A Leadership Lesson from a Garage Sale

If Garage Sales were an Olympic Sport, my mother would be Apollo Ono, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps rolled into some kind of super-human. When she’s out on her route, she is completely focused on one thing: DEALS.

I don’t get a chance to go with her often, but when I do, it’s always a fun experience.

My mom tends to get this slightly terrifying look in her eyes when she’s in “the zone.” It’s a combination of determination, focus, and competitiveness. The same look I’ve seen on professional athletes right before they head into a big game. I mean, scary, scary stuff. But she’s also incredibly happy because as she puts it, “This is how I relax” so she’s got a massive grin on her face at the same time. There are a lot of complicated emotions happening inside of her, and I love it.

I promise it is the most fascinating thing in the world to watch.

We’re driving around neighborhoods, and I’m looking for signs on the side of the road to find our next target, when she hits the gas, charges across three lanes, and makes this half-u-turn into the development on the other side of the street.

Shocked and slightly shaken at the sudden change in direction, I looked around to see what had apparently caught her eye from the other side of the highway. It was a small letter-sized paper stuck in the grass, half hidden behind a bush, with thin-spidery letters in grey ink that read “ESTATE SALE.”

I was astounded. Shaking my head, I laughed and asked, “How do you spot those little, beat-up signs?!?”

She had her gaze laser-focused on the house with the terrible signage.

Her eyes cleared, she looked me straight in the eyes and made the most profound statement I’d ever heard while sitting in a car. “We see what we want to see.”

From there she popped out of the car, slammed the door, and haggled her way into a designer handbag for only $2.

But her statement stuck with me. I turned it over again and again in my mind for hours afterward. “We see what we want to see.”

It made me wonder. What do I want to see? What am I looking for on a daily basis?

Am I looking for opportunities to help people? Am I looking for those who don’t have a voice? Am I on the lookout for people who are hurting, broken, upset?

Or do I just see what I want to see?

Do I see the rude lady who cuts in line at the store as someone who goes out of her way to be obnoxious, or am I looking for the lady who had a really hard day at work and is fighting with her husband, not sure if they are going to make it to their next anniversary?

Do I see my coworker who is always complaining about his home life and how sick he is, or do I u-turn a man who just needs someone to listen?

It’s all about our perspective, my mom loves garage sales, she has practiced looking for stops along her route, so she sees exactly what she has trained herself to see. I haven’t built up the same discipline. I was looking for the same signs she was, but because I haven’t exercised the same muscles, I wasn’t able to find the sales hidden in the bushes. My focus was distracted by the cars going past, the signs advertising guitar lessons, the squirrels running across powerlines overhead. My mom’s focus was singular. She had come to find sales, and she had learned to omit irrelevant information like guitar lesson advertisements or squirrels. She was paying attention to what mattered to her, so she was able to spot things that no one else noticed.

Opportunities to love and help people are out there. We just have to want to see them.

We have to learn to ignore the distractions and zoom in to what we WANT to see.

So, the question is…What do YOU want to see today?

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