, ,

$100 tipA friend of mine who is going to school and waitressing on the side messaged me a picture of an $89 food tab with a $100 tip written in. I asked her what she did differently to garner such a lavish reward and she said, “Nothing really, I just did my job.” As we talked, laughingly speculating whether it was a mistake, a “bucket list” checked off, a stalker and other hosts of wildly imaginative scenarios, we finally left it at “one of those special out of nowhere moments that cannot be explained, not fully. It’s the sun peeking out of the clouds, glorious and full, the five dollars you find in your pocket when you’re talking yourself out of that latte, and man who chases you down after you’ve dropped your new phone.
It got me to thinking. Volunteer managers work tirelessly, mainly without praise. We can empathize with the mom who drags herself out of bed at 5 each morning to drive her son to hockey practice, then puts in a full day of work. The Stanley Cup will go to him as she stands, far back in the crowd, her tears borne from sleepless dreams.
But then, there’s the $100 tip. It comes when you least expect it, but need it most. A volunteer wins an award and someone thanks you for mentoring that volunteer. A project that took you years to finally iron out takes off and someone claps you on the back. You’re at a general assembly and something you initiated years ago is highlighted and the speaker finds you in the crowd and says, “you started that way back, didn’t you?”
Or, a volunteer phones you to tell you that he broke through to a client that everyone wanted to help but couldn’t seem to find the right phrase or the perfect moment.
Why does that moment show up when we’ve just told ourselves that we could make more money with less work selling jewelry? Why does it seem to know exactly what we need when we need it? And how often do we need it?
I’m always struck by how volunteer managers are not driven by praise or someone else’s definition of accomplishment. It seems our measure of success lies internally from the instinctive knowledge that accompanies each and every volunteer assignment. Although “big” accomplishments are nice, we revel in the day to day small accomplishments of each and every volunteer. It’s like standing on a bluff and looking at the beauty of the forest below. It takes each tree to create the breathtaking scene.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t like getting an unexpected tip now and again. Nope, I love it, and frankly need it as much as the next person. But I also have to realize that I’m not working for $100 tips. I’m working because I know that the forest of things volunteers accomplish mean a lot to the people they are helping. It’s not flashy nor opulent. But then, neither are my expectations.