I was driving home the other day after a very long, difficult week. As I sat at a red light, I thought about how I had been the lucky beneficiary of the kindness of two very good friends, who've been in my cheering section when I really, really needed it.
As I often do, I was listening to an audio book on my ipod. I had only been half-listening that afternoon, mostly due to the swirling thoughts that had been occupying my normally clear mind. Lost in my thoughts, I had tuned out most of what I had started listening to earlier that day, but something brought my attention back to the book.
The author had been talking about the importance of building and maintaining strong personal relationships and sincerely showing an interest in the personal side of your professional relationships - essentially, treating your clients like people, not projects.
The author told a story about a young boy and his grandpa who were walking along the beach. They noticed that several starfish had washed ashore. The grandpa stopped and started throwing the starfish back into the water. The boy asked why he was throwing them back. The grandpa explained that if the starfish were not thrown back into the water, they would die. "But grandpa, there are too many! Hundreds! What difference will it make?" The grandpa threw another starfish back into the ocean and said, "To that one, it made all the difference in the world".
There are times in life, personally and professionally, when you may feel like you've somehow been thrown off-balance. Events and circumstances change, relationships evolve or evaporate, priorities shift, things and people come and go. There are hurts, big and small. The changes can be hard to bear. Sometimes, the pain or disappointments might seem intolerable.
I would be lying if I said that I have been feeling a sense of profound happiness or gratefulness over the last month. It would be very insincere to act as if I've woken up every morning with a skip in my step in a smile on my face. It would be disingenuous to act as if I've been happier than ever, even in light of the milestones and achievements that I've realized over the last few weeks.
In truth, the last month has been difficult. Not the most difficult of my life, but more difficult than I had been accustomed to in the last few years. At a certain point, the fog lifted and I could see that my unhappiness was somewhat self-indulgent.
Many of you know that Three Little Birds donates 5% of our net proceeds to Haven, a shelter in Oakland County. I don't mention this to make it sound as if I am some type of generous philanthropist. With granola in only three stores, and 5% of the net proceeds, Haven isn't raking in the big bucks as a result of our donations quite yet. I mention it because it is a reminder to me that I have so many things, truly, to be grateful for.
As trite as that sounds, and cliche as it may seem, when I think of where my life took a turn for the better, and how I was able to put a very painful experience behind me, it's embarrassing to consider that I could now feel so disappointed by life's ups and downs. After all, I am alive, well, healthy and doing what I love. I have friends and family. I am somewhat ashamed of myself that I had allowed myself to forget how thankful I once was to be alone and without the interference of someone who controlled my every move. I had somehow forgotten how thankful I was to be free.
When I think of the women and children who benefit from the services Haven provides, I am thankful that I, too, was given a second chance to live my life to the fullest as soon as I could get back on my feet with the help of family and friends. I can't, you can't and Haven can't rescue and aid every single person who needs a safe and warm place to call home. No one organization or person can. I understand that can be overwhelming.
Like the hundreds of starfish, we may not be able to help them all, but we can each help some. No gesture or gift is too small. Whether you're working as a volunteer at a shelter or for some other organization that helps the millions of needy people or animals in the world, or just trying to make a difference wherever you can, it's important to remember that even if you can't save them all, you can save one.
In this disappointing time, I've benefited greatly from the kindness of my friends and family. I didn't need a place to stay, food to eat, or warm clothes. I needed to hear the cheerful voices of my friends, a listening ear, and the encouragement from those who genuinely cared. Little gestures like phone calls, texts and cards from friends who knew I wasn't feeling as awesome as usual made a bigger difference than they probably knew.
I don't want these posts to seem like Pollyanna or Mr. Rogers author them. I don't want readers to think that I'm some type of super-enthusiastic, granola-crunching freak-of-nature who doesn't experience and sometimes acquiesce to life's disappointments. I want these posts to be representative of reality. The reality is that sometimes, people get hurt. Sometimes, people are in need. The amazing thing is that all of the time, you can make a difference to anyone at any time with even the smallest gesture.
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds