separate ourselves and segregate groups of people, leaving us with a smaller pool of possible new contacts, friends, or acquaintances. It is this goal that we have unknowingly set for ourselves to divide and conquer, only to be divided as well.

To give an example: I have a friend I gained through a previous employer which we both would vehemently disagree on certain topics if given the opportunity to really get into it. I won’t lie, we’ve had a few small spats in the past, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of what brings us together. We have a common ground that we both can reach, which is the core of our focus in life. We talk frequently outside of the workplace and have no ill will towards each other, but we still believe in different things. These same things do not define me, and my relationship with this person and many others throughout the years are proof that I can be more than just a political stance in this haywire world we live in. 

Over the years I’ve come to understand who I am, to a degree, and how that affects my relationships in all spaces. I’m still learning daily and finding out new and awesome things I didn’t know about myself. It is this self-exploration that help me prepare for more positive interaction with others. The same friend from the example above would be a mortal enemy had I not learned some tools to better myself and my approach to relationships. 

As per the usual, I’m going to list some terms, define them (contextually), then explain them and how they apply:

Self – noun – a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

Tolerance – noun – the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with; the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

Common – adj. – occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.

Define – verb – make up or establish the character of.

Understanding – noun – sympathetic awareness or tolerance.

Detach – verb – leave or separate oneself from (a group or place).

Acceptance – noun – agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation.

Ok, let’s put all of this together.

As you probably determined, the approach is to meet on a common ground, to be centrist on dividing issues and try to meet the other person where they are. I’ll go into further detail, but want to warn that some do not appreciate this approach. Trying to be non-confrontational on an issue or detaching from it can appear as avoiding the topic. There are times and places for debate, but in this case, the idea is to make better and lasting relationships in our daily lives, not to be a television personality or political pundit. A business or personal relationship is not the place to select which hill you will die on.

I’m not saying to abandon what you believe. Beliefs and morals are also a part of our make up, but we don’t have to allow it to be all-encompassing. If so, we have squandered an opportunity for business or a new friendship. So please be tactful in the approach, understand your audience before taking a stance or none at all. If you find you cannot detach from your beliefs on a topic, there is no shame in stepping back and saying that you prefer not to speak on a topic. If that isn’t sufficient, find an alternate topic or state that you need to step away for a moment. 

In some cases, none of these work, and people will still push for a definite stance. I had an experience with this just a few weeks ago, and taking that step to draw a line on what topics I prefer not to discuss was my only option. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing learning experience, and that person and I do not discuss much anymore. It is a shame that we could not meet on the commonalities we share, but it gave me better insight.

So, necessary warnings out of the way, how do we approach a situation that has the opportunity to be a powder-keg?

Royalty free art is limited, but fireworks will work as I’m going to bring up two topics that can cause a light show: religion and politics. I was taught at an early age that religion and politics should never be discussed in the workplace. I have amended this to “Religion and politics should not be discussed with anyone except those whom you share your thoughts with intimately already.” 

The assumption on the original phrase is that you’ll end up working for someone who has a different point of view or you’ll make some nasty enemies. I’ve been pressured by several folks in a business setting where I couldn’t walk away from the conversation, and it was awful. I was ostracized when constantly pressured in my workspace, and there was no full HR team to reach out which could have helped me. Fortunately, this isn’t a commonplace thing for me now, but over a decade ago, I was defined by my beliefs and you knew it, and if you didn’t like it, well – some choice words could go there, but you get the idea.

I do my best to abstain from discussing these topics, but dance around the edges when brought up in conversation. This helps me get a better idea of the logic the other person applies, what they feel, and how strongly they do. Is it manipulative? No. I want to know how other people think so I can tailor my responses and work towards a more common ground. This is not easy. It requires tolerance, which is not the same as acceptance. Sure, we can say that another definition of acceptance is the willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation, but this does not necessarily apply as we are not talking about resigned acceptance or acceptance of a truth one can do nothing about

When politics come into play, I can say, without a doubt, that we have no concrete evidence that states a complex issue will be solved with one particular action. This cannot blind us to the truth that multiple facets exist for an issue, and subsequently, multiple actions must take place to resolve each facet. By standing firm on a single facet of an issue, I lose the opportunity to meet on a common ground and let my one belief define me.

