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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 25, 2004 18 years ago

Choose One's Own Way

So even though we cannot control the external circumstances of our lives, we each have a choice in our response. Barbara Glanz is an author and motivational speaker who resides in Siesta Key.

Choose One's Own Way

I have been deeply touched by Victor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning" based on his experiences in concentration camps during World War II. What Frankl found in the camps was that even under the most horrible of conditions, each man or woman had a choice in their reactions. Even though the external conditions were the same, some people reacted as saints, giving their last piece of bread to a dying person, and others as swine, ripping the bread out of the dying person's mouth.

He wrote: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

So even though we cannot control the external circumstances of our lives, we each have a choice in our response. The theme of my speaking is that we all have choices, beginning with each interaction we have with anyone. We can create a minus, a zero, or a plus. I have created a three-column chart with a minus (-) column, a zero (0) column, and a plus (+) column with the heading "Your Choice In Any Interaction" that I use as a powerful visual to communicate this choice in an observable, measurable way. I often tell the following true stories of how that simple model and the concept of choice is actionable in my life:

I fly often in my work of professional speaking. At O'Hare International Airport, before I boarded my flight, I quickly stopped in the women's restroom. The first thing I saw as I entered was a lady who was cleaning. She was hunched over, almost robotlike, going through the motions of her job. There was no spirit or sense of purpose in anything she was doing.

I walked up to her, gently touched her on the arm, and said, "Thank you so much for keeping this washroom clean. You are really making a difference for all of us who travel."

She perked up, stood up tall, and began to do her cleaning with a renewed passion and a smile.

As I was leaving, she was handing out paper towels. With one comment from a stranger, she had found a reason for being!

Some weeks later I was speaking at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago. My husband and I had lunch after my presentation. As our waiter served us, I noticed his name badge "Mario." After he had been at our table several times, I said, "Mario, you have a beautiful smile. It makes everyone happier to see you." He stood up tall and beamed, "You can just call me Super Mario!"

Those simple stories illustrate in such a powerful way the wonderful choices each one of us has to make a difference in this world - and it doesn't matter how much stress we are experiencing, what our jobs are, or what others are doing. We have the awesome choice of recognizing those around us as human beings with value, dignity and purpose. That, I think, is the underlying mission of our work on earth.

When I speak to a group, I ask them not to think of what they're doing as a job or a set of skills, but rather to think about their "work" - how is what they do every day making somebody's life better? It doesn't matter if you clean the toilets or run the company, you can find a way to make a difference.

After Frankl returned to normal life, he studied in depth man's need for meaning. A study by Johns Hopkins University interviewed 7,948 college students, asking them what was "very important" to them: 16% responded, "making a lot of money;" and 78% responded their first goal was "finding a purpose and meaning to my life."

Whether our interaction is with the clerk in the checkout line at the store, the tollbooth collector, a colleague, or a family member, this is the gift we can give to them - to choose to recognize, affirm, and appreciate the difference they are making in this world!

Barbara Glanz, an author and motivational speaker who resides in Siesta Key, works with organizations to improve morale, retention, and service. Her personal motto: Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm. She can be reached at [email protected], and her Web site is

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