This essay, Deep Blue Gratitude, was published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 6 on November 4, 2022. For context, below it I've included my Letters From the Editor for both that November/December issue and the preceding September/October one (MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 5).
In my last Letter From the Editor in the September / October issue of MBC Today, I was reveling in the fact that I had just made my team member Clark the first official Manager of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office and that he had taken over the scheduling and found two weeks for me to get away at the end of October. I had booked a cruise right away and, frankly, it all felt like a dream.
Cut to today, October 27th, 2022, sitting at a corner table on the lido deck of Holland America Line's pinnacle class Nieuw Statendam ship, en route from our last stop in Saint Thomas to our next stop in the Bahamas, looking out the window on the "most perfect day at sea" that Captain Noel has seen "in years," watching flying fish pop in and out of the bluest water on Earth, with my feet up, the table in front of me spread with a big glass of iced tea and a generous slice of sugar-free almond cake with sugar-free berry ice cream on the side, and my laptop on the table as I put final touches on this current issue of MBC Today that will drop in a few days. I've never felt more chill; l've not had a vacation like this in...well, ever!
We small business owners aren't supposed to relax like this, are we? For the first week away, I felt serious imposter syndrome. Shouldn't I be working? Shouldn't I be checking the store cameras all day long? I felt that guilt, but I fought it. I didn't check my email for well over a week, forcing myself to stay away from everything that was waiting on the other side of that screen. I still have yet to check any cameras. I turned it all off. I unplugged. I put my complete faith and trust in Clark, Julie, Elijah, and Carter, knowing that they had everything under control at the shop…and would check in on my house and cat, Prince Comet, to make sure all were well cared for.
I'll be back at work on November 1st, ready to tackle two crazy months as a shipping business operator. My team and I will order all of the supplies we'll need for the holiday rush first thing to ensure we have everything in on time, and the Santa hats will come out, garland will go up, and twinkle lights will light up the early nights in our snow-blanketed Upstate New York town. That's all waiting for me next week. But today? Today, I'm sailing away, abundantly grateful for what I have, who I have, and this outstanding privilege I'm enjoying. I've worked very hard for many years, and now I feel like I can enjoy a little bit of the reward.
I've met a lot of different people on this cruise. Many are genuine class acts—kind to the crew, enjoying each experience, and patient with their fellow passengers. There are, of course, a handful of miserable people—rude to the crew, entitled to everything, pushy to fellow guests, and complaining about the most trivial, ridiculous things. It’s never been more abundantly clear to me that being miserable is a choice. Here we are, sailing through one of the most beautiful places on Earth on a new, gorgeous, immaculate, no-expense-spared luxury liner, being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious, outstanding crew to sail the seas (If you ever want a lesson in how to treat guests and how to build relationships, take a Holland America Line cruise. Wow!), and truly in paradise, yet there are people who still choose to be miserable. I feel so sorry for them. And I refuse to become them.
I was trying to think about what I could possibly complain about if I chose to do so. What, that it rained on Saint Thomas and I had to miss a day of snorkeling? That I nearly lost my phone when the waterproof case I bought for it sank and got buried in the sand when it was advertised that it was supposed to float? That the sand I’ve been digging my feet into all week has destroyed my pedicure? That there are too many food options here, making it hard to decide what to eat next? That I was so enthralled with the comedian at the club onboard that I was late to the dance performance on the next stage that I had intended to go to? That I sleep so well in my pitch-black cabin to the gentle rocking of the ship and have turned my alarms off for the first time in a long time that I’m sleeping solid for 12ish hours each night without regret or disturbance and missing most breakfast options? Seriously, what does one have to complain about in the midst of such perfect leisure?
Clark did some research recently. He wanted to know what people were really saying about our business in comparison with some other shipping and storage options in our town. (I refuse to use the word “competitors,” as that makes it seem like we’re trying to compete with these other businesses. And we’re not. We don’t compete. We simply do our best and let others make their own decisions. If we were to “compete,” we would be entering into negative space, and one of our core missions is to stay positive.) Clark dove deep into subreddits to see real talk about our town and the shipping and storage options that are here. What he found was so incredibly encouraging! Other businesses (one in particular) had overwhelmingly negative chatter about them—some downright vile, one local student even making a hilarious video to air his frustrations. Uncle Marty’s, however, had nothing but positive, glowing things said in the local subreddits. I am so proud of my team who consistently do their best to make our guests have positive experiences. You see, we are grateful for each guest...and it shows.
I’ve timed this trip so that I return home on October 31st, and this year that day serves as the 10-year anniversary of the day I found out I had cancer: October 31, 2012. I’ve spoken of my experience before in blog posts, articles, and other writings, and won’t rehash my diagnosis, prognosis, and aggressive treatment here in this essay, but I will just say that the experience changed me forever. As I’ve reflected on that these past two weeks, I’ve experienced a whole new level of gratitude as a survivor and as a silver linings believer.
Gratitude combats misery. By living in gratitude for all of the wonderful things we have in our life and focusing on them—not on the lack that we can often perceive we have, but on the abundance of what we actually have—we can live happy, positive lives. It’s such a simple formula, yet so much of humanity is missing it. There is a lot of bad influence in our world—so much distrust, so much contempt, and so much animosity—that it’s easy to fall into a negative space. But, I believe that by simply being grateful for what and who we have in our lives, we can come out of that and learn to live better by the golden rule, treating others as we ourselves would want to be treated, loving our neighbors, embracing our differences, respecting one another and one another’s beliefs and decisions, and lifting each other up to make this world a better, more caring, and more loving place. Maybe I’m truly in vacation fantasy mode and this is just a pipe dream. But, no, I don’t think so. I think sometimes we just need to remove ourselves from our hustle and bustle to refocus, reset, and rejoice in what we have in order to move forward positively, and be a positive force in this world that needs it so much.
