I learned today that an old friend and colleague, Craig Pfaff, passed away back in May. He had had a stroke in 2015/2016 and his health was never quite the same after that. I knew when I got a “non holiday” card from his wife that it would likely be bearing bad news.
A little about Craig and me. When we first started working together, I was 26/27 and in the middle of my marriage ending. Craig would have been probably around 45 at that time. We were not so much friends as work colleagues, but when I showed up at the office one morning without my wedding band and nothing but heartbreak in my eyes, he stood up and said we were going to breakfast. I don’t recall anything in particular that he said or didn’t say, but it was exactly the right thing to do.
Later that same winter the power was out at my apartment for 4 or 5 days. At first I slept under a mile-high pile of blankets at home, but once Craig found out, he called his wife Robyn and they set me up that night on their hide-a-bed. No big to-do about it, but it simply was not acceptable to him for me to continue (like the young idiot that I was) to keep staying at home.
Craig was both a friendly back-slapping salesman and often an openly cantankerous fellow. He decided to leave the company where we worked but told no one of his plans. I saw him, briefcase in hand, and he said he was leaving. Not in two weeks or the end of the day, but right then and there. He also said he didn’t ever trying to keep in touch with work colleagues because it never works out. I was in a total state of shock as he walked out the door, presumably never to be seen again.
Fortunately for me, the salesman side of him over-rode his melodramatic declaration of never being in contact. He kept track of everyone’s birthdays and I would get emails each year wishing me well.
Fast forward to 2007 when I made my own departure from that company. As fate would have it, we happened to be unemployed at the same time. We would meet for coffee to compare stories about interviews gone wrong or potential opportunities. I was contacted by a partner to our old company about a possible business venture and Craig and I hashed out the pros and cons and discussed making it a business partnership. That ultimately fell through, but I have to say there is nothing that makes the ego-killing experience of being unemployed more bearable than having a co-conspirator. Ultimately, we both got jobs, but ever after Craig was one of my go-to people and mentors for work-related challenges.
Over the years, our contact waxed and waned, but the coffee dates continued. When I broke my foot, he came and picked me up. After his first stroke, I gave him the ride. Meet ups became fewer and farther between as his health struggles increased. Finally, he sent me a note and said he could no longer could keep up with trying to stay in touch with people and this time he meant it. I did not hear from him again after that, in spite of occasional reach-out attempts on my part.
Ours was not a deep or really even particularly close relationship. We did not share much about our personal lives, other than maybe an update on his son Michael’s career (so still, work related). It was much more akin to mentorship, but I guess you just never know the lasting impact someone’s kindness can have on your life. I have had meet-ups with lots of other folks over the years who are on their own job hunts and I did not put two and two together until now that my coffee dates with Craig were largely the inspiration.
So, for Craig, I encourage all of you to take someone to breakfast or coffee and in a low-key and maybe even slightly cranky way, spread a little kindness to someone who needs it.
My company is undergoing an organizational change. This is nothing new. You work long enough and every organization changes. Change is the only constant, right? I was not part of this latest re-org, but I will have to say goodbye to a number of colleagues at the end of June. Sad to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to watch people leave, or be the person leaving. These situations are never easy, but I’m usually able to maintain some sense of perspective. Having changed jobs, I know you can leave one and find another one. There are good people in lots of places. Job transition is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a person.
This time around, however, I have been having a much harder time maintaining my objectivity. I have only been with this company for just over a year, so I don’t have the kind of relationships that come with working with the same people for many years. Yet I feel like I am losing my best friends. Some of them have been with the company for 14 years. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for them to think about leaving after that amount of time. It hardly seems appropriate for me to be this level of upset after such a short amount of time together. Why do I feel so devastated?
Over the years, I have had a few great managers, some good managers, and fortunately only a small number of really bad managers. I have worked for great companies and not-so-great companies and some in between. I have had work that was satisfying, work that was boring, and work that was way over my head. I have worked with a lot of exceptional people and met a few I was not sorry never to see again. Very rarely, if you are lucky, you have the chance to work somewhere with a fantastic boss, amazing leadership, and co-workers that you universally respect and admire. When all of those pieces fall into place, it’s downright magical. I have had pieces of it here and there, but it wasn’t until I came to my current job that I got a taste of the kind of magic I hadn’t had in a long, long time.
I’ll offer just one example, of many. The group of folks I work alongside (most of whom are leaving) go crazy bonkers for team member’s birthdays. Because my team is all in the field and I’m the only one who physically works in the office, they adopted me for their birthday shenanigans. Offices get decorated with super hero signs, tropical flowers, we “put a bird on it” (a la Portlandia) for one birthday, and recently decorated someone’s office to be the Alaska Airlines Boardroom – complete with in flight magazines and airplane sized booze bottles. For my birthday, these amazing people decorated my office with a running theme since they knew I was training for a half marathon. They put out a water stop, finish line, and a huge RUN LYDA RUN sign on my door. Inside my office they covered the walls with inspirational running quotes, but not only did they decorate my office, they all showed up to work in track clothes and wore race bibs that said, “Team Lyda.” I was touched beyond words. It is powerful to be seen and known.
