significance


If you have been following me very long, you know that I left Corporate America about seven years ago after getting fed up with the proverbial rat race.  I spent some time out of the corporate world to cleanse my palate, then jumped back in a little over two years ago.

My goal was to enter the corporate world not for my own advancement, but to help others find significance at work.  While this is a difficult task, it is not impossible.  Shortly after rejoining the corporate ranks, I was asked to be the chairperson of the local council for our charitable foundation. 

This afforded me the opportunity to work with several non-profits and even take a trip to Nicaragua, a country that I am also working in through another non-profit.  As I write this, I am sitting at my company’s corporate headquarters preparing to go to the board room… as the newest trustee on our national foundation’s board.

This is exactly what I set out to do when I reentered the corporate world and am very excited to have this opportunity.  I write this not to boast, but to encourage you that there is a way to combine work and your own personal mission.

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 I am back from my Nicaragua trip and will give everyone a more detailed update once I collect pictures from our team members.  In the meantime, I’d like to let you see the letter I wrote our national foundation upon returning.  My company is a large Fortune 500 corporation.  So often, we relate large corporations to greed, politics, and red tape.  It is refreshing to work for an organization that sees the benefit of arranging for its associates to perform humanitarian work in a third world country.  Here’s my letter:

I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity to represent our company on the Global Giving trip to Nicaragua.  When I accepted my position at United Stationers, I was actually deciding between starting up a non-profit to aid the people of Nicaragua versus being the Continuous Improvement Manager at the Suwanee facility.

 

Strange as it may sound, I felt called to accept the position with United Stationers.  On the surface this seemed to limit my ability to engage in humanitarian efforts; nevertheless, I felt assured that it was the right thing to do.  Within my first week of employment, Rob Hutt asked me to consider becoming the chairperson of the Atlanta Council.  This afforded me the opportunity to work with several non-profits and get a true sense of significance from my work.  When the announcement came out about the Nicaragua trip, I was tremendously excited. 

 

Every day of last week, I thought about what a great company I work for.  We don’t do everything perfectly – no company does, but the culture our Foundation has developed of giving our time, talent, and treasure through the Foundation is something we get very right.  I know that there was a substantial cost involved with this trip.  While it is impossible to quantify, there is also an immeasurable benefit.  First, I personally experienced a level of significance that I have never felt through any other employer.  I will pass this on to my coworkers and anyone else who will listen to me talk about this trip.  Secondly, I experienced a level of camaraderie and teambuilding unparalleled by any other “work team” of which I have been a part.  I will do anything within my power to help my Global Giving teammates and I know that they will instantly reciprocate if I have any needs they can meet.  Finally, and most importantly, I got to be part of a team that made a real difference in the lives of countless people who are in need.

 

I learned a lot about myself, my coworkers, and my company in the past few days.  This experience was amazing and again, I am truly thankful and humbled to a part of this team.

 

Thank you,

 

Jason Barr

Continuous Improvement Manager

United Stationers Atlanta

Hey folks.  I’m writing from Nicaragua.  It’s been a long day, so I won’t be writing a post tonight.  Here is a link to our blog while I’m on the trip…  http://www.globalgiving2012.blogspot.com/

Enjoy.

About 12 years ago, I bought a television.  This was back before the days of high definition 1080p flat screen 3D LED television.  This TV was a 32 inch Sony Trinitron – today’s electronic equivalent to a Cadillac Eldorado circa 1985.  I’m sure you remember those – if you’re like me, you may even have a couple lying around the house (the TVs, not the Cadillac).  Let me refresh your memory in case you forgot.  The old Trinitrons were overweight, consumed too much energy, and took up way too much space – I guess they were kind of like the typical American.

Over the years, we have replaced all of our televisions with much lighter, slimmer, and energy conscious (not to mention better performing) flat screens.  This creates a dilemma – what to do with the old televisions?  If you haven’t moved an old tube television in while, I would encourage you to consult your physician before attempting to do so.  I don’t know what “Trinitron” means, but I think it has something to do with using the core of the sun as an internal component because those TVs weigh more than a rhinoceros with a thyroid condition.

