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Friday, June 4, 2010
Call Story #57: What Am I Doing in this Dumpster?
Every day people are living out their call in a million different ways. Today’s call story involves a mother and a trash can.
Lisa McCarthy started a recycling program at Mark Twain Elementary School in Long Beach, CA. It sounds much easier than it actually was. When Lisa first realized how much was being thrown out at lunch time, she approached school officials. They approved the creation of the recycling program - if Lisa did everything herself.
In Lisa’s story, there are a number of themes common to people following their call. While sometimes these moments happen in neat, chronological order, more often they pop up at random times:
1. The “Uh Oh” Moment: Lisa describes the moment when she realized how much recyclable trash was being thrown out. “Uh oh” she thought. “I am going to have to do something about this.” It is that moment when we realize that we are being called to act, and our action is not necessarily going to be fun or easy. We need to do it, but something inside of us (rightly) says, “This will be hard.” In her book Call to the Soul, Marjory Bankson names this resistance to call.
2. The “You are on the Right Track” Moment: Lisa started talking about the problem to other parents, and a lot of heads started nodding. Not everyone thought she should do something about it. (See below) But people she trusted consistently said, “Yes, this is right.” Confirmation of call from others is important, or we risk misreading the signals we are getting.
3. The “Start Simple or you Won’t Start” Moment: By her own admission, Lisa didn’t know what she was doing. (“I didn’t even know what I didn’t even know.”) But she didn’t have the luxury of developing a well thought out plan, tested and evaluated. For a variety of reasons, she needed to act quickly. So she acted in some simple and basic ways, just taking the first small steps forward to developing a recycling plan for the school cafeteria. Making it up as you go is often a part of the early stages of following a call. Change expert Robert Quinn calls this “building the bridge as you walk on it.”
4. The “Oh Oh” Moment, Part 2: If the first resistance comes from inside us (see #1), the second often comes from others. In Lisa’s case, it was the school cafeteria employees who were not pleased. Lisa was upsetting standard practice that had been in place for years. Following her call meant others needed to change, and that didn’t make them happy. In a variety of ways she was seen as an enemy to the cafeteria employees. Following call usually means doing something that someone isn’t going to like.
5. The “What Am I Doing Upside Down in this Dumpster?” Moment: One day a few months in, the janitor inadvertently threw out some recyclables that Lisa had worked hard to separate the day before. So there she was, halfway in the dumpster, fishing around for juice boxes that were recyclable. It was emblematic of the many moments she questioned why she was following this call. Along with angry cafeteria workers and dumpster diving, her own kids resisted initially. “I am just trying to do a good thing here”, she thought. “Why is this so hard?” These moments do not necessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing.
6. The “I Am Making a Difference” Moment: It is now a few years later, and Lisa can see the difference she has made. Some of it is easy to measure: Since starting recycling, the cafeteria now throws away only one barrel of trash a day, rather than eight. Sometimes our “I am making a difference” moments are less concrete or measurable. We need to have them in some form, or we cannot keep going. And sometimes we need others to point them out to us, because, well, we are halfway in the dumpster.
7. The “Give it Away” Moment: Lisa persevered, and by the second year she had established the Green Team at Mark Twain Elementary School. Now many of the students are eager to join with Lisa and other volunteer parents. At some point the work needs to be shared or given away.
What is your call these days? Do you recognize any of these moment?
Lisa McCarthy’s story can be found on the archives of the radio show The story. And for another recycling story, check out Marty Resotko’s article from the Lumunos archives.
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