Marty Johnson is a shopkeeper, wordsmith, mentor, and survivor. He owns Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, New York, runs the Collegetown Small Business Alliance, volunteers as ex officio Director of Communication and Advisor to the Board for AMBC, and serves as Editor and Producer of MBC Today. Learn more at askunclemarty.com. #AskUncleMarty
Letter From the Editor published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 6 on November 4, 2022:
I shared a story with participants in the last AMBC certified professional packing course that I led in October. It was about an experience we had just had at Uncle Marty's Shipping Office and one that felt very pertinent to the course material.
You see, a few weeks prior we had shipped a piece of art for a guest. It wasn't anything seemingly unusual at the time, and in fact I wasn't even there when the guest was in or the shipment was packed and processed. My team are all trained and certified as AMBC Professional Packing Specialists, and we advertise that fact and have built a very successful and reputable profit center in packaging delicate things—particularly art. Anyway, this guest was in and shipped his art and it was all in a day's work at Uncle Marty's; my team took excellent care of both the guest and his artwork.
Then, a week or two later, the guest came back. He told us that he was the great-grandson of Christian Dior and the art he had shipped through us was an original Dior heirloom being sent to become part of a collection. He didn't tell us who he was at the time, nor how significant the art was, as he didn't want to call attention to it. He simply did his research, read our reviews, and decided that we were the best option to pack and ship his item. He was thrilled it got there in great shape, and thrilled with the level of care and professionalism he received.
As I shared this story with the certified packing course attendees on Zoom, I told them that we have a new internal motto at Uncle Marty's: treat every item as if it was a Dior heirloom, because you never know when it really will be!
We are in such a unique position in our industry. We go through our days taking care of our communities, neighbors, and guests. We know our regulars and we build reputations that are unmatched in our markets. We have listened to what AMBC has preached for years about relationship-based business versus transactional-based business and have worked hard to foster those ever-important relationships in many different corners. And, every now and then, we get to handle something incredibly special.
We make a difference. We're not just selling something or providing an arbitrary service, but we're actually problem solving for our neighbors and making their lives much easier; we were essential during the pandemic for a reason!
As the December mayhem approaches, keep in mind that this coming season is the best time to really seed and grow those so-important relationships. Treat each guest as if they were the great-grandchild of Dior, because they just may be. And treat everything they send as if it were the most precious heirloom. The care you show them and the respect you exude will come back to you in a multitude of ways.
Do your best. Be kind. Treat your guests like gold and your coworkers like the diamonds that they are. And don't forget to smile, smile, smile. In doing so, you'll ensure that 2023 will be set up to be its best.
Happy everything! May your holidays be merry, bright, and full of delight.
Letter From the Editor published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 5 on September 2, 2022:
I did something incredibly exciting last week: I hired my first manager!
Well, to be clear, I didn't hire fresh for this position, but rather promoted my longest-serving team member, Clark, to the responsibility after some good discussions with him on his goals, my goals, and how we could work together to continue to grow the business.
I am overjoyed! Already a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It's only been a couple of days, but he's already taken over so much of the day-to-day that I would normally triage and manage, and he's even done a schedule for two months out and finagled a way for me to take two whole weeks off at the end of October—a first since I opened my doors 11 years ago. I've already booked a cruise and am eagerly anticipating laying on the ship's deck with no phone service, forced to simply lounge, read a book, and perhaps even take a nap. Oh, what a dream!
Putting this issue together, I got such a boost from Crysta's article: "Do You Know How to Hire Yourself Out of a Job?" It was spot on! I had just done this in promoting Clark—or, at least taken a step in that direction—and her words were reaffirming and encouraging.
Our teams are everything. At my business, I've been very grateful to have had continuous growth and this year have already smashed most of my previously-held records. It's exciting! Yes, as an entrepreneur it has taken very hard work and very long days, weeks, months, and years to get to this point, but eventually I've come to a place where I just may be able to take some deep breaths and step away for a minute while Clark and the rest of my team—Julie, Elijah, and Carter—take the helm for a bit. As Crysta points out, it takes trust and faith; letting go isn't easy, but it's essential if we want to continue to grow and also keep our sanity intact (or what's left of it, at least).
So, here's to the future, my friends! Here's to "letting go to grow" (a keystone phrase of Fahim's and the title of one of the classes he taught this year at AMBC's Meetup in Memphis event).
I'm so grateful for all of the contributors who have helped shape this issue of MBC Today. From our featured AMBC Trusted Supplier, GO Logistic, to our featured AMBC Members, the Shiras, the Draytons, and Andi Smith, to all those who have written in and shared tips, tricks, and photos of their uniforms for our first-ever MBC Today fashion spread.
MBC Today is your magazine, and we want to hear your voices in it. Please continue to send in ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how we can continue to sculpt this information-sharing venue to be what you need it to be.
As always, the AMBC team is here when you need us. You can reach out any time to Kim Galloway, AMBC Director of Operations, Brad Risch, AMBC Operations Executive, or any member of the AMBC board of directors. All contact information and bios are on ambc4me.org.
And I'm always here for you, too. Unless, of course, you reach out at the end of October...because then I'm going to be unabashedly out of touch, floating in the middle of the Caribbean, and working very hard on an epic tan.
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