I took the old television out of our bedroom and made it all the way to the back porch.  There it has been for the past six weeks taunting me.  “You replaced me – now what are you going to do?  I’m just going to sit here and plague your conscious until you figure out your next step.”

I briefly thought about trying to sell it, but quickly realized that was probably unreasonable.  That thought was confirmed when I tried to give it away.  I asked several people if they wanted it and there were no takers.  Then I thought I would just throw it away. 

Turns out I can’t “just throw it away.”  The television contains hazardous materials (maybe I was right about the core of the sun thing) and must be taken to a dump where I have to pay for it to be properly disposed.  I don’t want to lift that thing up and drive out of my way to pay money just to get rid of it, so it remains on my back porch… smirking.

I don’t recall what I paid for that television 12 years ago, but I do remember that when I first got it, I thought it was great.  Here we are 12 years later and it is a piece of junk.  Actually, it’s less than a piece of junk – if it were a piece of junk, at least I could throw it away.  Now I have nice, new televisions and I think they’re great.  In 12 years, those too may be worthless.

Here’s the lesson learned here.  I like my new TVs.  I liked my old one when I got it.  They were things that I desired… things I worked to earn money to buy… things that I thought would somehow enhance my life.  All it takes is a few years and those things we desire turn into trash. 

Jim Elliot once said, “He is not a fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  What are the things that you desire?  If you desire the things that you cannot keep, you will only continue to desire.  If you desire the things that you cannot lose, you will eventually find fulfillment.

It was a very breezy weekend in Atlanta.  The Easter Bunny brought kites for the girls a couple of weeks ago, so they got to try them out.  It was windy enough that it didn’t take much to fly them, but I guess standing there holding a string just isn’t as much fun as running around, so they were running all over the back yard with their kits sailing in the air. 

Amelia was particularly amazed by her kite.  She was running at full speed while making a turn.  Of course she wasn’t looking where she was going… she had her attention completely focused on the princess kite that seemed to defy gravity.  You know where this is going – it was like it was happening in slow motion.  As she ran at full speed with her little head turned back watching her kite, Sara and I yelled at her to watch where she was going.  Paying no attention to us, she ran squarely into the side of the house. 

She wasn’t hurt physically, but she was pretty embarrassed.  She started crying and blaming Sara and I because nothing is ever her fault (wonder where she got that? – must be Sara).

Once again, I learned a lesson from a three year-old.  One step away from the house she was perfectly content as she focused on her beautiful kite sailing through the air, but it all came crashing down on the next step because she was focusing on the wrong thing. 

What kite are you giving all of your attention?  Is it a promotion, retirement, money, or material items?  Whatever it is, it’s alright to take a glimpse at it occasionally, but if you don’t pay attention to the path you are taking to keep it aloft, you may find yourself flat on your back and looking for someone else to blame. 

For Amelia, it was the side of the house that refocused her attention.  For you it could be an anemic family life, a wayward child, failing health, or the draining realization that your life has been completely insignificant because you focused on the wrong thing.  Too many people do things they hate so they can afford to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.  That kind of sounds like a waste, doesn’t it?

So go have some fun and fly your kite, but make sure you know where you’re heading.  It can all come to screeching halt on your very next step.

I spent most of the day Saturday volunteering for a charity called A Soldier’s Child.  This is a wonderful charity that provides birthday gifts for the children of fallen soldiers.  Check out one of their videos here Video or go to their website at http://asoldierschild.org/.

This amazing organization was founded by a very enthusiastic and passionate individual, Daryl Mackin.  Daryl decided to start the nonprofit as he was getting ready to have a birthday party for his own child.  As he was going through the preparations, his thoughts turned to his neighbor – a child who lost his father while serving our country.  This child, Christian, is the boy in the photo at the top of their website.  He was at his father’s memorial when the soldier in the photo presented the folded flag.  Typically, this goes to the spouse.  When the soldier presented the flag, Christian stepped forward.  The soldier looked at the mother and she nodded that it was ok.  When the soldier handed the flag to Christian, this photo was taken.  The photo went on to win an Associated Press award.

