When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you’re trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.
Chances are I have spent more time in this nook than in my own bed over the last three years. I have applied to graduate school while sitting here, listened to friends tell their precious stories here, I have cried a thousand tears here about papers, loved ones, dreams lost, and risks won. I have wrapped my hands around a cup of coffee and prayed for grace at this table. I have cooked meals and baked bread that started as ingredients on this table.
It is only a place but it has become sacred. It has become the place I sit to pause and nourish the body and soul. I am thankful for this nook and the memories it now holds, the laughter it has echoed, and the tears it has caught. This is what makes a simple place, in an ordinary kitchen, sacred to me.
What do you do for a living?
There are a few words in my life that I can associate with my identity. Single words ranging from 4 to 7 letters long which I can list if we were playing a game of “describe Lauren Miller”. The words range from faith, to smiles. From grace to fierce. One of these words is work.
There, I said it. Work is a word I positively associate with my identity and is something I hope to do till the day I die. Work has not always been a positive word. Mostly because when I was young, “work” was the word that was associated with the absence of my parents. Grandparents, nannies, babysitters, or neighbors would be in place of my parents because they were at work.
Today I consider work a huge blessing in my life. Not only does it allow me to provide for myself; it gives me the chance to be more of myself. I have a choice; I could either continue to believe work is something that takes away from my life or I could believe it allows me to incorporate many areas of my life.
I am not a fan of the question, “what do you do for a living?” It implies that you do something in order to have something else. You do work to have money. You do work to have benefits. In essence it is asking, “what do you do so you can live?” It is contingent and I am not a fan of contingency because it leaves very little room for grace. I don’t love you so you can love me. I don’t say sorry so you will say sorry. A contingency creates a dependency that distracts from the root of what is really going on. I love because I love. I am sorry because I am sorry. Ask why I love or why I am sorry and I will point to my faith, not to a person.
Take the contingency out and I am left with “I work because I am work”. Even as I type that, it feels like a loaded statement; “I am work”. But I remind myself that it is one thing that I am in a long list of words ranging from 4 to 7 letters.
He Forgot My Birthday
I know I miss people’s birthdays. Mostly because there is not a huge red blinking light on my Facebook feed that says “it is so and so’s birthday today”. Instead there is a small reminder off to the side, easily missed. When I miss someone’s birthday I usually first feel like crap then I give them a call and send my belated wishes. I am only human…
But I had always assumed a child’s birthday was different. How could a parent forget the day they welcomed their own into the world? Well they do, parents forget birthdays too.
A few years ago my dad forgot my birthday. No call, no email, no card. This was surprising and hurt but when the clock struck midnight and there was no sign of his wishes, I shrugged and tried to comfort myself by saying “it’s just a day”.
Next day my dad called and I acted as if nothing had happened - all was grand, I was another year older. But something did happen, he had forgot his own daughter’s birthday. I have learned that I used to have a tendency to mask my hurt and try as hard as I could to stick my chin up and forget about it. Strength was more powerful than vulnerability - little did I know that vulnerability is a multiplier of strength.
But it is my dad, the one who knows the tone of my voice is covering tears or the sound of happiness is bursting with joy. I could not hide from him, no matter how hard I tried. Instead of playing into my game of masking my emotions, he took the brave route and went for the heart- “I know I missed your birthday. I am sorry.” My automatic reply was “No worries, I understand”. He was relentless though, “That must have hurt, tell me how it made you feel”.
There it was, seven words that cut my defenses down: tell me how it made you feel.
He was willing to take on the pain I was about to show him simply because that was the right thing to do. He didn’t ask to know how I felt because he wanted to feel bad (he already did). He wanted to teach me in that moment that my hurt was valid and should be shared. So I let it out, mostly through tears words like “you are busy” or “why” came out.
I remember that day more than my actual birthday. I consider it one of the “pivotal moments” when the expression of my hurt was invited instead of ignored, when I chose vulnerability instead of strength.
"Tell me how you really feel" is still a powerfully scary statement to me. It takes a lot of trust to answer. But no matter how scary it is, it remains powerful because it is an invitation into being myself and for that reason, I will continue to answer it.
Coffee shops, brick roads, and Beacon Hill.
These three images are a comfort to me these days. So instead of continually looking at them, I decided to ask myself why.
Why is a coffee shop, a brick road, and a place in Boston comforting to me? The only answer I can come up with is that they are places I could just be. There was no agenda, no assignment, no road I needed to take. I simply was in these three places and doing what I love to do: be me.
I am learning that structure is not my strongest quality. I prefer ambiguity to structure, I prefer getting lost to maps and I prefer throwing ingredients together instead of following a recipe. I prefer to work in the non-work environment, I prefer to not keep track of my calendar, and I prefer not to read the instructions before assembling an Ikea piece of furniture.
But an interesting theme/thought is rolling around in my life - and that is the need to show up and do. Bob Goff’s book Love Does is a good reminder to me to actually do. Being a passive observer of your life is not the purpose, you have to actually do. My immediate reaction is “Lauren, you are already doing too much. You cannot afford to do more.” Well here’s the kicker, most of what I am doing right now falls into the “structured” side of life. The side of life that realistically only speaks to 30% of who I am and what I am passionate about. The remaining 70% prefers the unplanned visits from friends while sitting in a coffee shop, the feeling of getting lost while wandering on brick roads, and the imagination that goes wild when trying to guess who lives on Beacon Hill.
These pictures are a reminder of that 70% and that is why they are a comfort.
It is never a painless moment when a dear friend, counselor, or wise mentor reminds you have lost your shine. The question rings through your head “where did you go?”, leading to the next question “where am I?”.
There is a reason I am in school, it is not to become more successful or earn more money. It has little to do with the letters that will be placed behind my name. Simply put, I love to think differently. I don’t love the anxiety of the last three weeks of the quarter, I don’t love the check I write each quarter, I don’t love research. I love the experience of giving myself permission to be influenced. Of telling myself not to immediately reject or deny, but to soak in and apply. I love that the outcome of learning is my contentment and not a paycheck.
Give me books, a teacher who is brave, and freedom to learn and I will give you the Lauren that shines.
How to write a comeback post
It has been months but it feels like years since I last wrote here. So how do you write a comeback post?
Maybe it is just a recap of what I have been up to the last few months? Two words: School and work.
Or I could tell you thoughts I have be milling over? Does work really matter? Is school really worth it? How can I make a difference? Have I “lost” myself to the daily grind? Can I keep the going and in what direction?
Really, I just wanted to write a post and remember how to write in a way that is not intended to please a professor. I want to remember why I like to write - to always be given the chance for a comeback.
I shared this video with my boss last week and you could say it has become viral within our company in the days following. 1) I am thankful to have a boss that gives me credit for sharing these types of ideas 2) I am still on the fence as to if you focus energy and attention nuturing the “first dancer” or the “first follower” 3) I think the first follower deserves the attention as the video suggests.
I do think it is a lot harder to be the first follower than the leader. The leader doesn’t have much to loose because the cause/passion is what they are doing it for. At the end of the day, that first guy dancing would have danced on his own for the entire night - you could say the spirit of the music moved him, he didn’t really have a choice but to dance. But that second guy, or the first follower - he intentionally had to decide if he wanted to join in. The pro/con list running through his head was arguably more substanial than the first dancer.
So how do you get someone to be the first follower? I wish I had a simple answer.