To state the idea plainly: my beliefs are mine, not yours. I shouldn’t need to share them nor should I need to give them. I can’t speak on yours as they are not mine.

That rant out of the way, how can I then define myself? I’ve been told not to stand on a single issue, not to use my upbringing, my belief system, my hobbies, my favorite things to define myself. Then what should I define myself with?

Defining yourself is just as described in the definition, describing your make up and character. Character is defined in many ways, let’s look at a few that apply in this setting:

1. The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

2. The distinctive nature of something.

3. The quality of being individual, typically in an interesting or unusual way.

4. Strength and originality in a person’s nature.

5. A person’s good reputation.

Nature comes up a few times, so let’s dig some more:

1. The innate or essential qualities or character of a person or animal.

2. Inborn or hereditary characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality.

Archaically, nature was used to describe someone’s character. In this context, we can see that we can use the archaic form to describe our essential qualities in an interesting or unusual way. Not in either of these breakdown definitions for define, character, or nature, does it say we must do it in an aggressive or divisive manner. We must define ourselves with character built from our qualities.

To answer my own question today, I define myself by my willingness to be of service to others. Not to be subservient or below other people, but to meet them equally and do what I can to help, if I can. I let that ability to stand on the same side as someone my near opposite and find what brings us together in some way, either through solving a problem or sharing an experience, we are all the same on a base level. Our humanity is what bonds us together. If we start there, I believe we can find a hell of a lot more we can see eye to eye. 

Now you know who I am, who are you?

-James

On Service: Rick Barrett’s Cool Collectibles

Originally published 2/5/18.

When I wanted to find new content for the blog, I decided that several perspectives were necessary to really have a better ground in service. I can only share so much of my personal experience! To really get a feel for how service affects us all, it was determined that interviewing others who run their own businesses can give an alternative perspective to service and the lifestyle it requires.

Below is the story of my friend, Rick Barrett, a man I’ve had the pleasure of building a great friendship with over the years. I asked Rick the following questions, which he masterfully weaved into his tale of running his own business and interacting with the world:

1. How important is customer service to your business?

2. What percentage of time do you believe is customer service oriented?

3. How do you define service to others?

4. How do the principles of service to others in business affect your personal life?

5. Do you believe that customer service can be taught?

6. How did your level of customer service affect your business?

7. How do you measure your level of service to others?

8. Any tips for those who want to be in a position of service no matter their field?

Here is what Rick has to say:

I started doing mail order as a kid in the early 1970s when I sold stamps that I bought at the post office to collectors who couldn’t get those issues. In 1979, I did it in a much bigger fashion and on a regular basis when I began placing ads to sell collectible used records; I got responses from all over the world. My first catalogs came out in the early 1980s and I did about one a year, which was a nice way to supplement my income, again, selling used records. In the 1990s, I went all out, and mailed out a catalog every month for 10 years to people in more than 30 countries. My orders came by mail, fax, phone, and eventually the internet. Online activity eventually made the cost to print and mail a catalog obsolete; the printing and postage for an 18,000 name mailing list was obviously substantial. So eBay and web sites have been how I’ve sold items of all kinds since 2000.

Throughout the past 39 years, I have learned that it is so much easier to help make customers happy on the front end than to allocate resources to deal with situations after a sale. Since mail order is my platform, when an order is received, it has to be processed, pulled, packed, and shipped. So my philosophy has been that the tasks must eventually be tended to; so why not do it as quickly as possible (since it has to be done anyway)? 

One of the best benefits is that customer service situations are lessened because quality, prompt attention has been given to their needs. I also use quality supplies when shipping items (rarely do I reuse packing materials for business purposes), and make sure that each order is well packed. That provides a good impression, hopefully bringing repeat business, and nearly eliminates the need for damage claims, which saves a lot of customer service time. 

