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Enjoy the Little Things

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

Over the past few years, Carol and I have enjoyed taking river cruise trips in Europe. How is this a “little thing” you ask? I assure you that such an excursion is not, but let me continue.

On our most recent trip, which went from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. On one of the daily excursions, we went on a tour of the Black Forest. To someone who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and only studied basic geography at the feet of the good Sisters of St. Dominic, the Black Forest was what – a dark place full of trees, plant and all sorts of not-quite-Illinois-forest-preserve wildlife. Until we visited it, I did not know it was a large, forested mountain range of about 2300 square miles. It was pretty vast and overwhelming and beautiful.

During the day-long tour, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant and beer garden. When we arrived, we were asked to enter the restaurant and sit at any one of the large, common tables. Each table was filled with generous portions of breads, cheeses, ham, sausage, mustards, pickles and relishes—all accompanied by your choice of the local beer, or if you preferred coffee or tea. Tour members sat randomly with each other and built their own luncheon plates. The food was fresh and aromatic; very pleasing to the taste. It was the closest thing to a simple, country lunch we would have on any of the excursions or on the cruise itself. While the meals prepared by the award-winning chef and kitchen staff on the ship were excellent, the simple delight of this lunch is something I will remember for a long time. Whenever anyone asks me about our trip and what we enjoyed the most, I respond that it was this afternoon lunch, around a common table where several folks who never met, had the opportunity to share backgrounds and stories and just get to know each other a little better. The experience stuck with me because of its simplicity. It reminded me that I don’t have to sit down to a gourmet meal in a fine restaurant to enjoy the pleasure of good food, drink and camaraderie.

2016 was an extremely interesting year and brings to mind that so-called saying: “May you live in interesting times.” Indeed, this year had its many ups (after all, my favorite baseball team won its first World Series Championship in 108 years) and downs (I will let you fill in your own as you think about this). To even describe it as interesting may be an understatement to many of us. And it seems to me that all of the ups and downs we celebrate or bemoan are the big, splashy news-making kind.

As you begin to make your way into 2017, you might be creating some resolutions for yourself. Or you just might be looking forward to certain things without resolving specific behavior changes. That’s up to you. But as you do approach the next year, don’t just focus on the “big” things you want to accomplish. Think about some of the little things you can do that impact others around you. For example:

  • Read a child a story; help a child learn to read.
  • Take your children or your children’s children or your nieces and nephews to a movie, or a ball game, or fishing, or bowling—and have a conversation with them about it.
  • Surprise your wife, husband, partner by doing a chore that you often neglect or ignore.
  • Literally—smell the roses.
  • Mentor a grammar school, high school or college student.
  • Contact a local representative of our military and see what volunteer services you can provide to those who have served.
  • Join a co-worker for lunch and agree to put down your electronic devices and have a real conversation about a specific topic. Learn something about them that you did not know and share a story with them that they did not know about you.
  • Incorporate “please” and “thank you” into your regular daily conversations.
  • Volunteer at a hospice, a pet shelter, a school, a community organization, a church, a hospital. Do something to give back.
  • Make a list of five simple things about which you have often said: “I would really like to try that.” Set some due dates; accomplish them. Once done, make a list of the next five.
  • Read a book, see a movie or a play and have a meaningful conversation with another about what it meant to you. Better yet, do this together with that other.
  • If when growing up you did something that you really enjoyed—playing a musical instrument or learning to needlepoint, for example—but then gave up because of the pressures of work or family or whatever, dust off that instrument or those needles and start again.
  • Think of five people you know and respect but haven’t seen or heard from in over a year. Call them and ask them how they are doing.
  • If nothing else, set a table of cold cuts, cheeses and fresh breads. Then invite a few friends or colleagues over to make their own lunch and have a conversation. Beer is, of course, optional.

This list could go on and on. I simply challenge you to do some of these “little things” as you move forward this year. Confucius said: “A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.” Be wise. Keep it simple.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on my thoughts. Feel free to write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com.