Upon hearing about my birthday treatment, a friend of mine said she had heard there were workplaces like that, but didn’t think they were real. Well, this place is real. And very, very special. My deep sadness comes from knowing that with all these people gone, the thing that made this place so magical is going with them. I looked into the future and I am mourning what would have been.
The truth in both work and life is that impermanence is part of the deal. The bad times don’t last forever, but neither do the good times. None of us gets out of this life alive. And I think the only way you navigate through these ups and downs without losing all hope is through gratitude. When the magic happens, you have to cherish and appreciate every moment you get. I am so thankful I had the chance to work with these wonderful people. I’m working as hard as I can to appreciate that I even got that opportunity to be with them and not focus on their leaving.
My friends, you will be missed. And I thank you for the time we have had together.
Throughout my career, my work has always involved customer service in one way or another. The opportunity to help someone is the most rewarding aspect of every job I’ve held. In fact, I am sometimes stymied by how often customer service is so lacking when the real solution to most any company with service issues is to simply focus on helping people. I guess that is easier said than done, but I have found good service in some places where you might otherwise not expect it. Because I am so focused on the subject, and because it is my essentially my job to be a student of good service, I try to pay attention when I myself am the customer to learn what exactly “good” looks like.
Most days I ride the bus to work in Pioneer Square, south of downtown Seattle. The bus may be the last place to expect great customer service, but over and over again I blown away by the level of service I see there on a daily basis.
On one occasion I jumped off the bus and realized I had left my soda at home in the freezer. Not only did this leave me without my vital supply of morning caffeine, it also represented a huge mess in the freezer if left there for the rest of the day. As I crossed the street, a bus was pulling up to the stop going the other direction. I thought I could very easily hop on, go home, grab my soda and make it back to work in time. However, the bus I picked unfortunately made a right turn where I expected it to go straight and was obviously the wrong route. I walked up to the driver and asked where the next stop was and it was even more unfortunately WAY farther away than I expected to go. I asked if he would let me off on the street. This was a busy street and he said there was no way he was letting me off in the middle of traffic. Fair enough. I resigned myself to figuring out how to find my way back home, but he made another turn onto a slower street, pulled up to the curb (no bus stop in sight) and asked me if letting me off there would help and I was able to walk the rest of the way home. I was impressed that he said “no” when it wasn’t safe, but also took the initiative to offer me an alternate solution when he could. In fact, since being the recipient of that kindness, I have seen many a passenger be let on or off the bus outside of the regular stops when it is clear they have gotten themselves in a jam. I have also seen countless drivers tell a confused patron to jump on the bus and ride a few stops and have the driver give them detailed instructions about how to get where they are going, which includes not only which bus route to ride but also how to get there once they get off the bus.
Although Seattle has a high number of professional workers riding the bus, the buses going through downtown are all ride-free, so it has a fair number of homeless passengers as well. This last week I was on the way to work and a homeless gentleman in a wheel chair, along with several milk crates containing valued possessions got on the bus. This meant the driver had to lower the ramp to the curb, fold up the wheelchair accessible portion of the seats, and secure the passenger’s chair with two seat belts designed for this purpose. Not only does this take a considerable amount of time, but this particular passenger was in desperate need of a shower if not at the very least a toothbrush and some deodorant. The driver was extremely patient and before she took off the emergency brake and started the bus confirmed the rider was in fact secure.
You might think with all these lost and confused customers getting on the wrong bus or off at the wrong stop, combined with what most of us would consider less than savory clientele would put the drivers in a perpetually bad mood, but here again the opposite seems to be true. The drivers themselves get from stop to stop to switch drivers by riding the bus and they always seem extremely glad to see each other. In the few moments between transitioning between drivers I often seem them swapping stories and quickly catching up on the latest tidbits of gossip for the day. They also clearly get to know some of their regular customers and exchange friendly greetings when they see them entering the bus. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but the custom in Seattle is for riders to greet the driver with a “good morning” or “good afternoon” as they enter, and to leave them with a “thank you” as they depart, and I am always greeted with equal if not more enthusiastic responses in reply.
What can the rest of us learn from the King County Metro system?
- Happy Employees provide better service
- Empowered Employees will make better choices about how to best help your clients
- Compassionate Employees not only help people but make your organization look good
- Foster a culture of saying “thank you” which leads to more compassionate, empowered, and happier employees
Brian’s grandmother passed away on October 16 after 98 very full years in this world. I won’t recount her history as there is already a very good description in her obituary, and I’m in awe of all she accomplished. We only shared about 14 of those 98 years together, after Brian and his extended family entered my life, but they were certainly memorable years nonetheless. Probably the traits that stood out most for me were her extravagant welcome and acceptance of people, and her natural ability to exaggerate the facts to fit how she felt about us.
