‘Daring to be Caring’: A Lesson in Character From Elbert Hubbard
By Samantha Hager
While I may be the associate editor for Cleanfax Magazine and have a conversation-invoking name to match, the truth is that I have already in my short lifespan spent over 13 years as a content specialist, journalist, marketing expert, and sales professional. I have managed multimillion-dollar campaigns, worked with major celebrities, written for prolific publications including Forbes and Business Insider, and helped scale companies from hundreds of views to thousands in a matter of months. But, up until recently, it wasn’t my successes or my accomplishments that kept me up at night and occupied my mind pleasantly. Instead, it was a specific moment from my very first job paired with a few other moments from the start of my professional career that I subconsciously chose to let define me.
My very first official job was when I was a freshman in High School. Up until then, I had volunteered my time learning work ethic at a senior living center, library, and laundromat entirely free of charge just to stay busy and also listen and learn from others. I have always believed that the greatest lessons in life stem from those around you, and much of my childhood was either spent listening to my elders intently or reading novels far above my assumed age level.
But, my father was intent that I follow in his footsteps (seeing as I was already a Junior Pro cyclist and BMX racer) by working for the local bike shop as a retail associate and eventual bike mechanic. Despite my having no real interest in working in the shop, I took the job and tried hard to fit in with the close-knit group that ran it. The owners were incredibly rude and stubborn people. Every day, they would make snarky remarks about all the things I didn’t know; they taunted me for not understanding how a Swiffer broom worked (as my mother had the old-school bristle kind and I didn’t realize it needed a pad on the bottom), they made sarcastic comments about my decision to spend my paychecks on more work shirts as I was not ‘one of the guys,’ and they even questioned why I spent so much time listening to the clients that walked in the door even though it was this that helped me to have the highest sales out of the entire team. See, I knew what many salespeople have learned from Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and countless others: people like people that care about them and listen to them. And, while that’s a great thing to understand as a young salesperson, it tends to mean that those who don’t understand this will consider it ‘poor salesmanship’ when you don’t talk the customer’s ear off about all the latest products but instead focus on what problems you can help them solve.
However, all of this isn’t what had me reconfigure my entire outlook on life. No, the real travesty came in the form of a kind gesture soured by a few negative people.
The ‘gift’ of a write-up
After six months of working there, I had begun to understand how to fade into the background and do things in a way that didn’t lead to my bosses singling me out. I did my job quietly, went out of my way for customers when no one was looking, and still kept my sales up even with all the obstacles in my path. But, I also just so happen to be a people-person to my very core. And, in my early years in life, I would spend all of my time and effort doing the most considerate and extravagant things for others as, truth be told, my love language has always been gift-giving. That also meant that when I overheard my two coworkers saying their birthdays were coming up, I knew I had to do something nice for both of them.
That weekend, I went into Hollywood (I lived just outside of Los Angeles growing up) and began my search. I quickly found a necklace for $10 at an oddities shop that was a very small wrench. For the one coworker that was a bike mechanic, I thought this fit perfectly. Then, I remembered that the other coworker was a big fan of a particular band so I headed down to Amoeba Records to find a CD from them. Luckily enough, their newest CD was just $15 and included a song entitled ‘bicycle.’ Lucky, right?
After getting the gifts, I put them in gift bags and made them hand-drawn cards to match. I couldn’t wait for work the next day!
When the time came, I gave both of them their gifts proudly and went about my work for the day after they opened them. But, when they both left for the day, I was called into the office by my bosses angrily. It was at this point that I was told giving these gifts to my coworkers was considered ‘sexual harassment’ by my bosses and that they would be writing me up twice—one for each gift. They told me they had a strict 3-strike policy and that I was on ‘thin ice.’ They also told me that this is why they didn’t hire women since they always ‘ creepily hit on the boys that work there.’ I began to cry as they handed me the gifts back and told me they confiscated them from the two employees. It was the most uncomfortable I’d ever been and I told myself in that moment that I would never give a thoughtful gift to another colleague or acquaintance again.
This situation which happened over a decade ago still haunted me often up until the other day and made me, quite frankly, angry at how some people can be so adverse to kind gestures and true human interaction and connections. After all, a gift card or a pat on the back are entirely normal and unassuming, but a handmade cake or a truly thoughtful gift that goes beyond surface level? Never.
Elbert Hubbard was right—it’s okay to be misunderstood
But, thanks to a quote I finally read once again by Elbert Hubbard, the famed writer, I realized that I had taken the wrong thing from this interaction. After being told my gifts were confiscated and eventually leaving that job on the worst of terms, I had vowed to never go out of my way like that again. I had devoted my life to being entirely normal and not ‘daring to be caring.’ I chose gift cards and fake greetings over sincere conversations and meaningful interactions. And, while I still go out of my way for those I know undoubtedly will appreciate it, I opted to let acquaintances stay distant for the sake of societal norms. However, Hubbard’s words when read while on an elliptical at 7:30am made me once again rethink my life and accept that being considerate and sticking to my natural considerate tendencies isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s those that tell you it’s wrong that really have something to learn. As he stated:
“Whenever you go out-of-doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp. Do not fear being misunderstood and do not waste a minute thinking about your enemies.”
You see, I feared being misunderstood. i feared rejection and discomfort and having someone tell me my kind gesture was not well-received. I feared it so much, in fact, that I let it get in the way of my good nature and one of the best qualities I have as a person and leader.
In this moment, I remembered all of the fond memories of my kind gestures. I remembered being 12 years old and having a birthday party for my best friend who later told me they had never celebrated their birthday before through tearful eyes. I remembered making art for my aunt and watching her happily hang it up in her living room where all the covers perfectly matched. I even remembered how happy other coworkers had been receiving similar gifts from me throughout the years. And that’s when it all came together; don’t waste a minute thinking about your enemies. I finally cast aside this memory for good and laughed at how small those business owners had been both in mind and spirit. I laughed at how I had spent all this time worried about what they thought when all other aspects of my life revolved around standing out and being a fearless ‘weirdo’ that embraced adversity with open arms. And, I laughed at the fact that I knew in my heart of hearts that this is something many other leaders have faced and have yet to overcome even though it is such an empowering breakthrough to have.
Daring to be caring for success
With this, I impart upon you all one piece of wisdom from a young but highly industrious leader, don’t be afraid to stand out in the crowd for being ‘nice.’ Don’t be afraid to ask someone sincere questions and go beyond the same-old same-old. Don’t bite your tongue when you aim to praise and hold your hands behind your back when you wish to hug. Don’t spend your life focused on fitting in and finding the societal standard of success. Instead, connect with your team, embrace your customers, give compliments and praise to your network, shares your failures as openly as your successes, and above all else—dare to be caring even when others just don’t get it.
In doing this, you will find true success and leave behind a legacy of compassion and transparency that your entire industry and community will be sure to think of fondly. After all, as Maya Angelou once said, €œPeople will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. €
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February 21, 2023