I had another great breakfast yesterday. This was my first meeting with this person and so we were getting to know about each other and our companies. We got in an interesting discussion about life and the purpose of living. I know, heavy stuff for oatmeal and eggs. When I asked him what his life purpose was, he didn’t scrunch up his face and ask me what I meant. He didn’t blow me off or try to change the subject like most people do. Clearly, he had given thought to this before. I liked that. He then told me his life purpose was rooted in his faith. He told me how strongly he felt about it. It was something pretty simple. I think it was to make the world better.
Oh, I said. Just that.
My own life purpose, or mission statement, as many of you know, is to help people and companies get better. Help them become who they are meant to be. I told him this.
“That’s a pretty big category,” he said. “people and companies … that’s a pretty big category.”
I wanted to say – well geez, you want to make the WORLD better. At least I’m not after the trees and such. At least I’ve limited my life purpose to people!
He’s a potential client, by the way. I kept my mouth shut.
We continued our discussion. It was a great one. I found him to be truthful and direct. After a few more minutes I realized he’s the kind of man who I could be truthful and direct with. I actually could have said “at least I’ve limited my life purpose to people!” to him. He would have laughed at that. That’s so refreshing. I found myself asking him if he believed you have to create opportunities to make the world better or do those opportunities find you.
I think he said both. He told me a story about creating opportunities for yourself. I told him a story or two about God knows what. But I kept thinking about this idea of opportunities finding you.
And then I realized I had stumbled upon another Father Lesson.
I was about 10 years old, I think. My dad and I were at Sears buying paint. I was standing on the bottom metal shelf – in spite of being told not to. Dad was leaning over looking at the gallons of white paint. I began to dance around. Dad picked out some paint, put it back, picked out some other. Then a lot of things happened at once.
There was a crash. Dad spun around and looked at me. I was still standing on the shelf. I, for once, had not caused the commotion. He started towards me and I thought I was going to get creamed. I probably started the excuses.
But he quickly passed by me. I spun around and saw him kneeling by a man on the floor. I know now that the man was having a seizure. Then I only knew what I saw. He was shaking, he was spitting up, he had wet his pants.
I began to cry.
My father knelt down and shoved his jacket between the man’s flailing head and the floor. I saw him turn his head to the side. He didn’t restrain him but he wrapped his arms around the man’s head and held onto his shoulders. The man kept shaking.
My father held on.
The man’s feet were kicking. They were kicking hard. Some other people started to come around. The man’s arms were thrashing around. There was more stuff coming out of his mouth. My dad was kneeling in urine.
My father held on.
I don’t know how long the seizure lasted. Pretty soon the man seemed to lock up, go stiff. When the whirling about stopped, people snapped out of their shock a little bit and sprang into action. Someone had called the store manager. The store manager said he had called the paramedics. The man started to relax. He blinked his eyes. I can still remember that. He blinked fast. One two three four times. Then he looked at my father. Then he saw him.
My father held on.
On the way home Dad explained to me what had happened. He was very direct and honest. He answered my questions. We talked a long time about it. That afternoon I asked my dad if the man would have died if we hadn’t been there. I think I wanted to make the story even more dramatic. I think I wanted to be able to retell it to my friends and paint my dad as a hero. “He SAVED his LIFE!” I would say. And they would all want to hear the story again and again.
“Would he have died, Dad?”
This is the answer I got:
“Oh no, he wouldn’t have died. Someone would have helped him.” I’m sure my heart sank. Bummer. I wanted my dad to be a hero. And then he said this: “But I’m sure glad we were there. That was a real privilege getting to help him out, huh? We sure did learn a lot.”
We sure did.
You can either make opportunities to change the world and make it better.
Or you can join in the opportunities that are already happening and learn from them.
You may have to stop what you're doing.
You may have to get a little dirty.
You may have to hold on longer than you think.
And you may just learn something. And maybe it won't take you more than 25 years to apply the lesson.
I can almost hear my dad saying to me today, “It’s a real privilege getting to help make people better, huh?”
It really is.