Daryl has spent a lot of time with the children of fallen soldiers.  Based on his experience, the majority of them just want to know that their mother or father’s sacrifice is recognized.  They don’t want to hear this from the government or the military; they want to hear it from you and me.  The charity event that we hosted aims to do just that.

I got to spend some time with Daryl during our volunteer event.  By the way, we put $6,000 worth of birthday gifts through a single Wal-Mart register on a Saturday morning!  You don’t have to spend much time with Daryl to know that he is passionate about his mission and has truly listened to his calling in life.  In a world filled with people who have such an overwhelming sense of entitlement, it is comforting to find someone so selfless.  Daryl is a great example for all of us.  He saw a need and put something in motion to fill that need. 

Don’t know of need that you can fill?  Just look a little harder.  Don’t know where to start?  Take the first step however small it may be.  Daryl’s first birthday gift recipient got a present wrapped in duct tape that they couldn’t even open because the tape was too strong.  He now has hundreds of children adopted into his charity and he makes a real difference in the lives of those children.  Don’t have the initiative to start something on your own?  Volunteer for something that is already established.

Saturday was a beautiful spring day and I spent eight hours indoors organizing this event.  At the end of the day, Daryl thanked me for sacrificing my Saturday.  I’ll admit, I didn’t want to spend the whole day inside, but then the absurdity of this comment struck me.  One of my Saturdays is miniscule relative to the sacrifice that the parents of these children made.

 

My birthday is on December 8th.  There are exactly 17 days between that day and Christmas (this would explain all of the Santa Claus and reindeer wrapping paper on my birthday gifts).  As a child, I remember those two and a half weeks between my birthday and Christmas seemed like an eternity.  That is no longer the case.  It now seems that weeks and even months go by in a flash.  I’m now 37 years-old and I’m pretty sure I was 25 just a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve always heard that time seems to speed up as you get older.  I wonder if it seems to be speeding up for everyone regardless of their age.  In other words, does one year for 37 year-old in 2012 seem to by faster than it did for a man of the same age in 1952?

My thought is that as we try to cram more and more into our lives, the time just seems to fly by more rapidly.  This rapid passage of time puts us into panic mode and we try to cram even more in because we feel we’re running out of time.  This, of course, only compounds the problem.

I think the solution to this problem is to allow some open slots in your schedule to allow life to happen.  Experts on time management call these open blocks of time “margin”.  You are probably most familiar with the term margin as it applies to your word processing software.  Who hasn’t written a Christmas letter intended to be one page in length and ended up with a few lines on page two?  What’s the first thing you do when this happens?  You reduce the margins.  Instead of 1 inch at the top and bottom, you take it down to ¾ of an inch.  When that doesn’t work, you take it down to ½ inch.

This makes sense to us because we have all this stuff we want to get on one page and the margins don’t seem important – they’re just empty spaces.  But here’s the problem: the margins don’t seem important to us because we’re focused on what we’re trying to get on the page; however, margins are very important to the reader because they give the page form.  Just imagine reading a magazine, book, or newspaper with no empty space.  If all you saw were words from left to right and top to bottom, you would conclude that the page was too busy and wouldn’t even attempt to read it.

Now, apply that thought process to your schedule.  If you feel you must remove every empty slot just to cram more in, you’ll end up with a completely covered page that has no space to add anything else.  The bad part about that is that every day presents us with opportunities that may be better than things we already have in our schedules, but if we don’t have any open slots for them, we’ll never pursue them.

Now I have to confess – my wife and I both have full time jobs, we have two young kids, we are involved at our church, and I am on the board of a non-profit.  That doesn’t leave whole lot of margin, but I’m trying.  Hey, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step!

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