LEARNING BY THE WATER-COOLER: Episode 12


There’s a book I love and cherish called The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. The premise being, when you die and transcend to Heaven (as is the case with Eddie, the protagonist) you meet the five people who changed the course of your life.


But not necessarily the people you might think. It’s the homeless man who asked you for a buck much to your haughty displeasure. However, in that split second when you paused to search for change, his ‘ask’ stopped you from stepping into the path of a bus.


Consider those telling moments in your existence that you may not even recognize in the whirling energy of your youth. But, when the clock seems to tick a little more slowly, maybe you’re able to stop and take a breath. Perhaps then you may recall some (not so) random moments and their real impact.


Think about that today.


I’m certain if you try, somewhere in your memory there will be (at least) one person who — in one moment — changed the course of your life. Me? Well, back in the day at Corporate Express (and only 18 months into a National Manager role), I became interested in a divisional Vice-President opportunity. Looking back, I wasn’t the least bit prepared for it. I went to my mentor and boss, who was the Senior VP of Sales, and I told him I was applying for the post. That’s right, I didn’t lean on his wisdom and ask for advice; in my youthful arrogance (I had an MBA after all), I just informed him of what I was doing.


His response? I’ll never forget it. He looked at me and said:


“I don’t think you’re ready.”


I was flabbergasted. I was furious. In time, his verdict festered deep inside and it ate away at me. I quit my job shortly thereafter to work with a smaller business, one that ultimately set me out on the entrepreneurial pathway. In truth, that hasn’t turned out too bad for me; my Senior VP would be one of my five. He may not have realized it, but for certain, he altered the course of my life. Sadly, he passed away before I really ever got to thank him.


I recovered and flourished from my decision to leave Corporate Express, but when I reflect on it, two things shine brightly:


1. He was right. And:

2. He never forced me to agree.


As I get older, those are qualities I value so much in those I admire, whether in business or in life: the power of honesty and the wisdom of integrity.


When I get up there one day, I know we’ll each have a seat at the celestial bar and have a heavenly pint together. He’ll laugh at my rash indignation from back in the day, shake his head and chuckle a little. In my mind’s eye, he’ll turn to me with a rueful smile etched on his face. He’ll wink and say:


“So you know you weren’t ready, right? How did that all work out for you?”


Until that day… thank you, Peter.

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