The Atlanta Lawyer — November 2011
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Rita A. Sheffey

The Little Things Matter: Are they really little?

A favorite receptionist always makes my day. I walk in and say “good morning, how are you?” and she says, with a tremendous smile that lights up her whole face, “Fabulous!” When I first heard it, I was a little surprised. After all, isn’t a more typical response “ok,” “good,” “fine, and you?” Then I thought maybe she was just having a particularly good day.But this was not a one time thing. It is her response to me every time. I always look forward to seeing her and hearing “Fabulous!” It makes my day, every time. It makes me ask myself if I am feeling fabulous. (Usually not.) Whatever I say in response seems inconsequential compared with her greeting. I hope she knows just how much her greeting means to me.

Some time ago, I noticed that I often would ride the office elevator with someone I didn’t know and neither of us would say a word. We both might stare at the Captivate news screen as it switched from one mindless item to another.As my floor was near the top of the elevator bank, the other person would get off first. Still, not a word was spoken. One day I decided just to start speaking to my elevator-mate, even if only when he or she was getting off at their floor. The reaction was instantly positive. I would say "have a good day" or some variation, and he or she would say "thanks, you too," but with a tone indicating surprise, and sometimes even delight. It sounds like a small thing, but it helps start my day off on a positive note as well.

Some of you know that I believe in writing thank-you notes, sending birthday greetings (even if only by email), and acknowledging when someone receives an award or other honor or recognition. Particularly in recent months, I have not lived up to my expectations for myself. I have a folder of cards and notes and am slowly making my way through them. This is a priority for me because I know how much it means to some of the people I have written and I know how good it feels to receive a note (particularly handwritten) in the mail.

Several days ago I received the following handwritten note at work:

Dear Rita,

I contacted you earlier for help with my job search in Patent field. You provided valuable suggestions which were instrumental in me securing an Associate position with an IP boutique.

I greatly appreciate your help. I hope to stay in touch


He had contacted me by email in May just before I was sworn in as President of the Atlanta Bar, based on having read my profile on my firm’s website. Our only connection was that we both have Ph.D.’s in chemistry, which he had noted from my profile on my firm’s website). When I received his email, I was in the midst of the Bard Show rehearsals and getting ready for my year as President. It was a particularly busy time. I could have ignored his email, but I thought about him and all of the opportunities I have had and I wanted to help if I could. Our conversation was relatively brief and I assumed I would not hear from him again, so it was truly delightful to receive his note and hear of his good news. I wish him well in the practice of law and hope to meet him in person some day. (He is in Indiana.) I intend to stay in touch and I will start by forwarding him this issue of The Atlanta Lawyer, with a note to check out my President's Message.

Many of my family members and friends do things for which I am immensely grateful and which make my day. I could fill many journals with the many kindnesses I have had in my life. But I recount just a few here as examples.

I have a friend and colleague who writes and records amazing music. He is also a pretty impressive litigator. His style mimics James Taylor and Paul Simon, two favorites of mine. But it is the lyrics of my friend’s songs that touch my heart. When I first heard his music, I was hooked.

And now, when I need to find solace, I listen to one of his songs. I did that most recently on a driving trip, and I was surprised to have tears in my eyes. They were not tears of sadness, but rather of reflection and vulnerability, and peace. I am not sure what inspired him to write his music, but it means the world to me. And, despite my thank-you notes, I am not sure he realizes just how much.

While I am on the topic of music and talented lawyers, please join me for our holiday gala, Up on the Rooftop, Thursday, December 1, 2011, at Ventana’s overlooking Centennial Olympic Park. Click here to register. This is an inaugural event for the Atlanta Bar Association and I have a vested interest in its success. I also know it will be spectacular. I personally selected the venue (unbelievable) and many of my (our) friends and colleagues will be featured -- those who have recorded their music on CD’s, others who have published books, and others with artistic talents (artwork and jewelry) who sell their creations. You may even find some early holiday gifts! Please help start off the holiday season in style and support and thank some of our creatve friends and colleagues whose talents we will showcase.

This month’s message is about the importance to me of taking the time to be polite to a stranger, to ask a friend about her sick aunt, to send a card to someone who is going through a bad time, or to celebrate the success of a colleague. To the friend who brought me homemade matzo ball soup when I was sick, the ones who listen to me when I just need someone to listen, to those who have sent flowers unexpectedly, and to the dear friend who knows when I just need a hug, Thank You! In these days of endless demands on our time, it is even more important to take the time to do something “little” for someone else.. In this season of Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays, I hope all of us will make more time to hug those we love, to thank those who brighten our day, and to reach out and brighten someone else’s day. The return will be “fabulous.”

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!