That said, there will always be customer service needs when conducting business: questions to answer, offers to respond to, thanks to kind words, and problems to solve. I would say that about 5% to 10% of our business time is spent dealing with customer inquiries and needs. With around 80 orders per week, there is almost always something to tend to, yet it is fairly minimal. Mostly people want to know the tracking number for their order and when it will arrive. The post office is usually very reliable, yet around once or twice a month a package is held up in transit for several days (seemingly for no reason), and the postal service must be “nudged” online to get it moving again and delivered. 

Most customers are understanding, yet some are not, and focus their frustrations on the shipper rather than the delivery company. It takes effort and kind words (even if the customers are angry, disrespectful, and sometimes irrational) to massage the situation until they receive their order. Constantly thanking them for their purchase, reminding them that things are likely OK (just late), and that their order will eventually arrive, thanking them for their patience and understanding, and extending hope that they will truly enjoy their neat item(s) when their order arrives. Basically being a hands on person, empathizing with them, and responding exactly as I would like to be responded to when I order something and it doesn’t arrive promptly. 

Good customer service starts at the top and definitely can be taught! In simple terms, good customer service to me means going the extra mile to treat someone (especially a tough case) with promptness, friendly words and respect, just as I want to be treated when I have customer needs with a business. Think of it as the Golden Rule taken to a greater degree: go the extra mile to help someone out and make them happy. Most people will appreciate the effort, understand the situation, and end up with a good taste in their mouth. 

For instance, when I am out of a product that someone orders, I not only refund the entire amount they paid for an order, but I also refund back an extra dollar or two as a sign of goodwill. This gesture is a very incidental business expense, and the surprise of proceeding that way is most welcome, and frequently has brought in additional business. It has also helped build a good reputation, which is worth more than any sale or product. 

I am a much better seller and employer now than I was years ago, and it takes going through some fires to gain experience. Not getting jaded and frustrated at the nearly constant needs of customers is important; it is so much easier (and less stressful!) to simply accept that customer service needs are an inherent part of most any business. I have found that handling them in a prompt, polite, and complete fashion is the best way to proceed, and I believe my service has caused me to enjoy a decent name recognition as well as a nice base of repeat customers. It is a shame that good customer service seems to be an exception rather than the rule today, yet when a business offers it, they can definitely stand out from the crowd because of it.

Finally, there will always be some folks who are difficult cases, that won’t be pleased no matter what. As in my personal life, I do my best to stick with the winners and minimize my interaction with those who seem perpetually unhappy. In business, if I sense someone (before a sale) is very particular or may be high maintenance, I block their ability to buy from me, which steers them in other directions. 

To some this may seem like a short sighted effort, and it, of course, may have robbed me of a quality customer here and there, yet I feel it has also saved me a LOT of hassle on the back end of things. The time not spent dealing with tough cases can be put towards offering more quality collectibles and making up for it that way. Plus my happiness quotient is higher, and I get to deal with a base that is most of the time truly pleased to do business in a fulfilling, friendly, and fair manner. I’m pleased to say that I’ve got great customers, and I believe that 99.9% of people are really good! They simply want what they want, and quickly. So if I’m selling something they’d like, I do my very best to make that happen, then everybody’s happy!

I think there are plenty of takeaways from the above illustration of business ethics and drive for satisfaction. We see that customer service drives the business, that promptness and communication are key to the livelihood of the owner. As Rick said, his entire job is customer service! This includes almost every action he takes to ensure needs have been met.

Rick defined service in his actions: using kind words, empathizing, constantly communicating, doing more than is expected, all things we have covered in previous articles which have inspired my own success. We see that service to others in business has a direct correlation to limiting stress in other aspects. Having focus on what we can do to help others has helped us!

We also see that customer service is more than metrics, and is in actions starting with those at the very top! By living this lifestyle, we lead by example for those we work with, creating teachable opportunities with every interaction. By having these skills, his business and reputation have excelled and reached a much larger audience than ever imagined.

The measuring stick here is both in individual interaction and by business metrics. As stated above, we see that many people are satisfied with the handling of their transactions as if they were the only customer. At the same time, Rick uses metrics to supplement the individual situations as those transactions are the basis for all future transactions, not numbers alone.

