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Do Something, Even If You Can’t Do Everything!

October 4, 2013

The trip to the orphanage was the high point of our adoption trip. Afterward we were looking at pictures with our new daughters.

This group of boys really seemed to like getting their picture taken.

Yes. They do it for hope.

Hope?

They hope you will share your pictures and maybe one of your friends will see them and will want to adopt them. Those boys are almost too old to stay at the orphanage any longer.

Adoption is obviously very important to me. Ten of my thirteen children are adopted, from Colombia, Haiti, China, India and the United States. We have been blessed with the opportunity to have a large family. But, compared to the need in the world, it’s tiny. There are literally millions of orphans, or as is more often the case, children whose parents simply do not have enough to care for them.

My lovely wife and I never set out to have a family this big. Another day I’ll tell the story of exactly how we ended up at 13. We certainly didn’t do it to save the world. Maybe that sounds harsh. Of course, we understand the needs that are out there, and we do as much as we can to contribute to organizations who DO attempt to save the world. For us, we simply wanted a bigger family. On each adoption trip, we were thrilled to see and be united with “our” kids. But, we had to emotionally steel ourselves from the brutal reality that many of the other kids would probably never be adopted. Our kids won the adoption lottery. Their former classmates understood, better even than we did the harsh realities waiting for those who didn’t get adopted.

So why not do more? What? What is there to do? Everytime we visited an orphanage we brought suitcases full of donated clothes, diapers and formula. But, those are pretty temporary fixes.

The fact was, there was nothing we could do. And we had a choice. We could either accept the cruelties of fate, or we could let ourselves be crushed under the weight of despair and helplessness for those we could not save.

So, what’s this have to do with business?

You have people in your organization who are probably doing a perfectly adequate job. But, they feel stuck in their position. I had an engineer named Mike, who worked for me. Mike despaired of ever getting promoted. He was a good solid engineer. Like many engineers, he was great with computers, but not so much with people.

Mike had never figured out how to self promote. He was happy to provide feedback to the managers when asked, but his spelling was pretty bad.

As Mike’s manager, it was my responsibility to help guide his career.

It’s been three years and I’m not even sure how to get started being promoted. Maybe I need to transfer to a different department to make it happen.

I’m still pretty new. Have you talked to your previous managers about it?

Yeah. . .sorta. I talked to Jacob, the previous manager, but I’m not sure he was doing anything to help.

Did he give you any advice on what specifically to do?

He said ‘work harder.’

Mark was stuck in the job orphanage. He was being fed, clothed, and kept from the rain, but he was really stuck. I worked with him on specific actions he could take to raise his profile and better showcase his skills. A few months later I was in the manager meeting where my peers and I decide what two people from the entire department get promoted. When they ran the analysis Mark’s name now came in first.

Here’s where the orphanage comparison comes in. There were lots of engineers on the promotion list. we could only take the top two. Didn’t those other engineers deserve to be promoted just as much as Mark? Did he win some sort of employment lottery to have me as his manager, who was willing to coach him on how to be promoted? Yes. There were other engineers just as deserving But, they didn’t work for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Mark had earned the promotion. I wasn’t simply trying to look out for my own at the expense of others.

However, since they were ALL deserving, I wanted to do everything I could to make sure that my team was taken care of. Maybe that sounds harsh. Maybe it sounds like an “I’m gonna get mine, and too bad for everyone else.” It’s not. But, just as you can’t adopt every child in the orphanage, you are grateful that YOUR child is getting a chance.

Here in Utah the nights are now turning colder. There’s snow on the mountains and rain storms are becoming a daily occurrence. In addition to the other things I’ve been doing this week, I’ve been canning, as you know (GIGO – Garbage In Garbage Out and The Broken Jar.)

This year peaches have been very plentiful. So plentiful in fact that some local farmers have opened the gates to their orchards and invited in one and all to pick whatever is left after the commercial pickers get done.

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Peaches are often one of the most expensive fruits. To get them free? Outstanding. We’ve picked 6 bushels, and might get one more. While picking at the orchard I was struck by the same thought as I’ve touched on with adoption and employees. You can’t save everyone. We had a windstorm last night. Today, this is what the orchard looked like.

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Many of those peaches are perfectly fine, but none of them are going to be eaten or canned. People want the peaches on the tree, like these.

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In fact, while picking the peaches off the tree, it was impossible at times to not step on other peaches. I was struck by the idea that just like the orphanage, we could take what we need, but there was still going to be a lot that is wasted. Wind blown peaches are nothing compared to a child’s life, of course. But, still it is hard to watch something that you would normally value, go to waste.

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We took what we knew we could use.

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And it looks great.

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I’ll leave you with the “Star Thrower” originally by Loren Eiseley, but more familiar in the adapted version. This one is written by Joel Barker.

And remember that just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do something.

The Star Thrower

Once upon a time, there was a wise man, much like Eiseley himself, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”

“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or contact him at (rbliss at msn dot com)

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