Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brighten the corner where you are!

Growing up in church, I remember singing this song as a child. It was quite popular with the children’s choir. Written by Ina D. Ogdon in 1913 the lyrics say, “Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do, Do not wait to shed your light afar, To the many duties ever near you now be true, Brighten the corner where you are.” This simple chorus came to mind as I thought about how we shine in our work and life.

I first started training about twenty years ago when I worked for a Fortune 500 cosmetics company and conducted training programs for the people who sold our products in major department stores throughout the southeastern United States. Often after the program was over someone would wait until the room had cleared out and come up to ask me how they, too, could become a trainer. Most spoke of how they longed to do something they found more meaningful than retail sales and they thought training was something they would like. I always tried to encourage them as I had come from retail sales and the same job they were currently doing. I always started by telling them to work toward being the best at their current job. I remember clearly one woman responding with a “Humpf!”as though that was a dumbest thing she’d heard. What I knew was that her current job was the best place to prepare for her next job, whatever that would be. The retail sales position she’d obviously grown tired of was exactly where she could build the track record of high sales, learn the industry, build relationships with company representatives and store managers, and develop a reputation for being dependable, enthusiastic and promotable. With the right attitude and focus her current job could offer her the opportunities she was looking for. She clearly didn’t see it.

Still, as I speak for companies and conferences I’m often asked about how to get into speaking or writing. I’m always happy to offer advice. And it always involves starting right where you are. What can you learn from your current job? What can you learn about the industry? About business in general? About the skill you want to develop? About relationships with people? What contacts can you make? And more importantly, what can you learn about yourself? How can you shine right where you are?

I’m certainly not a proponent of staying in a job you don’t like or where you are not a good fit. Personally I have had many jobs in various industries over the years. Some I’ve loved, some I have loathed. In all I have learned. I get bored easily but have learned that even in jobs that I found dull if I focused on learning something I could make it a training ground for my next move, either with the company or in another one. Learning and looking for new skills to develop and new ways to use what I was already doing kept me interested and engaged until I figured out what that next move would be.

Wherever you want to go, whether it’s a promotion with your current company or a completely different industry or a different field, you have to start right where you are. Don’t postpone being your best. Start today by brightening the corner where you are!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


“This year let yourself be the woman you were meant to be. She is confident, creative and capable. She is beautiful inside and out. She has dreams and desires and the determination to make them happen. She is inspired and she inspires. She is loving and loved. Everyone whose life she touches feels valued by her. You know this woman. She is the real you. You’ve seen glimpses of her in your mirror. You’ve sensed her in a proud moment. Now, go ahead and let her shine.”

--From Woman’s World Magazine 12/28/04

This quote means a lot to me. I first saw it in the magazine then later found it posted on Mama’s bedroom wall. I love inspirational quotes, poetry and reading and as we say in the south, I ‘come by it honest.’ Actually, I don’t really understand that saying either but I know it means that I inherited it from my mama.

At 76 years old she is still reminding herself to shine! Why? Because she wants to make a positive impact on the people she sees and she sees literally hundreds of people every day. Mama works full-time as a grocery store cashier. She has held a variety of jobs over her lifetime and several years ago when she found herself out of work she was inspired to apply to this store. They hired her that day and it was a perfect fit!

She’s gregarious and very extroverted so she loves being with people. All day long she talks to one person after another. She dresses in bright colors, styles her hair and wears makeup. She wears big, interesting jewelry and wears something special for any holiday. A spider pin for Halloween, turkey necklace for Thanksgiving and a wide assortment of Christmas jewelry from then until the New Year which, of course, calls for sequins. For other people it may be jewelry but for her it’s a conversation starter. People comment on her clothes, accessories and cheerful attitude. When other checkout lines are empty or have few customers, Mama’s line is full. Yes! Hard to believe but even in this day and time people CHOOSE to wait in line just to see Mama or “go through her line” as they say. Why? Because she makes them feel good.

With a twinkle in her eye, a kind word or a clever comment she reaches out to people to spread a little joy. “I feel like it’s a ministry,” she says. “Some people live alone and need someone to talk to; others may be having a bad day or a difficult time and just need a little kindness. If I can help make their day a little brighter then they feel better when they walk out the door to live their lives and hopefully they’ll take some joy along to the people they encounter.” This attitude serves Mama well. Customers often bring her gifts and send notes in addition to telling her that it’s a joy to come through her line. If she’s off for a few days customers ask about her and tell her they missed her when she returns. No wonder she loves her work!

People keep asking when she’ll retire. She never plans to. Yes, she could manage financially and not have a schedule to keep but she would miss the people. And her work has such purpose. Scanning groceries? Sure most people could do that. Some stores even have self-scanning machines where customers can check out all by themselves. Her job may be to scan items and handle the financial transactions but her purpose is to spread a little joy.

Imagine what the world would be like if the people you come across each day could truly shine! The light of who you were meant to be is already in you. It shows up in your dreams, desires, interests and natural abilities. Letting your light shine isn’t so much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘being.” Being who you are and finding work and relationships that allow you to excel.

This new year, let’s all just SHINE!