Finally, we are left with some great suggestions on how to better our lives in service:

  • Communicate
  • Be polite
  • Empathize
  • Promptly assist
  • Do more than is expected
  • Make an effort
  • Be the exception

Rick has a great sense of building relationships with people, and has provided me with much needed guidance over the years. Thank you, Rick, for your contribution to this blog. I look forward to seeing your further success!

To see Rick’s available items, please visit his links below:

eBay – http://stores.ebay.com/Ricks-Cool-Collectibles

Facebook – www.Facebook.com/BuffaloCinderellas

-James

On Service: Bud Clark

Originally Published 2/12/18.

Bud Clark is a great man and contractor. He has always had a few words to say, very pointed, and sometimes spiked or abrasive, but words I needed to hear. We met at a time in my life where I needed just the right person to slap me around and remind me that I’m not so damn important. Considering the clarity in his messages about my previous and sometimes current bouts of insanity, I don’t think I can be any clearer than he was regarding the questions I posed about service. He did a service for me and my family, I hope he can give a little for you:

1. How important is customer service to your business? 

Customer service is essential to success.

2. What percentage of time do you believe is customer service oriented? 

Whatever percentage of time that’s needed will be required…100%

3. How do you define service to others? 

Time with others…the only thing of real value we have is our time!

4. How do the principles of service to others in business affect your personal life? 

Again, it is all about taking the time for others.

5. Do you believe that customer service can be taught? 

It can be taught by just observing successful people or organizations.

6. How did your level of customer service affect your business? 

I may not be the smartest business operator or be the best financed  business, but if I provide great customer service that will overcome any shortcomings the business has. It doesn’t cost a thing!

7. How you measure your level of service to others? 

Listening to the concerns of clients previous experiences, not just judging them as complainers (sic).

8. Any tips for those who want to be in a position of service no matter their field?

Look for the opportunities to be of service. Sometimes those opportunities come in many guises, you gotta be open minded. Sometimes the most challenging client is the biggest opportunity to put it into action; that doesn’t mean to coddle them, but to show up and listen to them. Just spend a little time with them when you would rather avoid them.

Looking back over these answers, I know that I can over explain the simple things. I usually recap each item, define words, make a fuss over theories and thought processes, but I think this will stand as it is. I think what I’m trying to say is:

This stuff is simple, I’m complicated.

Wherever you are in life, slow down and remember that not everything has to require a dictionary or a encyclopedic knowledge to understand. Let’s all try to keep it simple for the next 24.

-James

Gratitude is action

Originally posted 11/22/17.

It has been a little while since my last post on service, and I figured now to be the right time to explore gratitude what with the holiday season having approached so quickly. (Seriously, where the heck did September and October go?) But like I do on some of my posts, let’s get some words out of the way for a quick foundation on the topic.

Gratitude – readiness to show appreciation for, to return kindness.

Action – a thing done, an act.

Force – strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.

From a language perspective, gratitude is a noun, or a word to describe a thing. Action itself is also a noun, to describe a thing which has already taken place. Force is also a noun, describing the energy itself, and not the actions or their types. Though force can mean coercion or compulsion through threats, this is not a force we are working with in this context.

So let’s talk about action. Action, in it’s defined state, is either about to happen, or has happened.

In many posts about gratitude and action, we see some feeble attempts to relate Newton’s third law and attempt to twist it to fit. This cannot apply as Newton’s third law is about force. When talking about taking action, we are not talking about the use of force in any way shape or form. Sure, force is used to lift items, shake hands, or throw something. But it does not apply to the mental state of taking an action towards someone with an appreciation to be reciprocated.

Case in point, you cannot say that the reaction of an individual to your grateful action to be an equal and opposite reaction. This would mean they would display negativity to your positive message. Hence the shortening and twisting of the law which would then make it state that every action has an equal reaction only.

This would be more fitting for equivalent exchange (if you’re a Full Metal Alchemist fan, you already understand). As a TV show cannot be cited for a proper source, we seek the alchemist’s belief system as it has roots in spirituality to express the law as, “Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return.” As described, the gain here is one of unselfish and selfless act, that something must be given or taken to have that void filled, but the end result or reciprocation should not be the focus.

