No more than 10 years old, the boy runs out of the surf with his new boogie board tucked firmly under his arm.
With a beaming smile, he shouts, “Dad, did you see me?”
And, during my daily barefoot run on the beach, as I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, I realize how much I yearn to ask my dad, long-since-passed from this life, that very same thing.
It’s amazing how young we are when we develop that hunger for affirmation from outside ourselves; how critical it is to developing our self-esteem. Yet, it can be our undoing if we don’t learn to affirm ourselves and gain assurance and re-assurance from the inside out.
I can still remember my dad teaching us the importance of inner-affirmation at a very young age.
I can hear his loving words, “Son, open your hand and spread your fingers wide and count ‘em.
If, when you die, you can count your close friends on one hand, consider yourself fortunate.”
Surrounded by his lifelong friends at the services for his final good-bye, it brought home the reality of that lesson. And in my own life, I count my friends (many of whom have grown from clients to friends over the years) among my greatest blessings.
And so I used that counsel when I eulogized my dad’s passing in October 1997.
Knowing his in-person counsel, and love, would be gone forever.
That, and many words of wisdom, coaching and encouragement, prevailed over the years of our lives together as father and son.
Another ‘Dad-ism’ – Grinning when I’d done something well, scored a goal in soccer, celebrated closing night in a school play or figured out how to get my car engine running again, he would sit in his chair and say, “Stand up and put your arms and hands straight out in front of you.
Now, wrap your right hand around in front and reach back over your left shoulder and grab your ‘angel bone’ (as we called our shoulder blades back then). Now, do the same with your left arm, and squeeze as tightly as you can.
Someday, when I’m not around, and no one else is there to pat you on the back, and you’ve done something you’re pleased about, you’ll always be able to hug yourself and pat yourself on the back, and know that you always have it within you to appreciate who you are and what you’ve done.”
How did he know his ‘arm-chair’ philosophy (pun intended – my dad would have liked that!) would shape my life’s work, my career, my relationship with the people I coach, train and team-build?
Along with a team of professional colleagues, I just produced a movie about how folks today can deal with our changing world in light of changes happening on our planet. [More on this new movie in my next blog, or, for an early look, check it out on YouTube, titled, “Answering the Call.”]
We brought together community, business and government leaders, along with world-renowned scientists, to talk about the impacts and opportunities that come from a region, a nation and a world facing drought, extreme weather, changing seas and other realities of our changing climate.
Whether you ‘believe’ (a term I’m told is like ‘believing’ whether or not the earth revolves around the sun – a concept still disputed by 24% of folks surveyed annually who still ‘believe’ the sun revolves around the earth) in a changing climate doesn’t matter; what does is that our world is changing. What matters is what we do about it, and how we work together, for future generations.
What’s this got to do with my dad? And a 10-year old boy on the beach?
Well, we just released the movie. And I was proud to be a part of a group of people – liberal, conservative, practical, theoretical, and all very smart – who came together to work on this production.
As I breathed in during my daily beachfront run, and saw this boy with that big (and hopeful) smile on his face, anticipating his dad’s acknowledgement – the proverbial ‘pat-on-the-back’ – I thought about my dad, and wondered if he’d be proud of me, too.
What would he say?
Would he give me that hug and pat on the back?
And remind me I could reach out my arms and do that when he was gone?
And in that little boy’s face, a stranger whom I will never know, I saw my own.
So many years ago, looking for my loving father, and then again, today.
Saying, “Dad, did you see me?”
An adorable Vietnamese ‘granny’ and I were comparing Cymbidiums.
We stood peering into the racks to see which we liked the most. And at various specimens that presented their blooms.
How to decide? Which to choose? No discussion. Just communicating non-verbally.
She must have seen my eyes drift to the one she was holding. I’ll never know.
“Okay, good-bye,” she says, as her opening comment.
I step away, surprised that she spoke, her having reached out with her arms with the most beautiful specimen in the store; the one she likes and has been holding the entire time.
“You take this one!” She sort of proclaims, almost commands it. And her proclamation touches my heart somewhere deep and unsettled.
She doesn’t see the tears well-up in my eyes.
Memories rush in.
As I turn my head, I’m transported back to 1969.
A country torn apart.
Innocent people dying.
And my friends, brothers… going off to fight. And die.
Protesting in the streets, “Stop this craziness!”
Walking out in the middle of Accounting 101, studying to be a stock broker.
Just having returned from Woodstock, a musical interlude, symbol of the peace movement and a brief moment in time in-between the fighting, protests and confusion.
No more war.
Leaving my scholarship and plans behind. Knowing, somehow, my path needed to be different. Changed forever.
