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Episode 26:  A Reminder of Why You Do What You Do

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Well, here we are… Christmas is next week, and the year has come and gone – it seems like they go by faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?

The end of the year is always a good time to look back and reflect. Just like at the end of a long walk, when you look behind you and see how far you’ve come, all that you’ve been through. You’ve seen beautiful and inspiring things – you’ve overcome obstacles and challenges. Good or bad, it’s all part of the journey. It’s all part of life, and what makes you who you are.

In addition to a time of reflection, this time of year can be busy, and stressful, and even difficult. But I want you to do something for me… I want you to think of all the people you made an impact on this year. 

I want you to think of the lives you touched. Whether it’s someone your nonprofit organization helped, or maybe it was just someone you saw in your life that needed a bit of kindness. You never know when something as simple as a kind word can change someone’s life. It might not always be so obvious, but your words and actions can have a huge impact on the life of someone else.

So, think…think back over the past year... Who did you help?  Whose life did you make better? Who did you make smile? What was something you did to help someone else? 

I want you to think about all of those people, because I want it to remind you of the effect that you have on other people. I want you to look back at all you did, and let that motivate you to keep moving forward today, tomorrow, and next year. Think of the all the differences you’ve made in people’s lives, and keep going.

Remember all the good. It’s easy to get lost in the grind. 

Let me tell you a story…

I used to be in charge of a program that gave Christmases to families in need. Now, when I say, “Gave Christmas” I mean, we found families that were having a hard time financially, and some of them had problems that went far beyond not having money to spare around the holidays… Some of them had a family member with cancer, some of them were unemployed, some of them had overcome addiction, some of them were just struggling to keep their heads above water.

We would find out from their friends or family what they needed. Maybe it was paying off a utility bill. Maybe it was presents under the tree for their children to open. Maybe they didn’t have a Christmas tree at all, and we’d bring them one of those too! I remember there was one little girl who didn’t have a bed to sleep in at night. She had to sleep on the couch in her living room. Another family didn’t have a refrigerator. We’d find out what they needed – and we even found out what they liked, too! 

One night in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a whole bunch of us would show up and surprise them. We’d knock on their door, wearing Santa hats and jingling bells, and yell “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” just like George in It’s A Wonderful Life…

The surprise on these people’s faces was priceless… They had no idea what was going on, but they got the picture pretty quick when they saw a train of people with armloads of presents lined up along the sidewalk.

Now here’s the thing – in order to make this magic moment this happen it took a TON of work. It took fundraising and sponsorships, advertising, a huge toy drive – which also included yours truly spending hours rifling through piles and piles of toys picking out what to give to the children in these families, recruiting and coordinating people to help make the surprise deliveries, vetting and researching these families in need, talking to their family and friends and finding out what they needed, shopping for them, and all of it on top of my regular job… you get the idea. It literally took up every waking moment of my life, and when I would sleep at night, I would dream about everything I had left to do.

You know that Nelson Mandela saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done?” That was my mantra. At times, it seemed like there was too much to do – it was an impossible amount of work to accomplish but then, one day, it would be done. If I put my head down, work and persevere, then everything would get done.

And you know what? All of the blood, sweat and tears were worth it every time I saw that priceless look of surprise, followed by gratitude and emotion on the face of the person who needed help at Christmas.

There are probably times throughout the year – or maybe all year! – that you feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do with your nonprofit. Don’t get lost in the grind. Remember who you’re helping. Take this time to really sit back and look at all you’re doing. Take inventory. Look at how many lives you’ve impacted.

The more you recognize the impact you make on others, the more rewarding your life will become. 

Even though it’s been years since I finished working on that Christmas program, every Christmas morning, I think of that little girl who didn’t have a bed to sleep in. And the look on her face when we brought a brand new bed into her house, just for her. With sheets decorated with characters from Frozen. She was so excited. Her mom cried. Her grandmother cried. We all cried. Every Christmas morning when I wake up thinking of that little girl, I don’t care what presents are waiting for me under my own tree – I feel like I already got the best gift by giving to someone else and making an impact on someone else’s life. 

So, take a minute today and take stock of what you’ve given to someone else. And the more you recognize the impact you have on others, the more rewarding your life will become. 

Merry Christmas.

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