Thanksgiving Part III, RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING

relationships imageThis is the last of three articles devoted to the topic of thankfulness. Gratitude, I have learned, is a powerful tool for enhancing our lives, health and overall well-being. People who are thankful are happier and less stressed. They are less susceptible to the fears and distractions of modern, every-day life. As a result, they can be more productive, more focused and more creative – characteristics business people value in themselves and their associates.

Last week, I invited you to share how you go about making gratitude a regular part of your day, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. The responses were uplifting, and – to me anyway – not at all surprising. Everyone who commented expressed gratitude for the people in their lives, family and friends.

My good friend Grant, whose wit and wisdom I missed for about 30 years until our paths recently re-crossed, commented “I’m thankful for all my friends—both old and new—who remind me every day how far I’ve come and how exciting the journey is yet to be.”

If we let them, our families and friends can be a deep well of support and encouragement, not to mention joyful companionship. Sure, the people we’re closest to can make us nuts, but they’re also the most forgiving. I’m talking about people whose hopes for you – and belief in you – often exceed even your own.

Years ago, my parents lived on a small lake in Lolo, Montana just down the Bitterroot Valley from Missoula. They had a neighbor, Bill, who was one of the funniest, most creative people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was a gifted mimic with a particular talent for dialects. Bill and I would riff for hours on our fictitious adventures in WWII (pronounced dubya dubya eye eye), and their profound relevance to the challenges of the day – such as smoking fish… “they’re so hard to keep lit.” We were hilarious. Trust me.

One day, Bill took me to a sports complex in Missoula in his vintage Datsun 240Z. I don’t remember if we were there for a pickup game of softball or to watch his young daughter or son playing little league. What sticks with me about that day is what Bill said just before we got out of the car.

I don’t think I ever knew exactly what Bill did for a living. I know he was very highly educated, had a lovely wife, JoAnne, and that they had two small kids. I guess I’m unclear about his profession because it doesn’t align with our mutual, earnest pursuit of silliness. Looking back, I suppose it was his scientist’s rigor and attention to detail that helped make our nonsense so much fun.

You can imagine then, how surprised I was when just as we were about to hop out of the car, Bill asked me to hang on for a second. “Michael” he said, “I have something I want to tell you. You’re a young guy. You’re going to run into people and situations that’ll make you wonder if you’re on the right track, make you wonder if you’ll ever be a success or if you even deserve it, but I wanted you to know that no matter what, I believe in you. Just remember that, OK?”

That was more than thirty years ago and as I write about it, I can still feel myself sitting in the black vinyl seat of his Z car watching Bill speak in a way that was rare between us. Without his characteristically mischievous smirk, Bill was expressing confidence in me that I didn’t have myself. At the same time, he was challenging me. He knew I had grand aspirations and that I would certainly face discouragement. But with the words “I believe in you”, he was also saying that I deserved to have big plans. That I would be failing myself (and him) if I settled for less.

Bill was more emphatic and specific than most friends and family generally are, but most of us have had people in our lives who made, or continue to make, vital contributions to the way we see ourselves and our vision for the kind of person we want to be. It’s a striking and beautiful thing. My conversation with Bill is emblematic of all the positive relationships I have had with friends, colleagues and employers and customers throughout my life.

All of the things we make & sell, the stories we tell, songs we write and sing, the technology we develop, places we go, and buildings we build. Everything is for and about people. Relationships are everything.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I was blessed to be spending the holiday with my wife, Cathleen, two daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and Halley’s fiancé Jake. Cathleen and I are the guests of my mother in law Laura, and we spent the day with my wife’s sister, Caroline and her husband Fred and my niece and nephew Phoebe and Tobin. Cathleen’s brother John is baking the pumpkin pies. I can’t begin to describe how great it was for me after a couple of years’ absence to be back in this familiar, loving company, and how cool I think it is that our family’s circle has now expanded to include Jake.

More than anything, Thanksgiving is for me a celebration of relationships. My relationship with God, with the people who are nearest and most influential in my life, and with the many people who are continually entering and changing my life. Thanksgiving is a time for reveling in the quirks and eccentricities we ALL have, and for learning to love our differences.

As I conclude this treatise on gratitude, I’m thinking about all the people who have loved, guided, mentored, challenged, supported and encouraged me all along the way. My relationships with these people, now and in the future, are the most precious things I will have in this life, and I am – now, forever and always – grateful.

How are relationships important to you personally and professionally? Where have you worked or done business where relationships are a clear priority? How do they demonstrate their commitment to building and nurturing relationships?

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