This Hanukkah, Think about Fred
Anyone can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
One of the most inspirational and impactful stories I have read is in a short, easy-to-read book called “The Fred Factor,” by Mark Sanborn. Fred is the ordinary-looking postal carrier with a small moustache who once delivered mail to Sanborn’s house in the Washington Park area of Denver. But Fred is no ordinary U.S. Postal Service worker. According to Sanborn, he is the kind of worker who exemplifies everything that is “right” with customer service and is a role model for anyone who wants to make a difference in his or her work.
Sanborn describes that when he first moved into his community, Fred stopped by to see how he could help his newest customer. When Sanborn would travel for work, Fred would suggest ways to ensure that piled-up mail wouldn’t alert unsavory passersby when the home was vacant. As Sanborn got to know more people in the area, he soon learned that Fred the postman provided extraordinary service for all the customers on his route. Time after time, neighbors recounted tales of the many ways Fred went above and beyond in his job. In his book “The Fred Factor” Sanborn describes how each of us can become a Fred.
After observing Fred the Postman, Sanborn came to a profound realization: anyone can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. It applies to your work, to your relationships, and to your Judaism as well. Think about what Fred did most of his life. He delivered mail. And where others might have seen monotony and drudgery, Fred saw an opportunity to make a greater difference in the lives of others.
Mediocrity is our silent opponent. At the end of the day, the only question that matters is, what kind of difference did you make?
After reading this short book, you will quickly realize that if Fred the postman can excel at bringing creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box, then every single one of us is certainly capable of doing as much or more to reinvent and rejuvenate our efforts, whether it be as a parent, as a spouse, as an employee or as a Jew.
As Sanborn writes, “Mediocrity is our silent opponent” and “nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional. At the end of the day, the only question that matters is, what kind of difference did you make?”
He quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause and to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'"
If there is one idea that captures the holiday of Hanukkah, it is this notion of being exceptional. The Talmud tells us that while the commandment is to light one candle per house, there’s an even more beautiful way of performing the mitzvah: to light one candle per person in the household. And then, the Talmud tells us, there is an even more beautiful way to do the mitzvah: light one candle per person, per night of Hanukkah.
We call this hiddur mitzvah, which means that I am not simply performing a mitzvah, but that I can beautify my service of God by putting in the time and effort to perform the mitzvah exceptionally.
While beautifying the mitzvah applies to Hanukkah in a unique way, the holiday also challenges us to apply this notion of beautifying to every aspect of everything that we do.
After all, we all wear many hats and play various roles in our lives, be it as a parent, a spouse, a child or a coworker. Why not give push ourselves to be just a little bit more like Fred, live with a little more beauty and do things exceptionally?
If Fred could bring such beauty to putting mail in a box, how much more could you and I bring beauty into our lives? I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing days when I wake up tired. I do everything I can possibly do but sometimes I’m still fatigued and unmotivated to do much with the day.
Hanukkah challenges us to bring that excitement, creativity, enthusiasm and exceptionalism to every aspect of our lives. So think about Fred. Because if Fred the Postman could bring that kind of creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box, then you and I can do as much or more to bring creativity and commitment to our lives.
The choice of being ordinary or exceptional is yours.
Photo credit: Mick Haupt, Unsplash.com