For the past few years, we have been packing up our kiddos and flying them around the world as we look for purpose and meaning in our own lives. A few years ago we began vaccinating dogs for rabies in remote parts of Malawi and Zambia. What started as a few ragtag volunteers showing up at a cattle station with a couple of coolers full of vaccines has grown into a full-fledged charity. After a harrowing but exhilarating couple of hours vaccinating bush dogs at a rapid-fire pace, we patted ourselves on the back, dubbed our team of vaccinators the Rabies Warriors, and were smugly proud of ourselves for showing up and doing good and making a difference.
During the day we were recording pertinent details such as the dog's name, age, etc. We had quite a few Tigers, an impressive number of Obama’s and several plain ole girls.
My husband asked an older woman the name of her dog and she told him it was “Gowanagetzi” as the few vaccinators we had that spoke the northern dialect erupted with laughter he asked her what it meant.
She told him “ it means you will come and do the job and we will not thank you.”
He laughed good-naturedly and moved on.
Later in the retelling, as we bounced down the road only accessible by 4x4 or an ox cart I shook my head, and then I gave a low tired chuckle and I thought.
Oh, that’s it. You do the job because the job needs doing.
Not for the accolades or the gratitude of others.
If your condition for doing is reaping outward recognition then you will always be disappointed.
Better to know you will come and do the job because it needs doing.
End of story.
The gratitude comes from within, the sense of accomplishment resonates within you.
Looking outside yourself for validation is fleeting because it’s never enough.
But if you’re committed and you're motivated from that quiet place inside where your reservoir of love lives, then the gratitude and the joy that comes from being translates into the doing.
The action you put into the world is the reward.
It comes from a sacred place. The action that travels along that pipeline from the reservoir of love is pure and holy and the action itself is enough.
Case and point parenthood. You will come and do the job and most days no one says thank you. But you do it anyway. Here is where things get murky sometimes that pipeline gets clogged with things like expectation, pride, stubbornness and it’s no longer an outpouring of love filled with action. It’s sometimes a cesspool of anger, resentment, and irritation. Some days I think if I have to ask one more time for a child to put on their shoes, or brush their teeth or stop leaving orange peels on the cream couch I think my head might pop off and go into orbit. Not to mention the incessant sibling fighting. If this parenting thing goes south I could audition for a ringside ref in the WWF, I’m that good at breaking up fights, squashing drama and reading if injuries are real or milked for maximum viewing pleasure.
Some days I want to tap out because it all seems so ho-hum. I did not sign up for life as a taxi driver, short-order cook, and referee.
The pay sucks and the customers are tyrants. But then amidst the chaos of the ordinary, the extraordinary appears.
When I’m present and listening and I’ve managed to quiet the pick up the legos, marinate the shrimp, don’t forget that payroll is due internal monologue I notice that my line clears and I approach my children, my marriage, our business with a fresh sense of appreciation.
I no longer want thank you’s for the mundane, but instead, I’m able to find gratitude that there are legos in the toybox, there is food in the kitchen and money in the account and these mundane irritants are now extraordinary reflections of life’s abundance.
It seems life’s a constant tug-of-war between the mundane and the extraordinary largely motivated by our sense of mortality. Mortality haunts us all. Whether we call it by its name or something else, it’s always quietly lurking.
Acting as the driver, the motivator, the irritant, the fear.
Constantly causing us each to ask the internal questions: Does what I am doing mean something? Am I leaving a mark? A legacy? Will my children remember the best of me? Did I teach anybody anything? Did I make a difference?
The better question I think is.
Was I authentic?
Followed closely by.
Am I willing to do the job even if no one ever says thank you?
Gowanagetzi. You will come and do the job and we will not thank you. Ha! What a mantra for the ages.
In some sense how depressing for us folks whose entire self-worth is built on recognition from others.
In another sense how freeing. The sassy sage at the cattle station freed me.
Life's not a performance and it's not a quest to accumulate recognition and gratitude.
It’s a commitment to showing up and doing the job that is authentically yours and finding a way to let your inner love and gratitude flow.
As I lay in bed the other night I could hear my husband tell my son (who was supposed to be in bed) go find momma. Irritated with them both I pretended to be asleep. With both eyes closed, I heard his footsteps patter down the corridor and I felt the warm body of my five-year-old snuggle in beside me. Then he did the strangest thing he moved my hand from under my pillow and held it to his cheek as he sighed and promptly fell asleep.
At that moment the universe delivered the most extraordinary thank you through the miracle of the mundane.
Gowanagetzi, you will show up and do the job and we will not thank you.
Here is the addendum to gowanagetzi. The universe will find a way to whisper good job you are on the right path. Now hold hands, savor this moment and say thank you.
Footnote: 1) If you want to learn more about our charity visit www.knockoutrabies.org
2) After multiple consults no one was actually sure how to spell Gowanagetzi. We did the best we could. Written the translation is" Mwizenge kuzagwira ntchito kweni tikuwangeninge yayi" You can see why we gave it our best guess.
3) That photo of the overwhelmed woman is actually me. Sometimes following your path looks like a sh*tshow. Don't let that deter you. It's still your path.