I remember when my daughter, Grace, was four. We'd have the what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up conversation, and her answer was always the same:
I want to be a waitress
This was her answer for two (if not three) years. It was a long two (or three) years for this mama.
While I prayed that her career aspirations would surpass this particular occupation at some point, I also realized that 4-year-olds don't have any comprehension of what's a "good" job or a not-so-good job. They only know what sounds fun. And there is most definitely value in that.
So while dreams of carrying a tray covered with spaghetti and sundaes were her constant companion, I simply told her, "Grace, you just give it all you've got, and be the best waitress you can be!"
Regardless of whether she became a waitress (she dropped the dream at age 9), a veterinarian (dreams of carrying a tray of food turned to dreams of carrying a tray of surgical tools, apparently), a singer (age 10), a music therapist (age 15) or a psychologist (age 16), what I've tried to remind her (and myself) is that in any vocation, it's by being more than "just another [fill in the blank]" that she---or anyone---will make their mark.
Through putting one's whole heart into whatever they do, they put their unique stamp onto it. The Starbucks baristas who sing to their customers, the dedicated and determined street artists who end up doing huge commercial installations, the grocery store baggers who smile at and make every customer's heart swell---these are the people who are giving it all they've got.
And in a sea of anythings, it's the ones who give it all they've got who make a difference---not necessarily for what they're doing but for how they're doing it.
This morning, after Grace and I left a doctor's appointment, we exited the highway so I could drop off some packages at the post office.
There was a man on the ramp with a handmade sign. And, to be clear, there is a man (or woman) on every ramp with a handmade sign these days. Also on every median. And shopping center exit.
But something about this man struck me.
"Wait. Is he CARVING his sign?" I asked Grace.
"Oh yeah. He's here all the time. He's always carving," she replied.
The light was red, and I simply watched him.
He had a shopping cart full of "stuff," and on the top sat a piece of wood into which two intersecting hearts had been carved. Taped to the front of the shopping cart was the commonplace cardboard sign that read "Homeless. Anything Helps. God Bless You."
Most of the people working the exit ramps and medians walk up and down the lane of stopped cars, making their presence known and otherwise compelling us to help.
But this man wasn't paying attention to us. He was too busy working.
He sat on a bucket, and on his lap he balanced a longer piece of wood into which he was actively carving.
I squinted to try to make out the words, and because he had only completed the basic outline of most of them thus far, the only words I could read were "The Lord Will."
"I think he's carving his 'Please Help' sign," Grace contributed, as she momentarily looked up from her Instagram feed.
I found this to be one of the most incredible things I've seen in a long time.
Every other person working an exit ramp or a median or a shopping center exit simply went the standard route: find a piece of cardboard, find a writing utensil, write something about being homeless, having 3 kids, that anything helps and God Bless.
But this man, THIS man was giving it all he had. And he stood out.
I never have cash. Ever. But today I did.
"Grace, get the cash out of my purse," I said.
"Um, what if he doesn't want cash?" she asked.
"Uh, I think the 'Homeless. Anything helps' verbiage on his sign indicates that he might, in fact, be okay with me giving him money."
I caught his attention as the light turned green.
"Sir?" I called out.
He looked up from his work, saw my outstretched hand, jumped off of his bucket, gently took the money from my hand, and said, "Thank you. God Bless."
He's not begging his way through his situation. He's carving his way out of it.
Who you are isn't defined by where you are. It's defined by what you do with where you are.
So whatever you do, wherever you are, just give it all you've got.