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I didn’t mean to go on maternity leave without formally announcing it. Babies have a way of making you run on unexpected schedules. But while she’s sleeping in her little bed next to me, I wanted to share a thought.
Just before my daughter arrived into the world, one of my favorite people peacefully slipped out of it. My 5th grade teacher, Mr. C. He was one of THOSE teachers, the kind who seems more like a fanciful Roald Dahl character than a real person. The one who dressed up and marched around the school playing the accordion during the annual Halloween costume parade. I don’t think teachers were strictly invited to be IN the parade, and there was no real call for accordions, but Mr. C was not the type of person to wait for an invitation to take part in delight. He just took part, and people went with it.
He refused to teach us about money with a worksheet. On September 1, he brought in piles of monopoly money and fake checkbooks and declared that we were creating our own money system. Every week we received a paycheck of $200, and we’d stop by the ‘bank’ manned by a parent volunteer, dubbed Mrs. Moneybags. There was a class store, with handwritten prices tacked above things like “Pass To Be Allowed To Chew Gum In Class.” You could earn more money on Fridays when we held a class auction, where we’d bring in dollar store type items and get into bidding wars over candy and figurines. One recess I took a ball straight to the face, and the kid who threw it felt so bad he wrote me a check for $500. This makes me laugh so hard now I wish I still had the check, written in pencil, “I’m sorry” in the memo line.
He stapled envelopes to a bulletin board with a student’s name on each. At the top, a banner that read “Compliment City.” Every week we were encouraged to leave compliments for fellow students (and he fostered an environment where this system was never abused). There was nothing like going to the board to check and see if you had any compliment slips waiting.
I had a chance to write a goodbye note to Mr. C. As I did, dozens of memories of little systems and schemes like these tumbled out of me. Things I remember a couple decades later as utter magic, layered with life lessons.
Turning it over in my mind, I realized something though. Perhaps it was his final lesson to me:
Magic is just ordinary materials plus an idea.
Compliment City was just envelopes stapled to a wall. The money system was photocopied paper, an Excel spreadsheet, and a parent volunteer. All that changed is what he decided these materials were going to be.
So this is just a note to remind you of something you may already know:
You have materials to create all the magic you want.
All you have to do is decide what they’re going to be.
You know what you can do with a single piece of paper? Make it into a hat for your kid to wear on Friday during breakfast. Write twenty compliments to a friend and let it change her life. Use it to write down your deepest wish – then turn it over and start listing steps to get there.
Psychology research tells us that a component of creativity is the ability to look at materials and see beyond their ordinary use. Most of us get stuck in what we call “functional fixedness” – seeing paper as just paper. We build habits of creativity when we start seeing paper as airplanes and countdown chains waiting to happen.
You can make as much magic for clients as you want, too. Maybe you keep a bag of goofy hats in the car and the last shot of every family photo session is each of them wearing the hat of their choice. (Let me tell you, your “year in review” post would win the prize for most memorable.) Or maybe you just quietly photograph each parent alone, slyly find out when their anniversary is, and that week drop them each a 5×7 of their favorite person for their desk. Whatever you choose, you can make hearts sing.
Delight can be your signature – and people will remember.
You already have exactly what you need.
P.S. I’m still officially on leave, so if you email me you’ll get a fancy autoresponder (sorry) but never fear – I’m slowly coming back and I will see your message. Boy do I have blog post ideas in the works though. It’s all gonna hit your inboxes in coming months if you’re on my email list (sign up below!), and I can’t wait.
P.P.S. What would make my blog more magical and delightful for you? What do you wish you could get out of a website or weekly email? Tell me! I’m always up for adventures.