Another example would be to review nature itself with physics, horror vacui or plenism, as commonly stated, “nature abhors a vacuum” as postulated by Aristotle. With this in mind, the release of matter from within an area creates a vacuum which must be filled with something else. For example, a glass of water, as it is emptied, fills with air. We do not see the air, but the air fills the seemingly empty area of the glass as water is removed. For it to be a true vacuum, it would be nothing, and nothing cannot rightly be said to exist (Plato).

Considering all of the previous information, the action we take towards others will be reciprocated in some way which will fill the void we create, but only with the idea that what we are giving this thing (item, kind word, or action) where the reciprocated action is set to a realistic and true equivalent with no expectation. Keeping it simple:

We give for the joy of giving.

This is similar to other adages like “satisfaction is a job well done.” Using this information to our understanding, we are not in the business of results. We have filled the void alone with our own perspective and approach by taking action and then generating joy for said action. 

Isn’t that a bit selfish? To ask how one derives joy from an action that helps others is selfish could be a realistic approach, but not when there is no expectation set on the action. As long as I have no expectation from the other person involved, I feel good just doing something nice for them. If they decide to reciprocate in some way shape or form, I like to use a good word from my family in Louisiana, lagniappe

Lagniappe is defined as something given as a bonus or gift. Under the law of equivalent exchange, these moments of lagniappe should be reserved to only those actions which outweigh the self generated joy from the action alone. Another way to look at this is with the Catholic bible. In the bible, God states that those who do good deeds on earth will gain entry to the kingdom of Heaven. The idea, then, is that the giving nature of people would be repaid with greater joy than people themselves could generate through their kindness. Of course we can see examples of this in other religions, but the idea remains the same, give of yourself to generate your own joy in life, and you will always receive more than you expect. 

So to circle back to selfishness, of course we like being joyful, so why wouldn’t we do what we enjoy? As we are people and flawed, we will self-seek, it is our base nature. Many spiritual programs  preach for the removal of all earthly desires, which very few people have been able to achieve. Understanding this, we can then set a more immediate goal of removing the expectation that what we do for others is to to be repaid by anything greater than self-satisfaction.

Now, for a quick dose of realism, understand that this is not the same old “do what you love and never work a day in your life” talks. Life takes money and effort to sustain. We work to sustain our needs and desires. We work to support families and friends. This is not in any way saying that you should not expect to be paid for doing your job. What we are talking about is person to person experiences or individual moments we share with someone where we can take action to serve them without ulterior motives.

So the next step is gratitude. In case you scrolled too far:

Gratitude – readiness to show appreciation for, to return kindness.

I like the use of readiness here:

Readiness – the state of being fully prepared for something; willingness to do something.

Willingness is another good term. It seems we need to go deeper:

Willingness – the quality or state of being prepared to do something.

If we mash all of these definitions together, we get the quality or state of being fully prepared to do something to show appreciation for kindness. That’s a mouthful. Maybe shorten it just a little:

Ready to act on a kindness.

Action is now a defined portion of gratitude. As the title states, gratitude in action, it almost seems backwards. But the truth is, gratitude is shown via action as we defined. So to truly show gratitude is to enjoy something received from another individual.

We have a definition which speaks in the past tense about a received kindness. If you get a nice gift or card from someone, what do you do first? You’ll probably smile, then make eye contact with that person, and thank them. These are all actions. Now take it a step further and show gratitude in your enjoyment. Keep that kindness close to your heart and let that person know how you remember when they did that kindness for you. Even better, do an equivalent or greater kindness for them. 

Gratitude isn’t necessarily limited to receiving a gift though. Kindness can come in many forms and daily interactions, but that doesn’t mean you cannot show gratitude for the little kindnesses of the day. I’ll elaborate more on those daily things and what to do with them below.

English, Physics, and Theological lessons out of the way, how do we show gratitude daily? Why do we only speak of gratitude during Thanksgiving? Is this the only time to be grateful for what we have, who we are, who we share our lives with? Why be grateful at all? Isn’t life difficult and full of issues around the world we live in? It is my hope to answer these questions and describe living gratitude in our action to all we encounter.

So, how do we show gratitude daily? 

