Most days we float around in our own little world having no idea the impact we can have on others. From the passing smile to a stranger, the phone call to a customer, the angry eyes we give a loved one when they annoy us, even having a chance to vote, calling a friend or family member to catch up or giving our best effort towards activities we are a part of. These small things can make a big difference. In this big world that constantly tells us through media, politics, and consumerism that we are not enough, that we need something or someone to be of value, we may start to question how our involvement could matter. The American culture is one of individualistic mindsets. We don’t know our neighbors, we are too busy to build deep relationships with our coworkers – who may be competition, even our kids spend less time cultivating face to face relationships and instead spend time online or texting. The value of face to face connections, of a hug, smile or handshake cannot be underestimated.
I used to work in the supermarket business. I had the opportunity to talk to customers everyday, and over the years I got to know my regulars. One day an older gentleman came up to me to thank me for always talking to him and brightening his day. He told me he lived alone, his wife had passed a few years back and his children didn’t live close. He was pretty lonely, but looked forward to coming into the store to see me. He had tears in his eyes as he said, you don’t know how much those few minutes a day have meant to me. Wow, how powerful! Those little moments made a difference, and what did it cost me? Nothing! Those moments added value to my existence, and brightened my day too.
Where else do little things matter? In the work we do and in our relationships. My husband and I were talking about past jobs the other day, and he recalled his military experience and training. Attention to detail, i.e.- the little things, can be the difference between life and death on an aircraft carrier. Something as small as a missing screw could shut the whole flight deck down because that screw could potentially get sucked into the engine of the plane causing it to crash. If he made a mistake reconnecting a wire on a plane, it might catch fire and result in loss of life and a multimillion dollar plane. We may not realize how important this principle is in all the work we do. As a manager, I used to explain to my staff the significance of their role. They may have started at an entry-level position, maybe bagging groceries, but how they execute their tasks were just as important as any other position in the store. They interact with customers, so they represent the face of the business. If they are rude, or pack something wrong, the customer may not come back, resulting in loss of sales potentially $100 per week, $5,200 per year. If they share their bad experience with 10 people we could lose $52,000 per year. That loss could result in 2 people losing their jobs. Think about it, if you go to the doctor for surgery and after they have sewn you up realizes an instrument is missing, would it be okay to just leave it? It is just a small item, it’s “not that big a deal”, right? I am sure many of you would disagree, but in all aspects of what we do if we think in these terms, it may change how we deliver in the work we do. In essence, one small interaction that seem like no big deal, has the potential to create personal and business hardships.
You ever catch yourself giving less than you know you are capable of? How does it feel? Does it add value to the life you live and those around you? For me, I just feel disappointed. You know how it is, rushing through the grocery store or working on a project at work. You get all caught up and don’t notice people around you. You become so consumed you don’t even think to smile to a passerby or ask a coworker about their weekend. In those moments you could miss something beneficial. That is why it is important to do little things for yourself too. Take care of you. Sometimes we lose our motivation and passion when we clutter too many things into our lives. So, taking a moment here and there to center yourself and create space in your mind can give you clarity, peace. Like they tell you on an airplane, you have to put the oxygen on yourself before helping others. Life can get crazy and seem like there isn’t time even for five minutes a day, but taking that time may do wonders to keep you focused on your passions so you can make time to do the little things for others.
As a case manager, I have worked with Veterans who may have gotten off track with their goals. Just by sending a quick email to let them know I am in their corner, to encourage their progress, can be the difference between them completing their program or not. When it comes to building and strengthening relationships, a simple word, a knowing look, or an act of service can change the climate. For example, I know the moment I fell in love with my husband. I had just purchased a house when we met. Not only did he help me move, but he also assisted with painting and yard work. It was that hot summer day, when we had been shoveling loads of red lava rocks and replanting the horrid landscaping that caused me to pause for a moment, and see him in a different way. Who wants to do yard work? Who wants to do yard work in the heat? Not me, that is for sure! And, here this man was doing it because he cared about me. Even doing the dishes, or cooking a special meal can lift the mood and encourage a deeper connection. It is in those moments when you make the effort for another, for no personal gain that can change your point of view. Making small gestures, paying attention to the little things, doing the unexpected and paying it forward can have lasting intrinsic effects on you and in the world around you.