Experience is the stone that sharpens our skills.
Waving goodbye to my father at the airport seemed like an easy thing to do.
I was 19, and so ready to leave home. My bags were packed and on the plane, and I was finally leaving. My oldest brother Wade had done it the year before, and I felt that if he could do it, then I could as well.
At that age, I was certain that no-one understood me. I was certain that no-one knew I loved to just walk on the beach and listen to the waves roll over the beach stones, no-one knew that I liked to sit in grassy fields on the wildest of days and just experience the power and the beauty of nature, no-one knew that I was unhappy with my life… or at least I didn’t think anyone knew.
So now, I was going to go to somewhere where I would be appreciated, or so I thought.
What I had chosen to do had nothing at all to do with being appreciated.
I joined the Canadian military.
Yeah, I know!! Why I chose that I’ll never know, but at least it was a ticket off of the island of Newfoundland, and right about then, any ticket to anywhere off of the island would have looked great.
At that age, I really wasn’t grounded in the fine art of human relations, or communications either for that matter. As a matter of fact, if something happened that could be misunderstood, criticized, or complained about then I was your man. I could find something negative to say about just about anything, and I welcomed the challenge. Another thing in which I was negligent, was in giving appreciation to people that showed me kindness. It was as if I deserved more, and of course you’re going to give it to me. No need to say thank you or show any appreciation.
Here’s the weird part: I was running away to find appreciation, yet I had no clue what it was or how to give it myself.
Still to this day, I find it a little hard to say thank you. I do it, but I often find it uncomfortable.
So, here I was on a plane heading towards my future, and I was alone. Even though there were hundreds of other people on that plane, I have never felt so alone in all my life. My dad used to say “You make your bed, now you have to lie in it…” well, I had made my bed, and I was scared to lie in it. I couldn’t tell anyone I was scared out of my wits, this was my own cross to bear, and I alone had to find a way to do it. I was crossing that wasteland called “separation from all I’ve ever known”, heading towards independence and uncertainty, and I had no road map.
I had to blaze my own trail.
One night, after washing the stairs with a toothbrush, (yes they really had us doing that), and having all of my other chores completed, I decided to call home. I’m not much for talking on the phone, but I welcomed these little breaks in the endless list of chores that we had to do through the days and weeks in basic training. When I heard my dad’s voice come on the phone, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I found it very hard talking to him, and I choked on my breath. I didn’t want him to hear me like this, so I tried to joke and carry on with him. This was all because I felt like I had let him down. I felt like the proverbial black sheep in the family, and I wasn’t living up to his expectations of me and the family, and it all came rushing back at me. I know now that he knew what I was going through because I sensed he was having a hard time as well. It was his next words to me that got me through that, and it was those words that have guided me through a lot of challenging things all throughout my career.
“Paul” he said, “I’m very proud of you. You are living your dreams. Do you know how many people in this world never get to make that choice? I’m sure that whatever you put your mind to do, you’ll succeed at. And if you ever need something, I want you to know that I’m always there for you, all you need to do is ask.” He’d said that to me before then, but I never really heard it until that moment when I was feeling down and out, and needed to be encouraged. I’m not really sure if I said it enough to Dad, but I truly appreciate that talk, and all that he did for me.
I just wish he was around for me to pick up the phone and call him. Oh the things I would say to let him know what a difference and pillar he was throughout my life. I really miss him.
But when the opportunity is gone, it’s gone, and no amount of blubbering or wishing it back will change that.
But you still have today!
There are probably many people in our lives who have made a positive impact on us. If so, have we told them? Have we let them know we appreciate them? If not, why not? For some of us it’s embarrassment; “Oh I could never say that, what would they think?” for others it’s pride; “I can’t do that, they already know anyway”, and for others it’s just an excuse to mask their true emotions; “we just don’t do that in our family, or our company, so why get all mushy and mess everything up?”
This week, if there is someone in your life who has made a significant positive impact on you, write them a letter or send a card and tell them. Underneath everything, the fears, tears, emotions and masks, there lies a heart that wants to mean something to someone or something. Why deny them that feeling? It could be an e-mail message, it could be flowers with a card attached or it could be a hand written message on a piece of scrap paper, the important thing is that we tell them. Whatever it is that you choose to say, I can assure you that you will make a positive difference in that person’s attitude when they receive it.