In no way can I say I will make a comprehensive list, but here are some suggestions:

1. Do you feel good about how you look? Show someone else that they should feel good too and compliment something about them that stands out to you. 

2. Hold the door! It’s not meant to be as chivalrous as it sounds, but just something that shows the person behind you that you are aware of them.

3. Let people in. If you needed to get over a lane in traffic and see someone with a turn signal on, let them in. You got to reap the benefit, share it.

4. Be nice. Send a message to someone you don’t talk to frequently just to let them know you were thinking of them and how they were doing. Invite them to share where they are and be proud of their successes.

5. Show love. It’s easy to take family for granted as we come home, and they are there as they were the day before. Really show them they are appreciated and do something small but special. Order dinner before you get home, or simply invite everyone for a hug.

6. Appreciate where you’re at. If you wake up and are dissatisfied, it’s time to get to basics. Did you get to wake up today? Are you breathing? Then you have two things to be grateful for! Use the basics as a foundation for your day instead of the fleeting issues.

Why do we speak of gratitude on Thanksgiving only, and is this the only time to be grateful for what we have, who we are, and who we share our lives with?

I believe I generalized this question as many people show gratitude throughout the year with little notice as the focus of gratitude is simply on this day. But this one day to show it makes the whole thing cliche and devalued in my opinion. We should show gratitude and celebrate it on a daily basis as described above. Sure, having a day where we can all be thankful for what we have is nice, but living a lifestyle where you can celebrate each day is more rewarding. We are blessed with opportunities to show our thanks for everything we have. Take them!

Why be grateful at all? Isn’t life difficult and full of issues around the world we live in?

Life is tough, and the world is a frightening place. Wars, famine, and bad news abound from every source we have from radio, TV, and internet. But the defeatist attitude of joining the supposed ranks of other disappointed people is not the answer. These problems have plagued humanity for centuries, yet we keep moving forward to make things better. The bad news will always find us first, but taking the initiative to find the good things in life, the scientific breakthroughs, the new technology, the better quality of life we have are all things to be grateful for. To be ungrateful would be to slap every person in the face who had a hand in changing the world for the better. Your life was gifted to you, a kindness done by those who came before you. Enjoy it and show them the gratitude for giving you this opportunity to be something greater.

We’ve talked about a lot, defined a bunch of words, twisted science up and around, and even touched on the spiritual side of things. But what we didn’t touch was work. As is the description of this blog, customer service is a lifestyle. We live this in all of our actions. I use generalities because I can apply these things to each aspect of my life. I may not be the top dog when it comes to true service, but I strive to make this world just a bit better. We answered the questions posed with what I think are great opportunities for individual growth. We can appreciate each day and person, no matter the context. And most importantly, we can appreciate the opportunities we have been afforded by living our life in service.

-James

Service burnout

Originally posted 10/5/17.


It’s all fun and games to talk about how nice things are when you do for others, but what a lot of people fail to discuss is the mental aspect of being in a constant position of service. Some would call this a problem of balance, which can be true for the external factors, but what of our thoughts? I can’t just change where I am at in the heat of the moment, at least I know that I have trouble with that. 

So let’s get some things listed and approach each with a good magnifying glass to really outline some individual issues, and hopefully, some possible solutions. I will be the first to say that I cannot be a perfect example of any of the items below, I’m human. I have flaws. I don’t do everything right. I’m hoping that my insight into my own shortcomings can help you, or maybe obtain some information from you on what you do differently.

Balance – a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

Balance is thrown around a lot in self-help books where people express that balance is key or important to our daily lives. Many seminars and motivational speakers can state this line without any practical application suggestions, leaving us feeling good for the moment due to the high energy message of hope, only to get home and find that we have absolutely no clue as to what balance really is. 

The mind starts to race with ideas and perceived notions of balance. We think that we’re fairly intelligent and capable of coming up with something. We act immediately. Shortsighted attempts are made, with no vision of the long term goal. When we inevitably fail, we conclude that balance is unattainable or we put the next try off for another time like so many other items in our lives. So what do we do? Where do we turn?

