What is the guiding principle of your life in its current state? A company with which I was recently contracted would often ask it’s franchise owners: “What is your why? Is your ‘why’ big enough?” Over the years, as many significant life events have occurred and I have had my fill of certain mundane experiences, my guiding principles have evolved and become more refined. The reason why I strive for success will be a constant that will remain no matter how much money I make whether it is a lot or a little. Even successful billionaires live for a “why” as they continue to amass more riches. The answers to this “why” becomes the principles that guide me and many of my mentors. As you may be able to tell, recently I have chosen to re-examine the mentors of my lifetime.
Today as this day marks the start of a new week, I would like to highlight one of my favorite firefighters: Mr. Jerry Williams a retired battalion chief. With a smile ever-present on his face, his cheerful nature always rose to the surface even during stressful times where he would “kill ’em with kindness.” I will admit there is a bias as to why I choose him as my favorite firefighter since he is my Grandpaw. More importantly, some of his life experiences are simply amazing. He is a record-holding sprinter who competed with Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith, raised a successful White Sox World Champion, worked as an accomplished firefighter, is a published author, has black-belt Tae Kwon Do skills, is a cancer survivor like my new stepmom Zoraida, and who knows what else his future holds. Needless to say, Grandpaw has taught me a lot and is a man who holds firm to his beliefs and desires.
More specifically, I would be remiss if I did not mention and highlight that I definitely learned from Grandpaw’s history-making story as a black man who fought against racism with the San Jose Fire Department not once but twice. The first time he had to sue the city simply to be permitted to apply for the job. And, the second time, a group of minorities which included himself took on a costly legal suit to maintain their Battalion Chief promotion. However, you can read about some of this in his published book: “Being A Firefighter Was My Dream.” Grandpaw has had many experiences which make him a wealth of information but today I am planning for my week. So what I am sharing with you is the way he taught me to center my thoughts and always gain perspective on the current events of my life.
One of the phrases with the most impact that he has often said to me usually occurs early on in our conversation. Whenever I would ask him: “how are you doing?” He would usually respond, “I am fantastic as long as I am living, breathing, walking, and talking.” What a way to put things in perspective especially when you are facing a business or personal challenge, working in a fast-paced environment, or simply feel overwhelmed which are all normal parts of daily life. I am not sure I fully appreciated the impact of those words until I got older and our conversations became less frequent. As I reflect on all of his life stories which he has shared with me, I know that his appreciation for “living, breathing, walking, and talking” comes from a place of genuine enlightenment and growth.
Remembering that you are “living, breathing, walking, and talking” is extraordinarily helpful… as long as the timing is right. In fact, my last “conversation” with Grandpaw was over text message when more of my family became aware of my rape. I would venture to say that conversation started off well because he told me I would get through the pain. However, I think it was too early in my pain when as our conversation continued he more or less texted me that I would be fine once I got over it. It was too soon for a comment like that and at that time I strongly felt he was just as bad as my rapist by asking me to move on so quickly when I had just finally started talking about it. In some ways, he was right because I am in a much better place now despite the fact that I have not spoken to this mentor since that last conversation. But our method of communication in combination with his choice of words about “getting over it” made living, breathing, walking, and talking while feeling excruciating pain, loss, and embarrassment much harder to do. Grandpaw continues to focus on “living, breathing, walking, and talking” and so do I but now the hurt, pain, and loss has been put in perspective and a more manageable place. So please make a note to yourself when speaking with a survivor of any kind to be sensitive to their raw emotions and the timing of your comments. This applies even to using the phrase we are discussing: “living, breathing, walking, and talking.”
I will admit there were probably more less-pivotal times in my life when I would feel like “yea, yea, yea. Of course, I am grateful to be here but still…” but hindsight and my focus on my mentor lessons has allowed me to place greater significance on the importance of Grandpaw’s words. As I plan my week and my approach to the challenges I anticipate, if I take a deep breath and remember this phrase “as long as I am living, breathing, walking, and talking” the fast pace of this busy season in my life becomes a lot easier. Perspective truly comes with time. Perspective in combination with planning will allow you to experience greater success as we all strive to achieve our goals and experience a passion for life and our work on a personal and professional levels. Ultimately, when we look back on our life and all that time we had to “live, breathe, walk, and talk,” we should also know that we had a purpose or a reason why.