Sometimes the unexpected can hit you out of nowhere and change the way to see the world. Recently, when I was in Houston teaching a leadership development and sales workshop to groups of sales managers it happened to me.
Part of my standing agreement with the company I was teaching was that I’d provide the breakfast if they supplied the people. A pretty even exchange I thought. Little did I know at the time that I’d end up walking away with much more than I had initially thought.
The first day was like most. I awoke at my hotel, made the normal call home to tell my wife that I missed her, then hopped in the shower and got ready for another day. Normal day, normal routine.
Fulfilling my agreement, I swung by the local donut shop, cruised through the line at their quick and convenient drive thru, ordered the morning treats and sped off to the workshop. The group loved them of course and the session went off without a hitch. A good burst of sugar in the morning does wonders for a sleepy-eyed group.
I walked away at the end of the day feeling good. The workshop was a hit and the team seemed to learn many new things to apply in their leadership lives. It was good. Not life changing exactly, but I thought I contributed to the world in a positive way. Can’t be too disappointed with that.
I then headed back to the hotel, had dinner alone in the restaurant and went to bed to rest up and begin again the next day.
Again, the morning started in a similar fashion. Alarm, phone call, shower, etc. This day, however for some unexplained reason, I was feeling a bit down. Not sure exactly what the reason was. Perhaps the travel, being away from home, maybe the repetition of teaching a class I’ve taught a thousand times. Maybe just the solitude. Days and weeks on the road can do that sometimes.
This morning however, everything changed.
On my way to the meeting when I pulled into the donut shop parking lot, there was an extremely long line at the drive thru. Annoyed and running a little behind schedule on an already gloomy morning, I reluctantly swung into the nearest parking space, scrambled out of the car and headed inside to see if I could cut off a few minutes of my wait time.
Of course, there was a line inside as well, but it was shorter. But that wasn’t my biggest surprise. Instantly upon entering I was smacked in the face by the most amazing and delicious odor of freshly baked donuts. Now, I am not exaggerating here. This smell literally stopped me cold in my tracks. My dark, grumpy demeanor washed away in this glorious new scent, as what felt like the weight of an elephant was lifted from my shoulders. I couldn’t help but comment out loud on the wonderful smell, and quickly the lady in front of me turned, smiled and agreed saying, “I love this place!”. The person behind me laughingly agreed and soon the whole line joined in laughing and talking with each other as if we had all been lifelong friends. You don’t see this in the drive thru.
Interestingly, the staff that worked there seemed surprisingly unaware of the power of the magical aroma in their midst. As we commented on how wonderful it was, we could see them pause, take a deep breath as if for the first time, and grin ear to ear along with the rest of us as we anxiously awaited the sweet treats.
Okay. You may be thinking that I’m a bit crazy, or at least a crazy donut lover. Maybe I’m a bit of both, but I will tell you that this was a truly transformational moment for me, as it may very well have been for my new donut friends.
Upon exiting, with a lot of reluctance I must say, I considered the power of that experience. How many times have I taken the little things in life for granted? How many times have I been in so much of a hurry that the moments that might have been otherwise special were ignored? How often have I truly stopped to “Smell the Donuts?”
This discovery got me a bit choked up, to be honest. I love the work that I do very much and I accept that it calls me away from home from time to time, but is it worth it? Am I making it worth it? Could I make it worth it?
That is the real question. I could easily just remain a sheep and drudgingly follow the normal routine day after day like many of us do, but could I get even more out of it? Could I manage my time and my actions a little differently so that I could connect with the world in a stronger way and at the same time fill my own cup with more new and exciting experiences?
That day at the workshop I embraced all of the experiences…getting to know the participants at a much deeper level, walking them through the program and nurturing their growth along the way. I really listened to their struggles, guided them to own their choices, overcome the obstacles within their control, and work hard to positively influence the rest. Everything was new again. The content, the flow, the activities, all the elements of the class meant much more… to them and to me.
As I left the session that afternoon, I reflected on the contrast between the two days. The first one, which I initially thought was a great session, ultimately paled in comparison. This day I was walking out feeling even more energized and inspired, and in fact felt so alive that I skipped dinner at the hotel, and instead grabbed my camera and headed into downtown Houston to stretch my creative mind and capture life around me.
Outside of my regular work, I am also a freelance photographer with my wife, but I dedicate very little time to just simply being creative. Normally my photo work is very structured. Weddings, senior pictures, family portraits and corporate headshots consume my creative space. While I literally love doing those types of shots, I never simply walk around looking for beauty, structure, or even amazing light in the world on an average Wednesday afternoon.
But this day I made a conscious choice to let everything else wash away and spend time just experiencing life through the lens of my camera. I strolled the city streets, snapping away at anything that caught my eye. Things that I normally would just walk past, now jumped out as exciting new subjects in my frame. Skyscrapers and old historical buildings contrasted together in amazing light, flowers and trees were more vibrant than ever, and even a fire hydrant spewing water made me stop and click my shutter.
It was only a couple of hours out of my day, but it felt like a week. It was fresh and invigorating in a way that kept reinforcing my new perspective and kept fueling my creativity and energy throughout the early evening.
As I finally walked into my hotel room and laid my head on the pillow, I was physically exhausted, but at the same time more alive and energized inside than I had been in a long time.
The next morning, I had one final group to teach, but this time I leapt out of bed, told my wife that I loved her and headed to the donut shop.
This time the drive thru line was empty. What do you think I did? Of course, I skipped the old “Drive Thru of Life” and headed inside.
This time my choice was intentional. I chose to stop and smell the donuts.
I challenge you to do the same.