Originally published over a year ago, on my old website, here is my most popular, non-photography related article. Because of it’s popularity, I thought it was worthy of inclusion here on Online Photography Training.
A Short Story…
Like many, when a new year rolls along I tend to get reflective. Most of the time I look back with fondness of past things that were enjoyable and realize how appreciative I am to be where I am now. Sometimes my reflective thoughts are superficial but others are quite deep. This post has nothing to do with photography – I just would like to talk about one of the deeper reflective thoughts I often think of. It may be a boring story, I don’t know, but to me it’s quite important, even life changing. Allow me to share…
Almost forty years ago, I had an interaction with a person that changed my life forever. Now, don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t a cataclysmic, clouds opening to heaven type of revelation. Not at all. It was a simple, subtle and unassuming type of encounter but it changed me forever and made me, to a large part, who I am today.
When I was eighteen I worked at a local supermarket and moonlighted as a photographer’s assistant. On top of that, I was going to college full time and dating quite a bit so I guess I was a pretty normal eighteen-year-old. One of the many jobs I had at the supermarket was one of a Receiver. The receiver came in at six in the morning, unlocked the back door and received various goods from the many vendors that sold to the store. Wonder Bread, Pepsi, Coke, Lay’s Potato Chips to name a few. Anyway, one Saturday morning I was late. The day before I worked as a stock clerk and that same evening I was the second shooter at a wedding after which I still found time, and thought it was wise, to meet my friends for a nightcap at a local night club. I rolled into work about a half hour late and was promptly chewed out by one of the assistant managers. I proceeded to open the back door and immediately was showered with derision from the various drivers that were waiting for me to arrive.
Delivery people in general are always in a hurry. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible and on to their next customer. I was late and now I was making them late. They weren’t happy. Even on the days when I wasn’t late, they would tend to give me a hard time anyway. Most of them were men over thirty and I was this eighteen-year-old, pimply faced kid that had to count what they brought in to make sure they weren’t trying to rip off the company I worked for. To them, I never would count fast enough or sign their paperwork quick enough. I was an impediment to them getting their job done.
On this fine morning, I wasn’t going to take any of their crap. I told them to lineup and shut up and proceeded to count the bags of chips laid out before me in the most careful, deliberate manner possible while the Pepsi guy fumed and the donut dude mumbled.
I got through the initial morning rush without incident and finally had a lull in activity which allowed me to chart and file all the paperwork required for those deliveries. Whilst doing so, I heard a vehicle backup to the loading dock and within a minute or two, a diminutive man, Italian in heritage and very near retirement came in telling me that he was from maintenance and he was bringing some material in for a remodel that would be happening soon.
“Go right ahead”, I said
He looked at me in a bit of an odd way, kind of shrugged, proceed to his truck then returned with a 4’x8’ particle board panel he was sliding across the cement floor. I pointed to an area against the wall where he could place it. He slid it over and went back to his truck only to return with another, then another, then another.
I’m a bit curious of how much of this stuff he’s bringing in so I peek over and see he has at least thirty sheets left on his truck.
Now, I usually would help the drivers whenever possible but on this specific morning, I would have none of that. I still stung by the chew-out I received from my boss and I was certain I mumbled something like, “This job isn’t worth $3.15 an hour”, so I chose instead to stand there and do my best to ignore this sixty-odd something year-old man, drag sheet after sheet into the storeroom while I tried my best to look busy doing paperwork.
When he finally finished, he brought his paperwork over to me to sign, he was breathing a bit heavy and he said,
“You know, I’ve worked for this company for 38 years. I’m going to retire in September.”
“That’s great, congratulations.” I said.
“That’s not the point of my story,” he said “I’ve worked for this company for 38 years and I’ve seen many come and go and many more who have worked with me for years and you know what? Those that came in and knew everything before they even had begun, and never offered to help any of their coworkers, they were the ones that never lasted. They weren’t fired either, at least not most of them. They usually quit because they were never happy and nothing could make them happy, but the guys that were helpful and friendly and willing to lend a hand, I still work with them today and they’re amongst my dearest friends.”
I’m not sure what my face was showing. I knew he was, in the most subtle, friendly way possible ripping me a new butthole. A well-deserved one I might add but I think I just kind of stood there looking at him. He chose to pause a second or two to let what he said sink into my cranium then he picked up his paperwork and gently patted me on the shoulder and said, “Take care young man” as he turned to leave.
Now I wish I could say that I changed overnight but the truth is, I didn’t, but what he said to me always has stayed with me and drifts from my subconscious to my conscious quite often and always when I’m in a reflective mood.
Eventually, I did begin to help anyone that needed my help. It might be as simple as the elderly lady that was confused at the ATM, or the guy that is down on his luck outside of the coffee shop asking me if I could spare some change and finally, in my own feeble way, helping people with their photography.
Once I changed my attitude to one of a giver (If I may call myself that), there are three things that became apparent to me and I’d like to share them with you. Two are good and one is bad.
First the good…
Once you get in the flow of helping people every day, no matter how small the action, your entire attitude changes. You’ll find that you care about all people no matter where they’re from, what they do or how they look. You’re just there to help, human to human. Nothing more, nothing less.
The other good thing is that you notice and appreciate beauty but more importantly, you’ll see the beauty in the mundane… the beauty most people miss because they’re too busy living inside of their head. You’re now living in the world and see it, feel it and experience it, in every way, on a much more personal level.
I believe that fact alone has made me a better photographer but more importantly, I hope those two things, make me a better person.
Now, I mentioned that there is one bad thing that comes from all of this. Allow me to explain.
You might think once you show you care, and you help people, suddenly all around you will be super nice to you and treat you with some type of new found respect. Unfortunately, that will not happen.
Many will still treat you like crap, they’ll talk behind your back or be envious of the car you drive, the success you achieve or even the pompadour of your hair. No matter your best effort, some will still be disappointed in you or unhappy with you.
But you know what?
It won’t bother you as much when people treat you that way because deep down, you know you’re trying to make a difference.
You’re trying your best to make a difference.
It’s too bad the negative people cannot say the same about themselves because if they too did their best to help others, we’d all be living in a better world.
I can honestly say that I am who I am because of what that diminutive man said to me almost forty years ago and I try every single day to be the man I want to be. I’m not there yet but I’m trying.