I don’t know you or your personal life. I do know that you want to be of service as best as you can, based upon your reading of my articles. With this information, I can only assume some of the following fit. Many of us have certain spiritual or religious approaches to leading a life of balance, using a Higher Power as the source of internal calm when life feels like it is too much. Some use a schedule, keeping diligent at work until it is time to leave work at work, and try to enjoy the home life. But aren’t you of service in these activities too? Where can you escape for a little while?

I believe the answer lies in a word of my last question: escape. 

Escape – an act of breaking free from confinement or control.

That is a powerful definition, using some words that are hard to swallow, specifically confinement. I don’t want to feel confined to being of service, I want it to be a joy. But sometimes, it feels like a chain tightening around me, without any other direction to go, until I burst. 

Escape is not the entire answer, because it can feel extremely comfortable. Being in full flight from all things and reality is not the goal here. Looking at the exact wording of the definition, we see that escape can be drilled down to taking a break

Break – a pause in work or during an activity or event.

It may seem easier to take a break from doing things we don’t enjoy. A few minutes between mowing the front and back yards can go a long way. Stepping away from a long study session to clear our heads allows thoughts to wander and our brains to re-energize. So how would someone take a break from being of service all the time?

Before we start looking at options to help, let’s look at the mental aspect I mentioned at the beginning of the article. When I’m on a burnout for service, I start to become things I don’t want to be: selfish, self-centered, discontent, irritable, angry, disappointed. And these are only a few of the wonderful defects I have! Let’s investigate these further:

Selfish – Lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Self-centered – Preoccupied with oneself and one’s affairs.

Discontent – Dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances.

Irritable – Having or showing a tendency to be easily annoyed or made angry.

Angry – Having a strong feeling of or showing annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

Disappointed – Sad or displeased because someone or something has failed to fulfill one’s hopes or expectations.

The above definitions are not the best descriptor for any individual, but they speak volumes about what we feel and where we are. I believe the most powerful word out of the whole list above is expectations. I know we’ve already gone over a lot of definitions by this point, but this one is the culmination of our woes.

Expectations – A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Right there we see the root of our problems. When I’m mentally unable to be of service, it is because of my expectations of others. Whether it is something simple, like your kids picking up after themselves, these expectations are set because we perform these tasks. I can sum this up with one phrase:

I expect the same level of service I give to others. 

When I am overwhelmed, I believe you should have learned from all your years on this earth to not do whatever thing is bothering me about you right now. I also expect you to mimic the customer service lifestyle as I implement and employ it, then I get mad when you don’t show anything close to what I conceive as acceptable. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But haven’t you felt it too? 

This brings us full circle to balance. I believe we can apply a level of practical application to attempt a level of balance. Just like someone on a tightrope, our balance will shift. Here are some of the things I’m trying today:

1. Make a normal daily plan – This plan is not something that encompasses every waking moment and every activity. This plan is your basics with wiggle room so that you don’t stress out with absolutes. For example, I wake up around 7:45 every morning, take a few minutes to gather myself and get a cup of coffee. Sometimes, I wake up at 8:00 or 7:30. I have room to be fluid in the event I might be needed to handle a sudden task. Apply this to the rest of the day for the standards that are a given.

2. Decompress – Some people take smoke breaks at work to de-stress from the work day, others sit in their car at lunch and just enjoy the sound of the air conditioner. In these moments, take in no new information. Unplug from news, social media, games, books, music, and just breathe. 

3. Know yourself – When I was visiting a therapist for some relationship concerns, she mentioned that when I was dissatisfied with life, my blood pressure would rise, and so would my heart rate. Since then, I pay attention to what my body is doing during a task, and if my heart is racing, it’s time for a break.

4. Remember your purpose – Regardless of what your personal situations is, spiritual or not, your purpose is to serve others and to be available to serve others. The previous mention of spiritual or religious affiliation can help with centering the focus with prayer or meditation (if that’s your thing). If not, try to keep your eye on the prize. Remember that service to others is a prize itself in the joy we can bring to other people. As backwards as it sounds, this joy is selfishness in a selfless act.

-James

Use your turn signal

Originally posted on 10/5/17.

