Before his death, my grandfather taught me a number of important lessons that have stuck with me till this day.
One of them was how to identify those people who have a plan, who move forward with their life dreams and achieve vital objectives. For want of a better word, we could call these successful people, the go-getters.
What little I remember of him, was mainly during the time following his retirement. As with many kids in those days, the grandkids would either be shipped off to camp or to the grandparents for summer break. For me it was usually the latter, and I loved it, probably more so than most because I got spoiled rotten and always got to do the things my parents wouldn’t let me.
My grandfather was always busy with small jobs around the house, or meticulously tending to his small backyard garden. Of course, I’d be his right hand man for anything that needed an additional pair of hands. More often than not — while I was getting my hands dirty — he’d be supervising from the comfort of a rocking chair.
In the mornings, I would accompany him for the daily grocery run; eggs, cheese, bread and whatever vegetables or fruit weren’t available from the garden. The trip would see us walk around various parts of town, and it’s here, that most of the lessons were taught. He commanded a lot of respect from the townsfolk and we frequently stopped on the street to talk to people of many walks of life.
He was of the opinion that conversations teach as much as formalized tuition at a fraction of the cost. Most importantly though, its was the transfer of pulse — the energy of the people in town — that interested him the most.
We would stop at street corners to observe — at a distance — how people interacted, how they spoke, walked, smiled or frowned. At times he’d ask me to look at people and describe — through my childish eyes — what they were thinking, where they came from or what they desired from life. These days, you could loosely refer to the activity as profiling, although on a very basic and childlike level.
Observations such as these may, at times, receive unwanted attention from the subject. It could be that your eyes meet — sometimes uncomfortably so — for long enough that the person realizes that someone is watching.
He would tell me to never drop my gaze, to connect with the eyes, that eventually the person would walk away without knowing why he was being watched and that the secret transaction can remain a secret. It was this early experience that made me realize that people can’t see past the eyes, they can make assumptions but never be sure of what you’re thinking.
“And that man, what’s his story, what’s he thinking, is he happy, why is he in such a rush?” he would continue. My grandmother would always be frustrated at why our trips for basic ingredients took such a long time. But this was our little secret and he would only have a smile on his face — infuriating her further — when confronted with such questions.
Getting back to my point, what exactly was the lesson, how can you spot those people who have vision?
He would point out with a nod of his head, never pointing with his finger, “see, he walks with his head down, watching for holes on a perfectly smooth pavement.” These, he classed as people who self-sabotage. They have everything they would ever want and yet they still look for holes in the ground.
There are those who never make eye contact with other people, as if it were something to fear. People like that frequently miss opportunities that are within their reach, they will never be happy and always blame others for their misery.
There are those who walk as though there is no purpose in the destination, aimlessly drifting through life, being pushed rather than doing the pushing.
“And that one, moving slowly, dragging his legs.” These were the labored, the ones with too many unresolved problems, their closed minds didn’t allow for creative solutions. These were the ones, who over time, would be ground down to insignificance, stuck between the pavement they walked on, and the slab of granite they carried on their backs.
Every now and then his eyes would smile with admiration, “look there, he has purpose, vision and stands tall, content with his own image.” Sure enough, although short in physical height, the man was much taller in stature than those who walked beside him. His eyes connected with everyone who passed, he looked forward and constantly scanned the horizon to absorb everything that’s happening around him.
When presented with an obstacle blocking his way, it was almost as if he had predicted it — he wouldn’t sidestep to avoid it or stop to reassess — instead, his walk would keep to the rhythm and dance around it as effortlessly as a brisk waltz but constantly moving forward.
I was reminded of this lesson when a colleague, a few days ago at a conference, said something similar:
“Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.”
In other words, the only way to capitalize on the many opportunities around us, we need to be prepared for their unexpected arrival ahead of schedule.
Without preparation or a strategy for dealing with the unexpected, you may find yourself being “a tourist in your own life.”