I got my first job when I was 14. I was a “soda jerk.” (Definitely not the most flattering title, but it was a fun job – for the most part.) I got to scoop ice cream, make floats, decorate sundaes, and even yell into a blow horn and announce kids’ birthdays. It was a fun job and also a nerve-wracking job for a closet introvert. But… I managed to come out of my shell and actually had a great time.
I wanted this job because it was a great way to have extra spending money to do all of the things that a typical teenage girl wants to do: go to the mall and buy clothes, go to the movies, and just have fun with it. I had no idea that one of my biggest life lessons was about to sneak up on me in the form of a grumpy old man (my 14-year old name for him) at one of these birthday parties.
The only word that I can use to describe this particular party was chaos. There were at least 20 kids running around, all completely out of control. I had set up the tables, got everyone settled, and brought out the ice cream (decorated clown sundaes that were super cute and always a hit). I stood by for the full two hours that they were there – getting them anything that they needed and making sure everyone was having a good time.
As they were getting ready to leave, the grandpa of one of the birthday kids came up to me and said that I did a great job corralling everyone and thanked me. With that, he handed me a hundred dollar bill. Now, I was only making $3.15 per hour at that time. My typical tips for these kinds of parties were $10-$20. I was absolutely shocked, and I immediately refused it. I said that it was too much, and that I couldn’t possibly accept it. I said that I was just doing my job. Thank you, but no thank you.
I was playing the game that I had seen so many adults around me do: Someone offers to do something nice for you. You politely thank them but say that it’s just too much. They insist. And you eventually accept.
So that’s what I did.
Except he didn’t respond in the same way that I’d seen modeled before in my life.
He took the money out of my hand and said that one day I was going to say yes the first time when someone offers to do something nice. And with that he left – not leaving a tip at all.
I went into the break room and cried. I felt sick to my stomach. At the time, I was angry with him – so angry. How could he treat me that way, I wondered? He had to know how much I wanted that money and how hard I worked for it. How rude of him to take it away from me. How rude of him not to play the game!
But now I see him as one of my greatest teachers. He taught me the gift of receiving. The gift of feeling that I am deserving of something so wonderful. The gift that it’s okay to say yes and accept kindness from another. To know that I am worthy of that. And also the gift to not feel the need to play the game that I had seen modeled throughout my life. I could ask for what I wanted. And I could fully receive all of the good that was offered to me.
Boy, that sure was a hard lesson to learn! But it definitely stuck with me. Even now, all of these years later, I remember that when my first instinct is to politely refuse something.
Learning to receive is such a beautiful gift to give ourselves. Especially during this time of year. As you know, this is the season of giving – and also the season of receiving. And so someone is bound to do something nice for you or give something to you. And your natural response might be exactly what mine was: “Thank you, but it’s really too much.” (Wanting – and expecting – them to make you feel that it’s okay for you to receive something so wonderful.)
But maybe this time could be different. Maybe this time you will say thank you right from the start. Maybe you’ll let them know how much you appreciate what they are offering and give them a gift of not fighting them on it. Maybe you can give them the gift of pure love and appreciation and worthiness. Because we are all so worthy of all of the good that comes our way – during the holiday season and beyond.
And that’s a wonderful lesson to learn.
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