As I sit in retirement, I have had time to reflect on many aspects of my life. I have to shake my head and smile at some of the crazy things I have done to this point in my life; as well as, sit up straighter for some of the accomplishments I have been fortunate to obtain. All in all it goes to show you that life is a training ground and it is up to each of us to make the best use of its preparation.
There were times when I am quite sure that I have driven my wonderful wife, great kids, friends, neighbors, business associates and some eager politicians to their collective mental breaking point. I was at times demanding, shortsighted, long-winded and uncompromising in my approach. There were also times when I listened well, responded appropriately, influenced well and was a passionate servant leader and understanding father, husband and community member. Those around me would laugh, applaud and at times “lay down the riot act” but all in all, I have found that as Art Linkletter once proclaimed,
“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”
I have been fortunate in my life. I have had interesting career positions that enabled me to learn along the way. Education has helped me better myself. Friends and business associates have allowed me to better understand how varied thought helps you accept the perils of life and use that development to make yourself better. I have traveled the world and interacted with powerful people which is not too bad for a poor country boy from Western North Carolina. I have also been faced with a life-threatening medical condition that opened my eyes to what was truly important in life. It has been quite a “ride” that I pray continues for a long while. As I look back at life and my experience, though not a rich or important man by society’s standards, I can without hesitation say that I follow famed Lou Gehrig’s famous thought:
“Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
My mama often told me that a man’s life is marked by what he says, does, or causes to happen. In that spirit I have always attempted to give my best in all endeavors whether it was feeding hogs or delivering a motivational speech to large crowds. I have strived to help the many communities I have been fortunate enough to reside within and worked diligently in various industry associations to instill a sense of fair play and best practices. Though I have received lots of awards justified or not for the varied accomplishments, the most satisfying award has always been providing hope to others that they can become better or that life is worth living.
In all this madness, and yes fun, that I have experienced to date in this wonderful voyage called life, I have found the following to be true:
1) Spiritual faith matters. I know that there are those who do not have a religious position. That is their issue not mine. I have never pushed my faith on others but will gladly tell anyone when asked how it has positively impacted me. I do feel and have always felt that there is a God who directs life and has us positioned to experience both success and shortfall so that we learn. Doors of opportunity are opened but it demands we have awareness and bravery to walk through those doors. In the larger setting, in good times and bad, spiritual faith will help you stand stronger. It will never answer all the questions about why bad things happen to good people, but through the power of prayer and study, you will eventually find comfort and a clear direction for your life.
2) Let people be people. Too often there is a tendency to reach out and transform people into “mini-me’s.” While that intent may be noble, too often the outcome will never be what was intended. You have to allow people to be who they are. In the spirit of the “101% Principle,” you then must find that 1% you can support and give it 100% of your effort. Diverse thought is food for the soul. It enables you and others to think together and not necessarily alike. Thats’ what builds strong teams and great communication with others. Accept the fact that Uncle Harry will tell tall tales and you can’t trust cousin Susie to keep a secret. It is what it is and that is ok. No need to stress. Learn to deal with it the best you can and move on.
3) Perfect is not that important. As I grew up and learned to tie my shoes, I had to have each loop the same size on both shoes. This drove my older cousins crazy because they really did try to help me with many things when my mom and dad were not around. But they got tired of having to help me tie shoes three or four times. It wasn’t long that I understood it wasn’t the length of the loop but the fact the shoe was securely on the foot which mattered most. I still chuckle about that early experience but it really helped me in life. Not that there have not been occasions that I continue to want things perfect such as combing my hair, my bow tie knots and my presentations for example; but, if we strive solely for perfection in every aspect of life, we may never leave the house. Even this article isn’t perfect. There are perhaps hundreds of better phrases, examples, etc. that could have been used; but, hopefully its content is helping you understand the message. The message is simple: workable will beat perfection any day.
4) Though at times you will be off-balance, strong life-balance does matter. At times in my life, I have been called a “workaholic.” Those who know me best would laugh at my famous quote about the best thing about Fridays was that it was only two days away from Monday. While I said this at times in jest, deep down in some of the darkest valleys of my body there was some truth to the statement. I loved work. Loved it to the point that it almost ended my life. Heart surgery changed my perspective and showed me that you work when it is time to work; play when it is time to play; and, most importantly, you must know when the best time is for both. As you are building a career, yes, you will work diligently so that you can move up the food chain and provide for the family. That is understandable. However, there does come a time when you have to realize that there will never be a second first time dance recital or baseball game. You have to learn to schedule in those items as well as other important matters just like you do with your career. Take it from me: your company will miss your contribution, but within the hour of your departure, they will be evaluating your replacement.
5) Walk your talk. I have been fortunate to live in state capitols and the Washington, DC area on multiple occasions. I have also been fortunate to interact at the capitols with legislators and on Capitol Hill in DC. It has been unique to listen to comments from many leaders but it has been more educational to watch what each does. You see, words are truly cheap. They can be uttered without meaning or true commitment. It is an individual’s actions that clearly defines reality. If you promise to do something, do it. Whether it works or not in the big scheme of things may not have as much impact as the fact that you followed through with your pledge. People follow and respect those who demand their actions follow their words. This seemingly small suggestion is perhaps one of the most powerful commitments as a business and family leader you can make. When your employees, kids, spouse and business associates know without doubt your word is your bond, you have achieved a true place of honor and respect whether you are totally successful or not.
6) Find your one thing. Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in their movie City Slickers provided some sage advice. That advice, as Palance’s character “Curly” pointed out, was to find the one thing in life that matters and follow that. That is so true. You have to find that passion and allow that passion to lead you. It is not the same for everyone. There is no “one size fits all” perspective. You, your business associates, kids, spouse, neighbors, etc. each should find their own “one thing.” Sometimes it takes a long time for you to uncover that reality. It is there and you simply must be ready to lift the vail and discover what it is. What you may think is that shiny golden ring could only be a ruse. You must dig down deep inside you and challenge your very being to find out what truly makes you happy, makes you strive for greatness, and fulfills the very essence of life for you. Give yourself time to discover this and when you do, give it all you got! It will allow you to better navigate life and have a viable reason to get out of bed each morning.
Next week I’ll continue this post with more things I have found to be true in life.