Looking for life’s meaning.
Now, in my coaching and teambuilding, a major emphasis on ensuring, as we engage in dialogue today, we be mindful of our need to be ‘right,’ rather than doing the right thing. The importance of avoiding the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if one side is right, the other must be wrong).
Realizing how much of my work is affected by these memories.
And then, seeing her standing in front of me, again, back in 2015.
And in her weathered face… seeing family members lost. Forever.
And almost 50 years later we stand side-by-side.
Her new home; her adopted country.
One I take for granted.
And sharing love, and maybe even memories, and a kindness, on a moment of crossed paths.
And the tears won’t stop.
We thought we had been completely clear on our dinner order. Then everything quickly tumbled out of control, with tempers flaring and a rush headlong into the ‘right/wrong’ paradigm I teach about in my coaching and teambuilding training. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought to myself, as others around the table seemed to grasp for help.
We started out for our last dinner with the team I was training in Florida. I’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, so lots of history and warm camaraderie around the big round table. We asked, given it was an unusually nice French restaurant in seemingly the middle-of-nowhere, if anyone wanted or had ever tasted escargot. With mixed replies, some willing to try, some salivating and others with a nonverbal cue to keep it far from their plate, we asked the delightful French waiter – a short, squat, grey-haired 70-plus year-old gentleman who spoke his English with a great French accent – right out of central casting, if we might have enough escargot to share among nine of us. He wrote it down and disappeared into the kitchen.
The wine was selected, conversation deepened, time passed and out came the owner of the restaurant with nine separate servings of a half-dozen escargot in each dish!
Eyes widened around the table (no one of the decliners lurched for the restroom, however you could see it in their faces) and the nonverbal responses entered into a din of dialogue that quickly turned to finger-pointing!
“Who ordered all this escargot?” “I didn’t want any.” “We can’t eat all this!” The noise level rapidly shot up. And, of course, the level of ‘listening’ went down right along with the comprehension. After a brief point, everyone turned to me and begged, “Steve, you’re our facilitator, please fix this!”
I turned to the owner and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding. We wanted enough escargot to share among nine of us, not separate servings of nine each.” To which he replied, “No, you did not.”
Our journey begins.
I suggested, due to the miscommunication, how about he leave us with four or five of the servings, to which our delightful French waiter replied something along the lines of “You are wrong! You absolutely ordered nine servings.” (My command of French is slight; my study and reading of human body language allows me to conclude there are certain universal ‘words’ that are clear no matter the spoken word!)
He pointed to his pad and with great emotion told us we CLEARLY ordered nine servings of escargot.
At least the point of this post should be clear by now. How quickly communication can be confused, how miscommunication can arise. And how quickly we jump to that ‘right/wrong’ paradigm (if I am right, you must be wrong, and vice versa).
Of course, once the dialogue (shouting, pleading, etc.) settled down, and the Frenchman came over to me and confided how difficult it was to work for the owner, who was often quick to allow his temper to rise, and how much trouble he was in, I assured him we would do all possible to help.
After time passed and temperatures cooled, and the main courses were delivered and deemed with perfection, I called over the waiter and announced that we’d had the best service of any of our experiences while gathered in this little corner of the world, and felt a part of our Frenchman’s family. Our group gave him a loud, heartfelt round of applause, to which everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was happening. We thanked him profusely for his patience with our language, and left him with a warmth and gratitude that was as important to us as it was to him.
I brought him close and whispered to him that I would talk to the owner and explain as well.
When the owner came by at the end of the meal to ask how it was, we told him, out of everywhere we’d been (the irony being we had other dinner plans and only selected his because the place we were going didn’t seem suitable), this was truly the best, and what made it so was our delightful, personable, engaging and dedicated waiter, who, in spite of the miscommunication, OUR miscommunication, made our evening the most memorable of all.
Ms. Communication actually turned into a great hostess who gave each of us – team members, waiter and owner – a glimpse into our own ability to unwittingly make communication blunders. It became a positive experience in how, instead of seeking blame, fault or cause, we may instead focus on the desired outcomes and the purpose of our communication. We even perceived the broader context of why and how we were gathered together and the potential to learn from one another and our circumstances.
When we move to cause and blame, we too often lose sight of the bigger picture. And everyone goes away a loser. With a less-than-positive experience and a ‘having-missed-something’ outcome.
Our French waiter became our teacher. We, part of the classroom that now extended from the retreat center to our evening dinner. Each of us was in some way affected, appreciative and better for it.
What’s happened in your life recently where Ms. Communication has visited? Where are the opportunities, in both big and small ways, to take a breath, self-reflect and find your way, with others, to better understanding, patience, insight and growth?
