My dog died recently.
It was awful, it is still awful, and I’m not going to write about it all except as a vehicle for a rant about the things we often fill out time with that seem completely meaningless.
Like, for example, writing a thank you card to someone who volunteered to help your organization even though they were really doing it to work off court-ordered community service hours. Or making a handwritten smiley on the bottom of people’s invoices even though that in no way makes a bill easier to pay. I do that sometimes. I have a lot of really important things I could do with my time other than these things, but something in my brain makes me do them. Sometimes I get really annoyed with that part of my brain. I think it’s being remotely controlled by my mother.
You know what else it makes me do sometimes? Sign birthday cards at work. I mean, really? Everyone in the office knows how annoying it is every two weeks to get that folder slid under your door and then you have to think of something “original” to write, because “happy birthday” has already been written 23 times, and then you have to run around and find someone else’s door to shove it under. And it’s not like anyone looks at the card and says, “Oh, I’m so glad Natalie went so far out of her way to acknowledge my birthday with this obligatory gesture – the same gesture I just made for Harry last week even though I don’t like that mean, stinky Harry.”
I feel this way because I am a poster child for my generation. Have you been doing your marketing homework? We, the Millennials, or Gen Y, or Generation Next (um, really? Isn’t every generation the “next” one? Gen X-ers are so bad at naming things.), are super sensitive to authenticity. We’ve been marketed to since we were in diapers, and we can see it coming a mile away. You can’t pretend like you’re not selling something if you’re really trying to sell us something; you must ‘fess up and get on with your pitch. Therefore, it also takes a lot to convince us that you are just doing something to just be nice, because, quite frankly, we can see the dollar bills in your cartoon eyeballs.
So I think about this sometimes when I’m making the same gestures that I don’t fall for, like thank yous for things I had to do anyway, or birthday cards from people I know don’t care how my birthday goes. I know it doesn’t “work” on me, but I know it “works” for other people. Other, dopier people. Right?
I got an envelope in the mail today. It was addressed to “The Borg Family,” so I was prepared for whatever sales pitch was inside disguised as a card. I just moved; how did some crazy marketers find me already?
It was a sympathy note from the emergency vet clinic where my Bonnie had passed away two weeks ago. Inside were signatures from at least ten staff members and notes about how sorry they were. None of them knew Bonnie and only a couple of people were working the one night she was there.
I was so touched. I looked at every signature. I cried, not like the other 263 times I’ve cried in the last two weeks from missing my girl, but because it was so stinking nice. They’d even waited two weeks, knowing that all the flowers and friend and family notes would have come and gone already and I’d be feeling like the world had moved on and ruthlessly forgotten someone unforgettable who was gone. I know they are a business, and I know from having worked at multiple vet clinics that they sign these cards fairly frequently, and that it’s good for their business. And yet I was absolutely moved.
So still, maybe some of the smiley faces on invoices are a waste of my time in terms of my business’ bottom line. Despite continuing to do them though, I won’t ever lose my skepticism with regard to the wrong meaningless gestures at the wrong time or for the wrong reason. However, it was infinitely important for me to learn – with my heart and not with my Millennial brain – that the right gesture at the right time is just the right thing to do. The fact that it may be good for business, or feels obligatory to me doesn’t, in and of itself, make it not worth doing.