What Memory Would You Banish?
The Table Topics Master addressed the Toastmasters gathering,
Today’s Table Topic is memories. We’ll invite Carla up first. Given the chance, what memory would you choose to banish?
Table topics is a exercise in speaking extemporaneously. You hear the topic for the first time and have two minutes to speak on it. I knew I probably wasn’t going to be asked to speak since I had a role later in the meeting. But, I considered the question anyway. What memory would I erase? What event from my past would I choose to un-experience? I had plenty to choose from.
Depths of Despair?
The very worst period of my life was during a brutal summer that I moved my family to Wisconsin. I had just been separated from my previous company. Really, it wasn’t a firing. I was president and my investors pulled their funding. I needed a new job. A former client in Wisconsin asked me to come work at his rafting company. He would make me a partner and let me build sweat equity. Some of my friends suggested maybe I should rethink the decision to move my family across the country from Utah on nothing more than a handshake.
I didn’t listen. I really wanted this job to work out. I needed it to work out. It didn’t work out. I spent $10,000 that I didn’t have moving to Wisconsin. I bought a house that I couldn’t afford. It required a propane tank to be installed and filled. I didn’t have the money to do either of those. And my “partner” turned out to be a liar and a crook. I went from making $100,000 per year to nothing. I had twelve of my thirteen kids living at home. Oh, and I was stuck 80 miles north of Green Bay, in the middle of the Great North Woods. I was a computer guy. No one within 80 miles of me really needed computer expertise.
It was horrible. The state fed our family, but winter was coming soon and I had no heating oil and no money to get it. My children looked at me with trusting eyes. They had a confidence that I didn’t feel. I wasn’t just discouraged, I was terrified. I was depressed, horribly so. The lowest point of my professional career, and one of the low points of my life.
Is that the memory I would expunge?
Two years ago, my daughter and her husband shared the thrilling news that that we were going to be grandparents for the second time. The pregnancy was uneventful. Ultrasound photos said it was going to be a boy. They named him Bruce. And then. . .
My daughter knew something was wrong. During her ninth month, just a few weeks before he was due to be born, she went to her doctor. He checked her out and found nothing out of the ordinary. The next day the baby was quiet. Alarmingly so. A visit to the hospital confirmed their worst fears. The baby, who only a few days before had been busy preparing for his entrance, was dead. My daughter and son-in-law were crushed. As her parents, there was nothing we could do to ease her pain. It was palatable. No parent should bury a child. That goes for grandparents as well.
Would I remove that horrific painful memory?
I knew that calls got recorded at my first job. I just didn’t expect that my call would be recorded. Now, I was in a meeting with my boss, her boss and the HR representative. There printed out in black and white in front of each of us was a transcript of my conversation with one of our business partners. I was frustrated with how a project had been terminated. I was oversharing with the client. In fact I was doing more than that. I was telling them how my company had not fulfilled their obligation to the client. Disloyalty doesn’t begin to cover it.
I was embarrassed. I deserved to be fired. No one would have questioned the company if they had chosen to send me packing. Even if I saved my job, I was going to have a long path to rebuild trust in the organization. It was definitely one of the low points in my career.
Would I get rid of that painful experience?
Which of the three would you choose? Or maybe there was something even worse that trumps these. You might wonder which I chose, sitting there in my Toastmasters meeting.
None of them. It wasn’t because I thought of something even worse. As I considered each painful or embarrassing or painful event in my past, I simply couldn’t bear to part with them.
Mater: Oh, for a second there I though you was trying to fix my dents.
Holley Shiftwell: Yes, I was.
Mater: Well then, no thank you. I don’t get them dents buffed, pulled, filled or painted by nobody. They is way to valuable.
Holly: Your dents are valuable? Really?
Mater: I come by each one of ’em with my best friend Lightning McQueen. I don’t fix these. I wanna remember these dents forever.
Escaping The Depths of Despair
It took a long time to overcome the problems I got myself into in Wisconsin. I had to humble myself and accept help from my mother. I ended up delivering newspapers from 2:00AM to 6:00AM. I had a repo truck sent out to collect my car. I installed satellite dishes for gas money. I escaped bankruptcy by just a couple of months. It took years to pay off my debts.
In the movie “Cinderella Man,” Russell Crowe’s character, James Braddock, after a series of setbacks that sees him going hungry so his kids can eat, gets a second chance as a professional fighter. He’s asked what the difference is between his earlier career disappointments and his current success.
James Braddock: This time around I know what I’m fighting for.
Reporter: Oh, yeah? What’s that Jimmy?
That line resonates with me today in a way it never would have ten years ago. I like my current job, but even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter. The job is the thing. My manager and I recently disagreed with a decision. He offered me an “out.” “If it doesn’t work our, we can go back and do it your way.” My replay was, “Of course it’s going to work. I won’t let it fail.”
I remember what it felt like to go hungry so my kids could eat. I remember the sheer terror I felt as I desperately searched for something, anything that would get me even a few dollars so I could put gas in my car to continue to look for a job. I’m never going through that again. When I get frustrated with my circumstances in life, I think about that period of time. The lessons I learned were seared into my soul. I’ll never forget them. I don’t want to go back to them, but why would I want to give up those scars?
. . .And Life
When a woman loses a baby prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy it’s called a miscarriage. After 20 weeks it’s called a stillbirth. We had a funeral for my grandson. . .my first grandson. Our family is a family of faith. We believe families are eternal. The funeral was a sad experience, of course, but was also a time of hope. Our family pulled together. We honestly believe we will see Bruce again. I have additional grandkids now, including a grandson. But, Bruce is a part of our family. He will always be my oldest grandson. Why would I ever want to give up that? Who would want to lose a grandson, not only tn life, but in memory as well? Not this gradndfather.
. . .And Lessons Learned
I didn’t lose my job that day in the meeting with my managers. I got a warning and sent back to work. I never again forgot the lessons from that day. The most obvious lesson: Don’t bad mouth your company to one of your clients. Yeah, that’s a “no, duh” moment now, but when I was 23, it was quite a revelation. But, also I learned that the company is always watching. That’s not a creepy Orwellian thought. It’s the idea that when you are representing the company, act as if you are always being recorded. It’s part of the reasons I wear slacks and dress shirts when my company dress code allows jeans and shirts.
I also learned that managers must manage. My managers honestly didn’t know what they wanted to do with me when our meeting started. To their credit, they allowed me to make mistakes and keep my job. It’s a lesson I would draw on years later when I had to coach an employee who had made a serious mistake.
You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes
But they’re the only things that you can truly call your own
“You’re Only Human” by Billy Joel
The man I am today isn’t perfect by a long shot. But, I’m the sum of my past decisions, including my failures. To the extent I am kind, or experienced, or maybe skilled at something, it’s because of the choices, experiences and mistakes I’ve made. I can’t seperate the lessons from the situations. I cannot shed the pain without also shedding the joy. My memories, like Mater’s dents are very valuable to me.
No, thank you. I’ll keep my memories, especially the bad ones. those are the most valuable of all.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved