I was driving our son to school recently when, staring out the back window at the houses and businesses passing us by, he suddenly asked why one of the kids at school didn’t want to be his friend.
“I say hello and I’m nice to them, but they tell me they don’t want to be my friend.”
This was not a conversation I expected to get into within the time frame of a car ride to school. But, there we were. We were doing this, whether I was ready or not, so I had to wing it.
I said, “Buddy, not everybody has to like you. Or us. You are a wonderful person. You are kind. You are smart. You are funny, and you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are all those things. But even with all that, there are still going to be people you come across who just, no matter how nice you try to be, will not be the same. It doesn’t mean you should stop being who you are, please don’t do that, but just remember that there are going to be people who just don’t want to be friends. With you. With me. With anyone. You have to keep being you and let the people who don’t want to be a part of that go.”
It’s okay when people don’t click together. You are choosing who you spend your time with, so why spend the time and energy on someone who takes all your energy, your support, and your air?
Even adults struggle with this. How many of us deal with toxic people in our lives, or our workplace, who no matter how nice you try to be, no matter how much you reach out, you’re constantly left feeling drained and defeated as if you did something wrong. We grown-ups are not immune to these feelings either. Even we need to learn to continue on our way and not expend all we have to give for nothing but drainage in return.
It was only within a few days later that he told us that he saw this schoolmate and cheerfully greeted them with a “Good morning!” to receive a mean-spirited “Duh!” in response. I asked him what happened after that, to which he said “I just smiled and kept on going my own way.”
Keep on your own way. It’s the only way that’s right for you.
“Talent + service to others = success and personal fulfillment.”
These were the words uttered by a friend as he brought to a close a passionate and inspiring eulogy about his dad.
His dad being a math teacher, my friend described it as “the most important equation” his dad ever taught.
The passing came unexpectedly, but came doing what he enjoyed most – helping others. In this case, helping at a local church. I had never met the man myself, but hearing my friend talk of him with such esteem, such reverence, I knew what a difference he made in the lives he touched.
As my friend spoke those words at the front of the service, I felt…I don’t know. Inspired. Motivated. Enlightened.
It was like those words went into the air, floated into my ear and sparked a fire inside my mind (and no doubt, many others as well that day).
We are all given something or somethings that we are good at, and to allow them to waste is the only true failure. Whether you succeed at something with flying colors or are don’t meet your goal but gave it all you’ve got, you’ve put your abilities to work.
I think of how easy it is for so many of us to become complacent in this life. To just accept things for how they are and lose the fire, the motivation that once pushed us to change our thoughts, our worlds. Heck, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to write blog entries here, only to give up a few sentences in, filling up my account with dozens of unfinished blot posts.
This man inspired countless people in his time – be they the students he guided to find their true calling, the people he helped serving his country during the Korean War, or his own family, showing them, by example, what it means to believe in yourself, to have conviction, and to never put your abilities to waste, rather, to put them to use, making an impact, making a difference to others, making this world a little bit better.
It was a truly beautiful and touching tribute and my friend’s words echoed through my mind since we left the service, making me want to live a life that takes full advantage of any abilities I’ve been given, to make a difference (for the better) on the lives of the people I encounter, and most of all – to show my son, by example, just how happy life can be when you put it all together, stop focusing on the unimportant, the trivial, the superficial, and start focusing on what matters – making this world a little bit better.
It has taken me many years to fully come to terms with this, and it is something I often have to remind myself of to this day. But it’s important. And, as I have since childhood, I’m going to frame it in the context of something that is easier for me to understand and explain – film.
You don’t need to be Sam Wainwright to matter.
In the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s friend Sam is a successful businessman who has gone out into the world and made a lot of money while George has stayed in Bedford Falls and reluctantly carried on the family business of the Savings and Loan.
George Bailey had big plans for his life. He was going to see the world. He was going to have adventures across the globe. But he didn’t. He stayed in his hometown, married, fixed up a drafty old house, had a few kids, and did what he could to help his friends. There were times, though, when life got tough, overwhelming, and it drove George to really question his place in the world amid his friends who went off and did big things.
When I was younger, I used to think I was so important to the universe. That I was meant for great things, which led to massive bouts of sadness, frustration and disappointment when I would feel that I wasn’t living up to those expectations, especially as I got older and life changed, took off in various directions, etc.
But what I’ve come to realize is that we all are important to this universe, for different reasons. Sometimes those great things are on a smaller scale and not as grandiose as you may think.
I’ve sat and wallowed in disappointment that I’m not doing the big things. Not writing the great American novel. Not writing sought-after screenplays, television shows, mainstream comic books and cartoons. Not making big budget movies and kidding around with stars.
And that is all okay. You know why?
Because none of it matters.
The people I spend my time with, be they my wife, my son, or our friends and family, are genuinely invested in us and our lives, as we are theirs.
Someone famous or well-known may follow you on Twitter and hey, that’s cool. But unless they’re coming over to the house for dinner or helping you out when that flat tire comes on your car, the real-life relationships on your journey are what will matter in the bigger picture.
I’m not bashing those who get excited because someone with a blue check mark on social media gave them a shout out or a follow. What I’m saying is, don’t make it your world. Make those around you, really around you, physically and emotionally your world. That will count for more than any number of online followers, fans or likes. Trust me.
I’ll say it again because I can’t say it enough. Because I have to remind myself of it on those days when I wonder what happened, how did I get here, and wonder about my place in the world – You don’t have to be Sam Wainwright.
You don’t have to be the major success of your town, of your work, of your friends. Just be a George Bailey. Be a good friend. Be a good person.
Be the person who has been intertwined in people’s lives in a way that has hopefully made them for the better. Maybe it was introducing them to new people they would have never met without you who went on to become even better friends, maybe it was being the person who writes that great recommendation letter that helps get someone else a job, or maybe it’s just being a source of support when someone asks if you’ve got the time to talk or have a cup of coffee.
Judge yourself not on how many people know your name, or the names you can drop, but by the kind of person you are.
Looking back on my life, I was constantly looking to be a Sam Wainwright when I was younger. And yes, sometimes it still hits me and I wonder ‘did I head down the wrong path?’ ‘was there more to my destiny than this?’
And then I realize that being a George Bailey is pretty damn good. Because the quality of the life lived and the lives touched, will mean so much more in the end than any award on the wall, social media brag, or product sold.