From the moment Brian introduced me to Grandma (and I always called her Grandma), she immediately accepted me as part of the family. I recall some family function that Brian took me to in those early days of our dating. We had been together long enough to meet the family, but it can’t have been more than 3 or 4 months into our relationship. I had met Grandma and Grandpa, as well as his parents and brother and sister-in-law, but I had yet to meet many of the cousins and other extended family. As was the case in most those family functions, there was a cacophony of kids squealing, parents hollering, people talking, sports on the TV and a density of bodies in the family room that would most certainly have blown the fire code by a substantial margin. Amongst all this noise, Grandma silenced the room by yelling out, “Everyone, everyone, Brian has an ANNOUNCEMENT to make.” I could see Brian’s mother’s eyes widen and the room went dead silent and I think there was a collective inhale as folks started to suspect an engagement was about to be announced. This was equally surprising to Brian and I as there was no such announcement coming and these things were not even in our consciousness at this point. Brian rallied and said, “Everyone, this is Lyda. Lyda, this is everyone.” Folks quickly went back to their conversations at hand and perhaps more used to Grandma’s typical pronouncements were less thrown by this outburst than I was. Of course, in retrospect, perhaps Grandma indeed saw something in the cards that Brian and I just hadn’t figured out yet, as we were engaged before the end of the following year.
Another time, I was training to run a 10K and my training came up in conversation while we were out having dinner out with Grandma and the rest of the clan. Brian’s cousin Lyndsey showed up after us and Grandma pulled her aside and said, “Oh Lyndsey, did you know Lyda is running a marathon?!” Not sure how we got from 6 miles to 26 miles in the course of a single conversation, but by this time I had come to realize if Grandma liked you all stories got enhanced in the retelling. And again, in the end, she may have just been ahead of her time as I did indeed complete a marathon many years later.
She also told Brian and I how Brian’s cousin Brent had just taken a new job after college. According to her, he was so good with computers that after less than a week at the job, they asked him to run all the computer systems for the company. According to Brent, he was just doing inside sales and didn’t have any better computer skills than anyone else there. At this point knowing Grandma’s track record, I would say Brent’s got a bright career coming somewhere in his future.
Even when she got to the point when her memory struggled to hang onto the details of day to day life, she was always extremely glad to see Brian and me. She would tell us what a wonderful couple we were (to which Brian still maintains, “Hey, Grandma speaks the truth.”) and to come visit anytime. One more poignant episode took place when we were starting to first see signs of her impending dementia. Brian and I were staying over at their house for the weekend and I was chatting with Grandma after dinner. She looked at me and said, “Listen, you can’t stay in the guest room because Lyda and Brian are staying over tonight, but we’ve got plenty of room so please make yourself welcome.” Even in that diminished state, her sense of welcome and hospitality kept going strong.
At the time I met Grandma, I had already lost all of my own grandparents, and she took me in as if I had always been a member of the family. Brian and I chose early on not to have any children of our own and I have always been extremely grateful we never got any pressure or guilt from family about that choice. One mother’s day weekend, Grandma decided to buy geraniums for all of the mothers in the family. She just could not bring herself not to get one for me as she felt like that would have left me out, so in the blink of an eye she handed over the flowers and told me they were a gift in honor of my mother and that was that.
Grandma’s presence in my life was the true gift and I hope I can extend even a fraction of the welcome and hospitality to others that she showed to me.
I cannot get enough of this video and post on The Bloggess of Jenny Lawson talking about taking happiness into your own hands. It’s only 6 minutes long and soooo well worth the time, so please go check it out and then, well, go and start your own zombie apocalypse.
I will confess I wish I could be more outrageous like Jenny, but the reality is that I am more like the group of folks she mentions who sit on the sidelines and observe. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of people who walk on the weird side and I have been told that my sense of what is funny can be rather random and eclectic. I also have an unusually large collection of Brian holding martini glass pictures on my cell phone that I’m fond of sending to people after I’ve had a martini or two, but that’s generally about as crazy as I get. Fortunately for Brian, I am not going to go out and buy a 5 foot tall metal chicken to put on our doorstep or start a Twitter campaign against William Shatner, but this will certainly make me stop and think before I choose work over fun. It will encourage me to choose going out with my friends over staying in because I already (or still…) have my PJ’s on, and it will reinforce my belief that we have the ability to choose whether we are laughing or crying at life’s slings and arrows.
One other point I will make is in regards to her recounting the story of giving gift cards to the first 20 people who asked on her blog, and then having her readers – total strangers – volunteer to gift card #21, 22, and on up to $45,000 worth of donations. I too have been blown away by the kindness of strangers. I only had 1 in my case, but as I shared in The world would be a better place if more people said thank you, the generosity of someone I had never met resulted in a $100 donation to LLS on my behalf.
As a card carrying member of the glass half-full club, in spite of all the darkness and pain, people are pretty amazing – and don’t we all have the right to be furiously happy?