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Who's Your (Unsung) Hero?

If you ever want to learn something at a much more profound level, just find a way to share what you know with others. I learned this lesson last week, after speaking for two hours at a community college, as part of their All-Staff Day.

Among other things, I shared the true story of a young man named Jimmy whose life changed forever because somebody at a community college—namely, the president—gave Jimmy a much-needed chance to prove himself.

The story of Jimmy is one I was long familiar with.

Yet in sharing it with 125 community-college staff members, a light bulb went on: Yes, it was the college president who opened the door to Jimmy's future. But lined up behind him in tug-of-war fashion was an entire team of unsung heroes, pulling on the door and making the door possible.

"That's what you do," I told the audience. "You make dreams come true."

I owe the seeds of this revelation to my friend Carol, whose perspective I sought out before my speech. I hadn't even shared the story of Jimmy. I simply asked her perspective on how to drive home the importance of each person's contribution. Here is part of what she wrote to me:

"When I think of large events at a college or business, I always try to remember that if the custodian didn't set up the room or clean the restrooms as an example, or if the police officer did not facilitate the parking and so on, or if the room was not reserved, etc. ... People need to remember that so much goes on every day behind the scenes, and all this teamwork makes the provost or the college look good."

She's right. Every job matters. I knew that, of course. Yet when it came to the story of Jimmy, I had been so focused on the other heroes of the story, I had somehow overlooked all those who had toiled away silently in the background.

Last Thursday's speech changed all of that.

I told the audience the whole riveting story of how Jimmy prevailed against ridicule, rejection, and all the rest. Adapting the story to this audience, I shared how it took the maintenance staff to keep the campus looking good and smelling good, the campus police to ensure safety and order, and the bursar's office to post scholarships to students' accounts.

"Even if you don't work directly with students," I told them (or reminded them), "they're still your students."

The point is, why should only those in prominent positions take the utmost pride in their work?

As one of the maintenance crew shared with me at lunch after I spoke, "The ship stays afloat with all of us or it sinks with all of us." He said it more eloquently than that, but his point was clear: They were all in this together, and everyone was needed.

Here was someone who took pride in his work, pride in his team, pride in being there for the entire campus with whatever they needed. His uppermost goal was to be a better man today than he was the day before. Talk about a hero.

Who are the unsung heroes in your world? Maybe they're people you work with, live with, or volunteer with. Whoever they are, they make your world better just by being there.

Imagine what would happen if you took time to surprise even one of these folks with a simple show of gratitude: flowers, a gift card, a note, anything at all, as long as it comes from the heart.

As my friend Carol wrote at the end of her note, "A little appreciation goes a long way!" This week, why not put those words to the test?

Who are the unsung heroes in your world? Surprise them with a simple show of gratitude.

Gina DeLapa

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders™ Coach and the creator of the Ultimate Reminders™ book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("If you don't like someone, don't go camping with them" and "Never cook bacon in the nude") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at UltimateReminders.com.