Having lived in New Orleans and Houston, I believe I know a few things about driving. Considering that regardless of what state or city I am in, very few people use their turn signal. The most common offenders are those who drive expensive cars, but I’ve seen the lowly subcompacts do the same. Why? Well, with the internet, there is a plethora of information regarding people using common sense which is generally accompanied by a demeaning video on why people who don’t use them are of a lower intellect or come from money. I think that a turn signal is a direct indicator of who you are in a service role.

When I’m in traffic, and someone tries to speed up to pass me from the right (regardless of what lane I occupy), they generally don’t indicate their intent to pass me aside from behaviors I have noticed over time. These are the same behaviors you would see of someone in a service position that does not belong: focused on themselves, only seeking the perceived path of least resistance, never wary of how their actions affect the others around them. And if that person is called out for their transgressions, they become irritated and angry, self-justified even. I’ve seen this in the workplace as well, employees who step on toes, stealing credit, never satisfied with the work they perform, seemingly oblivious to their actions and how their co-workers have been affected. And somehow, these people are in positions to be of service!

For example: I worked retail for 5 years in a sales and technical position with a handful of others. Two of the team members who were not extremely technical did not appreciate that management had asked that they pull their own weight and start performing according to our standards and documented processes. The employees crafted a plan to try and place the manager in a painful position, even though his record with the company was spotless. Once the claim was made, upper management swiftly determined the claims were unfounded, but the damage was done. With his reputation smeared, he moved on to another position, fortunately in a better environment and further up the chain.

What these employees failed to realize is that the effects of their claims were not just limited to the one individual. The entire department changed. New management was assigned, processes that worked were ousted, employee morale went down. The new manager knew of the base processes, but had no training in our department, making it difficult to have a backup that could perform the more technical tasks. He was also manager of another department, which meant splitting time and limiting his abilities further. Not only did the team collapse under this sudden shift, but so did our customer satisfaction.

This example is similar to the turn signal mentioned in the heading of this post. When veering into a lane without signaling, you are giving no indication of intent or direction. Your concerns are purely selfish in that you need to get where you are going and damn the consequences. What you don’t notice is the person behind you slams into the car you were behind, setting off a chain reaction, involving multiple people and vehicles. Now the main lanes of the highway are stopped. Police cannot get through, neither can the wreckers. With one swift and uncaring action, you have affected a whole group of people and have no idea that you were the cause.

It is this blind approach to life where taking a moment to think about your actions is no longer a common practice. People tweet whatever bile spews forth from their mouths, only to delete the tweets later and make halfhearted apologies. Whole groups of people get involved in a biased Facebook post, and friends who have known each other forever are split by the polarizing discussion, seeking to prove their way is the right way. Negative reviews are left for businesses people don’t even live close enough to visit only so they can expel their twisted thoughts and behaviors in a self-righteous manner. I believe all of these people don’t use turn signals and have the best intentions. But we all know what road you travel when you only have good intentions…

When you use a blinker, you are making contact with other people. You indicate what your intentions are and go with them. You take action that is equal to the intent you show. And what’s more, you show that you care about the external environs. You are aware of your surroundings and the reality of your actions. It is our time to change this world and the focus of it’s people. Show people where you are going, and when you do, lead them. Teach others what it means to be of service to others, what they can do to make a real difference in this world. I’m not saying preach from the highest mountains, but use your actions to show what good people do.

Be good to each other, and use your damn turn signal.

-James

Daily Reminders

An excerpt of the original post on being called to service posted on 8/4/17.

1. I need to stop thinking about me – When I’m wrapped up in my wants and my thoughts, being of service is the last thing on my mind. Selfishness and self centeredness remove my ability to help others. 

2. I need to have empathy – Empathy is the ability to understand or share in the feelings of another. I cannot be of maximum service to my fellow man if I cannot empathize with their situation. 

3. I need to be vigilant – There are opportunities abound to be of service, if only I look for them.

4.  I cannot expect anything – Regardless of how serious a situation is, I cannot go into it expecting to get something out of it. My reward is knowing I did the right thing. this is just like holding a door for someone and them not saying “thank you.” I know I did what was right, and that’s all that matters.

-James