Here’s a little something I learned the hard way last week: German trains sometimes split in two.
What this means is that it’s very easy to board an eight-carriage train on the appropriate platform in Munich and not realize that, a few stops down the line, four of the carriages will detach and head for a completely different station than the one you were hoping to get to.
And then you find yourself sitting in one of those misleading carriages at the end of the line in a random German village, being approached by the driver who’s wondering why the hell you haven’t gotten off yet.
All I could do was laugh and shake my head, while the driver kindly revealed that another train would soon be arriving which would take me back the errant way I came.
Twas on that next train that I met a ticket checker named Frau. She would become my hero.
Frau didn’t have much English, but seemed to understand my predicament well enough: I was going to miss my scheduled connection to Zurich by at least an hour, and I didn’t know if there was another train headed that way later.
Frau quickly recruited another passenger to act as translator and started looking up train schedules on her little hand-held ticket checker gizmo. Ten minutes later, she was handing me a new itinerary, scribbled down on the back of my existing ticket in her own handwriting. Via the translator she explained that if I followed her instructions, I’d get to Zurich just a half hour behind schedule.
I almost hugged the woman.
The new itinerary involved six different trains, with an average of just four minutes between connections, and it all went off without a hitch. (Well, there was almost a hitch when I got off Frau’s train and rushed to the wrong platform to catch my next. Luckily, Frau was keeping an eye on me. She came across the station to set me right, noting that she’d written down all the platforms on the itinerary. Legend.)
Wherever you are
I write a lot on this blog about following your dreams and doing big things. And I will of course continue to write about such topics, because, in the words of Mr. Thoreau, too many people live lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with their song still in them.
But it’s people like Frau who remind me that everyone’s capable of making a positive difference in the world right now, wherever they happen to be.
She was under no obligation to help me out. She could have just checked my ticket and gone about her day, left me to figure everything out by myself. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in her job description saying she has to go out of her way to help novice travelers who don’t know one half of a train from the other. I imagine most of her fellow ticket checkers wouldn’t have bothered. Too much effort for too little pay.
It’s these everyday heroes like Frau that make the world a significantly better place. They take personal responsibility. They go above and beyond what’s expected of them. They figure that if they’re going to do something, they might as well do it to the best of their ability. As Robin Sharma would say, they lead without a title.
So, here’s my point…
To make a positive difference in the world, you don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to move to a foreign country. You don’t have to set up your own non-profit. You don’t even have to be big on Twitter.
You can start right where you are.
Be a good neighbor. Be a good friend. Be a good parent. Take ownership of whatever job you find yourself in and do it as best you can.
All those little heroic deeds matter. And we’re all fully capable of them.
The above message has been approved by the Saw Doctors. Or at least, these lyrics would seem to suggest as much…
So come all ye full-time small-town heroes
Cast away your inbred fears of
Standing out from all the rest
The cynics and the pessimists
The self-indulgent almost rich
The blatant hurlers on the ditch
Time is passing so come on
And face the ball, the game is on