I’m not a guy with a huge number of skills – I’m not the world’s most computer savvy guy, I’m not good at fixing things when they break down (much to my girlfriend’s chagrin… “But you’re a guy.” “Yeah, but not that kinda guy.”), I’m rubbish at putting up wallpaper, I’m lousy at assembling IKEA furniture, I have the sense of direction of a blind Golden Retriever, and I can’t draw to save my life.
But, I will talk to anyone. I find people fascinating. Every single person has a story. The trick is to get them to tell you the story. Instead of picking up a book, why not go out into the big wide world where you have a walking library of stories?
I like to find out what makes people who they are, what makes them tick. There’s a lot of noise out there and the trick is to filter that noise to help you work out what made them the way they are – their personality, their character, their views on life, what drives them, how they deal with setbacks in life and what shapes the opinions they hold.
I have an English friend called Gavin, a man of many facets. He was one of the original IT entrepreneurs back in the 1980s and figured that the US was the place to make money. And he made it. Made it big. The phrase “too fast, too furious” comes to mind when I think of Gavin. He lived life big. Really big. He worked hard and played even harder. Then he lost it all. When I asked him how, he replied, “I misread the market, pure and simple.” As the master of understatement, I’m sure there was more to it.
He knew he was going to go bankrupt so he made the decision beforehand to pay every supplier he owed money to rather than declaring bankruptcy. He said, “They gave me favourable terms and conditions when I started the business and enabled me to build the business. It wasn’t their fault that I made the wrong decisions, so it wouldn’t have been right to leave them hanging and not pay them.”
When he started another business, every single one of his previous suppliers dealt with him. No questions asked. Gavin then made money again big time, lost part of it again and then made up the part he lost. A roller coaster ride big time, but as he said, “I wouldn’t change it for anything, apart from a bigger rollercoaster.”
The one thing about Gavin was that you always saw him on his own. I had never seen his wife, nor his kids. Never. And he pretty much never talked about them.
Every single Saturday, when I lived and worked in England, I would go to the pub at midday. Gavin would pretty much always be there with the Telegraph crossword puzzle. We’d sit at the bar, chat and do the puzzle together. The conversation turned to families and my brother’s recent visit. So, I asked him why I had never seen his wife. He said, “Different interests. Anyway, she’s pretty busy with the kids.” “So, how many kids you got exactly?” I asked. “Six,” he replied
His best friend was a journalist for one of the national newspapers in England. Unfortunately, he got cancer in his early thirties. The cancer was very aggressive and took him down pretty quickly. His wife died shortly after.
“Did they have kids?” I asked. “Yeah, three. “There was no-one who could take care of them. So, I signed the guardianship papers, took them in and built an extension on the house.” “That’s what you call stepping up to the plate,” I said. “Well,” he said, “I made him a promise. I’m their godfather.
To me, both stories give a fascinating insight into the man. The idea that situations sometimes present themselves, where you just do the right thing – no fanfare, no speeches, no ticker tape parade.
It meant more to him personally to pay back every supplier who had helped him build his business – regardless of any contractual obligations. As far as he was concerned, he made a promise and should keep that promise. The result was that when he started the new business, his suppliers regarded him as a man of integrity, and had no qualms dealing with him despite his having gone bankrupt.
A godparent’s duties are primarily spiritual and moral and Gavin took them seriously. When his best friend’s wife died, the will stipulated that they would be under the guardianship of the grandparents. However, that would have meant splitting the children between the grandparents, in addition to creating a financial strain on them. Gavin said simply that he would take in the kids and asked the court to make him their legal guardian, which it did.
The Gavins of this world teach us a valuable life lesson. Sometimes life throws up situations where you need to make a choice, the right choice, and often that choice involves a personal sacrifice. As you go through life, you encounter a multitude of people from different backgrounds, circumstances, and cultures. These people are walking libraries of stories. Take the time to listen. Every once in a while, you’ll meet a Gavin. Not only will the story be interesting, but it will always raise the question, “Would I have done the right thing?”