Obvious, But Unclear …

Very Few of Us - morguefile

This quotation resonates quite nicely with me at this time of year … ending 2015 and beginning 2016.

Year-ends are always interesting times … full of reflection, evaluation, and looking both to the past and to the future.  It’s hard to just be mindful of the present during this hectic holiday season.

Of course, we are not what we seem … who could project the sum total of ourselves at any given time?

We are a loosely-sewn collection of experiences, upbring, culture, perceptions, values, beliefs, and a few other things.   Not everything in our lives that we have seen, touched, felt, or thought affects us to the same depth, but very little has no impact at all.

This broad and deep mass of intangible, but very real matter is like a cloud hovering over our heads,  with invisible, but unbreakable strings pulling us to and fro.

My thoughts go to Sam (not his/her real name) …

Sam worked for me some years ago in a large corporation.  Sam was a hard person to deal with, displaying a bristly persona to anyone who dared to approach.  

His work was solitary and he toiled away locked in his cubicle, eyes to the screen, fully engaged with the task.  He was not to be interrupted.

As his manager, I tolerated Sam’s personality because of the quality of his work.  As a fellow human being, I ignored his presence as much as I could … until the day Same died over a long holiday weekend.

At the funeral, an obligatory appearance for me and a few peers, we learned some things about Sam’s life that we did  not know:

Sam had grown up on a farm in challenging economic conditions, who left school early when his strong back was needed at home.  He enjoyed square dancing, working on “hot rods”, and baseball.  Later Sam would return to school and earn his diploma at an older age than his classmates.

We learned that Sam was a decorated military combat veteran who had served in terrible conditions, but in a manner that had earned him high honors from his country and respect from those with whom he served.

We learned that Sam was an accomplished guitar player. Although his public performances were usually to benefit some good cause or bring happiness to those who were ill or dispossessed.   Sam most enjoyed playing Rock and Roll oldies for his grandchildren.

Yep, Sam was married, to a lovely quiet woman who was enamored of the man with whom she had shared her life.  She obviously had met her soulmate in Sam.  She described a long and happy life with Sam, one that produced five relocations across the country, four children and, to date, ten grandchildren.  Family events were full of music, food, laughter, and love, as was the funeral service.

… and there was more, much more, but you get my point.  We did not know Sam and all that Sam was, just the small sliver he chose to share with us at work.

As leaders, we do well to remember that the person in front of us is not all of the person that exists.  It is in our best interests as leaders to learn about the people we meet on our journey.

As human beings, we do well to remember that everyone has a backstory, faces challenges about which we know nothing, and is multi-dimensional, rather than that small sliver we see.

Remembering with some regret, but thankful for lessons learned in the Heartland ….