Thankful for Inconvenient Gratuity

After five-and-a-half years as the Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, I moved back to my former job as marginally-relevant scientist and extra-regular Professor. Part of the process was moving my stuff from the bustling big administrative office back to the quiet, glorified broom closet where the biggest disturbance is the summer cover crops growing in the student garden outside my window.

It was not a happy time. I appreciated my time in service to an academic department, but events would conspire to move me back to my full-time research job. Cleaning out the old space was torture, as I was not ready to return to the old position.

I stood leafing through endless stacks of papers, separating recyclable notes from pages necessary to retain. It was a slow grind down administrative memory lane, and a reminder of how many trees we kill printing meeting agendas that always change.

Then I came to a Thank You card. It was from a grad student that completed her degree under my guidance, and then moved on to her dream job. It was amazingly heartfelt and meant a lot in my emotional state. I know I read it before, but it really meant a lot now. I read it again.

Soon I found another. Then another. Then a nice note from the Florida Dairy people. Then a random set of thoughts from a complete stranger that listens to my podcast. Then a stack of drawings from kids in 3rd grade. After a whole office clean out I assembled a fat folder of written gratuity.

It really showed me how a thankless job isn’t thankless at all. It just shows that it is easy to not appreciate the kind words of others when we get too consumed in the hassles and “emergencies” of everyday life. That folder of cards and simple notes feels really good now, and I appreciate it so much during this challenging time.

The other lesson is that it reminds us how important it is to express gratuity to others in an inconvenient way. Take the time to send a letter. Fill out a card. Pick up a phone. Email and messaging are too easy. Break convention. Go the extra mile and make extra impact.

It might make someone’s day at a dark time. I know that this collection of kind words certainly did that for me.