There is a popular hymn that states:
What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
Christlike, or not, regardless of your beliefs, I believe everyone around us has the power to “strengthen us and enrich our days”, and we have the ability to do so for others, as well.
Middle-class childhood, Little League and high school baseball, golf lessons with my hero/Dad, missionary service in Ecuador, married at 22, divorced at 28, remarried to my best friend at 29, personal and professional travel all over the world, 3 years in Minor League baseball, 6 years in education…it all has taught me lessons in life, in understanding people, in what motivates and inspires us, and how we can make more of an impact on people in our daily lives.
My experiences living as missionary in South America for two years, working for an Australian company, working in professional sports, running a minor league baseball team, and now working in education for a major university, have given me the opportunity to meet thousands of people, and I have learned that we all have very powerful, unique experiences that deserve to be shared.
We also have a lot in common.
Every experience and relationship that I have developed over my nearly 50 years has taught me lessons that will stay with me forever. From my childhood best friend, Stevie Reilly when I was about 5 years old, to a woman I met last week at a networking event, there is a lesson, or lessons, in every experience, and in every encounter.
In the early 1990’s, I started keeping track of these experiences, and began to pay closer attention to the lessons this life has to offer. It started as a project of just tracking all the people I have met in my travels, and writing stories about our conversations, what I learned from them, what I think they may have learned from me, etc. Some of these people are great sports legends and household names, but most of my experiences have been with unknown, private people. That is the beauty of it…we don’t have to be hall of famers, or public figures to have a positive influence on the lives around us. In fact, the greatest impact we will have will be on those in our homes, in our social circles, and in our neighborhoods. We all do this each and every day in our lives, but most people have no idea how to teach, or learn from, others, unless it is in a formal setting.
We can tap into the lives of everyone around us, even if it is simply a 30 second discussion with the cashier at the grocery store, or with the person pumping gas next to us!
I’ve had some unique experiences in airports or airplanes, in hotel lobbies, on trains, in baseball locker rooms (some of which will stay there!), and some of these conversations have been life changing, for me, and for others. There are stories that I share, and lessons that I think any of us could use in our lives. I’ve been working on putting them into a book for a few years, and will finish it one of these days, even if it is just for me and my family.
I love approaching strangers, regardless of where I am, and enjoy engaging them in conversations, sometimes idle chit chat, and often times deep, meaningful discussions. Regardless of the length, or depth, of these encounters, I usually walk away from these typically brief “relationships” a much better person, and hopefully they do, as well.
My family often jokes about how quickly I can strike up a friendship, even with the person on the other line when I call “4-1-1” to get a phone number! I just love talking with people.
That being said, however, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be comfortable approaching strangers, and you often times do not have to even have a conversation with someone to learn from them. I have dozens of stories of experiences where I learned life improving lessons simply by observing someone for a few moments. Not a word was exchanged in these situations.
As I have compiled stories over the years, I’ve noticed a common theme throughout all the stories…that all people have wonderful lives and stories that should be shared with everyone! Each of us has a history that is worthy of sharing, and that could teach many others.
At one point, about 19 years ago, I created a list of literally every person that I ever remembered meeting, going back to my childhood, what our relationship is/was, what we discussed (if it was a one-time meeting), and what I learned from that person, or what I shared with that person. It turned out to be something pretty powerful for me. Maybe you won’t make a list as I did, but hopefully you will begin to look at your relationships, long, short, deep, or seemingly insignificant before now, and see how powerful every person in your life can be to you, and how much of an influence we all do, indeed, have in the lives of others.
This entire premise goes back to the idea of connectedness, that all of us are connected, and that we all have something powerful to learn, and to share, and that the people around us, sometimes in places where we would least expect it, could potentially be our greatest teachers, or in many cases, our greatest students!
As we meet people, we should ask ourselves “Therefore what?” Why did this person come into my life? What is the lesson that is to be learned, or the experiences that we are to have, because we have met?
I’ve always loved working, and playing, in teams. The combined energy, strength, and potential of a team is much more powerful, to me, than anything I can accomplish alone. Each relationship we have has that same potential to make our lives, and this world, so much better.
I challenge us all to look more closely at everyone we know, and search more carefully for the lessons to be learned, and friendships to be developed. It just could change your life, and make you appreciate every experience, and every person, a bit more.