Last night my son was complaining about the sack lunch my wife had sent with him to school yesterday. “The lunch meat smelled like it was expired,” he moaned. “It wasn’t expired. It was herb turkey,” she explained. Not good.
The noon hour at Christ the King elementary school was always dicey on days I brought a sack lunch. My mom was not real in tune with the lunch code: PB &J on white bread, chips in their own sack (not a plastic baggy), and a stand alone fruit (not some fruit medley or ambrosia left over from a Sunday brunch) was de rigueur. And it was supposed to go in a regulation, plain brown sack with my name discreetly marked in small block letters.
I usually bought a lunch from the cafeteria. But once in awhile my mom would make a lunch for us to take. Usually these sack lunch days would occur as a means to dispose of “leftovers.” As you might imagine, bringing “leftovers” was a lunch code felony. Leftovers would not be transported in a regulation plastic baggie either. No. Leftovers (think ham loaf ) were sent by my mom in a tupperware device with a vacuum seal to emit a loud pop when opened.
Since we weren’t regular lunch bringers we never had any nice brown paper sacks. My mom would usually find a Wonder bread sack that looked and smelled as though it had been carrying catfish bait. “What difference does it make?” she would ask when I complained, “a sack is a sack.”
She was right of course. But I had so many insecurities about how I was different from everyone else, why couldn’t I, just this one time, appear to be in conformity?
Looking back, I now see two major flaws with this self perception. First, I was exactly like everyone else. We all listened to the same music, enjoyed the same movies, made fun of the same teachers, wore the same clothes. Second, each of us was so concerned with what was in our own lunch we never had time to even see, much less care about, what was in anyone else’s lunch.
It took me a long time to break the “lunch code.” It’s sneaky. And it can infiltrate every other aspect of your life and doom you to a life of sameness. The same career. The same friends. The same music. The same car. The same city.
So I would encourage you to break the code. Just take it one step at a time. It doesn’t have to be something radical like volunteering to build water wells in a developing country. Try something simple like walking across the street to meet the neighbor for the first time in seven years. It’s a start.
This is especially true with business. Differentiate. If you’re a lawyer, skip the next bar association meeting and go to a high tech convention. If you’re a banker, go teach a financial literacy class at Catholic Charities. You will be surprised at how much you benefit. If you don’t like it, you’re no worse off. A little leftover ambrosia or ham loaf never hurt anybody.