We all have those ‘escargot’ moments in our lives. Keep searching for how you can better approach the moment so the outcome leaves everyone satisfied, even enriched for having been a part of the experience.
P.S. If you’re curious about how we actually resolved the escargot quandary, let us know!
As I tried to make my way into Milt’s home, crammed with well-wishers and partiers, it was hard to imagine being surrounded by so many people, some there in person and some in spirit, making up a 100-year lifetime.
Imagine living for 100 years. The experiences you’d have. Births and deaths, changes in our world, growth of family and friends, changes in your own world, and so much more.
My old friend (and in this case that’s an apropos descriptor!), Milt, turned 100 last week, and I was honored to be at the celebration. We met through his wife, Jo, many years ago. She was the president of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists when I was its chief executive. And to know Jo, you had to know Milt, too. She left us a couple years ago, when we all thought Milt would be the one. And yet there he stood with that cherub-like grin of his, laughing among friends and family as would a new-born experiencing his first smile.
When asked what were the most significant changes he’d experienced in his century of life, he was quick to note two things: transportation and communication. He pointed out the obvious – commercial air travel, roads and highways for motored vehicles, the ways we get around now and the range of alternatives.
And communication. It goes without saying, even writing this piece that becomes available to not only you, the reader who subscribes here, but to millions of others throughout the world who can access it through a range of their own personal devices. Instantly. Just imagine by contrast Milt’s world in 1913.
That’s not what was at the heart of Milt’s insights and revelation, though. He talked, too, about the value of people and how it’s changed over time. He quipped that he asked someone recently what they were getting paid, and about the minimum wage being about $7 or $8 per hour. When he grew up, he was paid two dollars. Per day.
But his point was very much a metaphor. He wistfully talked about whether we value people in our lives, in our workplaces and just in general in the world. Do we make the time for them? Do they mean as much as time goes by?
Milt has learned a lot during his 100 years of life. Especially about how to care for and about people. Friends. Family. Co-workers. And expects more to come. That was obvious from the full house and the line of folks gathered outside who couldn’t make it in.
What about us? What has our lifetime meant? Where we work? Among family? And friends? And those whose lives we touch even casually?
My friend and I stood listening to Milt, and contemplated what the next 30 or 40 years of our lives would witness, were we lucky enough to have them. Changes in technology. Communication. And so many other aspects of our lives. And it reminded us of the value of our own multiple-decades relationship, and the changes we’ve experienced, with more to come.
As another year comes to an end, and a dear friend like Milt reminds us of what a lifetime really means, what about you? What has been important during your lifetime? And what do you imagine the next 10, 20, 30 years or more will bring? Not just to our world, collectively. To your own special world you get to create every day.
Thanks, Milt. For the reminder. For me. For all of us!
I’m not sure who said that. My brother has reminded me of it in many of our conversations.
The more professional coaching work I do these days, the more I remind others of it as well.
We seem to want to focus on what others need to do. To make us happy. To give us what we want. To change to make our lives more comfortable. Easier. Less complicated or conflicted. And yet it’s these very expectations that leave us feeling like we didn’t get what we wanted.
As the old Zen lesson reminds us, “Have no expectations, get no disappointments.” What if we lived a day without expecting anything from anyone else in our lives? Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we might do to bring pleasure, peace of mind, some small gesture of caring and concern to others in our lives?
With friends last evening I watched the movie “About Time,” a delicate romantic comedy with a science fiction time-travel twist. One touching moment, upon realizing there were limits to his time travel, our protagonist had to learn something from his father (brilliantly performed by the masterful Bill Nighy).
Though he had the ability to travel to anywhere in the past, instead of looking for the big moments, instead live each day twice, once as he lived it and once again, going back and looking for those moments within each day to find and give to others some simple pleasure, some small opportunity for happiness in between the spaces of what we normally live through in the course of a day.
How the day changed. No expectations. No disappointments. Beyond that, giving without expecting to ‘get’ something in return.
Can you live a day like that? At work? Home? In line at the coffee shop while you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be next? In spite of the problems or challenges you’re facing? Or the ‘important’ work you’re doing? Or the many things on that long list of ‘To Dos” you need to get to?
I know we’re all busy. How many times do I find myself rattling off a list of all the important things I’m doing with clients when others ask how I’m doing.
What if you took a day and made a conscious effort to expect nothing from anyone or anything. And instead focused on how you might fulfill someone else’s needs and desires. For a conversation. An extra bit of comfort. Time. Care. Love.
I’m going to give it a try today. How about you?