30 Days of Thanks
I was fresh out of college and heading to my first job in a community 30 miles away. With a tiny car – and even smaller bank account – I carefully weighed my limited options, finally deciding to rent a cheap trailer and complete the move in one haul.
Had I studied mechanical engineering rather than journalism, I might have realized a four-cylinder engine with 100,000-plus miles was not equipped to pull an overstuffed U-Haul on a hilly state thoroughfare. But the shoulder of Highway 23 was no place to be reevaluating my educational choices.
It was, however, the perfect spot to begin a crash course on the kindness of strangers.
During the next several hours:
- An acquaintance of someone I’d literally just met helped me move some of my more valuable possessions to a secure location. (He didn’t seem the least bit irritated to be helping a naive young punk on a hot summer afternoon.)
- A passing driver, noticing my plight, gave me a lift for a good chunk of my remaining journey.
- A young man from France, traveling across the U.S. on a tandem bike, offered his empty back seat for the remainder of my course. (I still have a hard time believing this wasn’t a dream!)
None of these strangers had to help. In fact, I would have totally understood if they hadn’t. After all, they didn’t know me. There was no money in it for them. And they certainly had lives and plans of their own.
But they did help. Because they had compassion. Because they were able to put someone else’s needs in front of their own.
In a nutshell: Because they were kind.
While these voluntary efforts occurred more than two decades ago, I think of them often.
They’re a testament to the lasting power of a stranger’s kindness – and a reminder that I, too, am a stranger to others in need.
Editor's note: In the pursuit of our dreams, take time to thank the people who have helped you along the way. Take time during November to express your gratitude. For daily reminders during these 30 Days of Thanks, visit American Family Insurance on Facebook.
It all started when I was three or four.
That’s when the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and other musical giants wafted through our home, providing the soundtrack for my formative years.
And ever since, I’ve been deeply, madly in love with music.
To say I’m grateful for music is an understatement. From The Clash’s “London Calling” to Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” music has profoundly shaped who I am and what I believe in. Live concerts by U2 and Bruce Springsteen have been transformative experiences that still fill my heart with passion and excitement when I think about them.
I’m thankful for music in countless other ways, as well.
It’s like a good friend that inspires me, motivates me or brings a smile to my face whenever I want. Songs like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” or Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” musically wrap their arms around my shoulders and make me feel good inside.
Music also is like a cultural passport that allows me to explore other parts of society or different countries around the world. When I listen to “The Best of Bollywood,” I close my eyes and imagine I’m walking down the streets of Kolkata.
Not only that, but music helps me achieve time travel. When I hear disco music, I’m instantly transported back in time to the 1970s.
And, you don’t have to be musically talented to enjoy music, or even perform it, as anyone who’s done karaoke can attest.
In mysterious and wonderful ways, music opens doors and builds bridges to other people. It has provided the perfect foundation for a number of friendships I’ve made through the years, offering common ground and shared experiences. Music is a great equalizer, erasing socioeconomic differences, and it can even cut across political and religious lines. I’m especially thankful for that.
Music can give us hope, and inspire us to become better people. You simply can’t deny the transcendent, inspirational power of “We Shall Overcome.”
I’m deeply, eternally thankful for music. How about you?
When I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young. A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.
What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?
She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.
Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.
But he did keep up, and then some.
No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)
When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.
My dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.
As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”
But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.
And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.
I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.
And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Everyone should have a Lynn in their life.
I’ve known Lynn for 20 years, from the time I was a green college graduate, moving to a small town in northern Wisconsin to work as a reporter. Lynn was a few years older than me, established as a career woman, confident, and a ton of fun.
Recognizing I didn’t know anybody in my new town, she swept me up in her circle of friends. She encouraged me to join a bowling team. She invited to join the group for the annual apple festival in Bayfield, Wis., where we dressed as apple slices and paraded around town. (NO ONE ELSE was wearing costumes, by the way.)
This is one of the things that inspires me most about Lynn: She sees people who need a friend, and she becomes one. She puts others first, always. People are drawn to her because of her positive, sunny nature.
In 20 years, I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. It’s just not in her DNA.
Lynn taught me to be playful and not take myself too seriously. She showed me how to cross-country ski. We had winter picnics in the middle of the frozen Wisconsin River, waving to snowmobilers. She hosted garden parties where crazy hats were mandatory.
Quickly, our friendship deepened. We became a support system for each other, rooted in a shared faith and similar values. She’s always cheered me on as I’ve worked to grow my career, encouraging me to go bigger and singing my praises to anyone who’ll listen.
She inspires confidence.
During a particularly rough patch for me, she took note, telling me, "you’ve lost your drive." I explained why. Her response? "That makes sense. You'll get through this and be back on track in six months."
Lynn was right – I found my drive again and started graduate school.
When I see her, which isn’t nearly enough, I'm energized. I'm inspired to think bigger, act bigger and set bigger goals. She's inspired me to be that mentor and friend to younger women, to help them forge their paths. I hope I've been one-tenth as impactful for them as Lynn has been for me.
So when someone asks me, "who inspires you?", sure, I’m inspired by Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and other successful women. But it’s my friend, Lynn, whom I turn to for energy and motivation.
So who's the Lynn in your life, and what inspires you most?
I’m grateful for me time – time to relax, reflect and do things I enjoy on my own. Time to reconnect with my inner spirit and remind myself to breathe again, which I sometimes find I don’t do enough at my desk during the day.
It can be as simple as a nap on a Sunday afternoon snuggling with a kitty or two. Sometimes it’s more artistic: Listening to music, playing my violin, making handmade Valentines or designing photo books. Other times it’s more athletic: Going for a run, doing yoga or dancing in my living room.
Me time helps me recharge those batteries so I can be attentive, focused and strong – at work and at home.
No matter what I’m doing during me time, it often elevates me to a place where I can reflect on and appreciate my life. I think about how grateful I am for my family, my friends, my job and my co-workers. Me time also allows me to slow down and notice things that pass me by in daily life. Like how beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are this fall.
It’s really easy to allow others to influence how we spend our time and what we do. And that’s OK sometimes. It’s fun to spend time with others. And we all have responsibilities to our jobs and our families to get things done. But time to ourselves is good for our health and helps us be better people – it allows us to nourish our souls, explore interests and reflect on what we’re most thankful for.
Editor's note: Give yourself permission to practice gratitude! Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude. Visit us on Facebook this month for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.