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Sweet Home Alabama: meet my Southern Mama

In 2014, I set out to tick off Bucket List #67: restoring a Southern home. Which – to cut a long story short – found me in Mobile, Alabama.

Once restoration of the home had begun, news got out about this Canadian girl’s adventure in the South. Soon I was contacted by a lady who claimed to have spent much of her childhood in the 1920’s playing on the front porch of the house I was bringing back to life. She was best friends with a girl, Miss Myrtle May (Morgan) Hartman who grew up there.

The dear lady who managed to track me down is none other than Katharine Phillips-Singer. Side note: If you want to see a heart-warming reunion of the two old friends, check out their story we captured in my Southern Romance episode 8 . Still brings tears to my eyes.

It only took one visit with Miss Katharine to know my life was going to be richer for it.

She has patiently allowed me to adopt her as my southern Mama, and she lets me pester her with visits every time I am in town.

I’ve written about this amazing lady before but since this blog series is about people who have influenced me, I must include her.

If I have to pick, here are my three top reasons why:

  1. Her approach towards aging is contagious. She takes the fear of aging right out of me. In fact, she makes getting old look truly like the honour that it is. Even though she dislikes her cell phone and never did get a computer, she still embraces keeping up with what’s new and happening around the world. She still lives on her own in her familyhome and refuses to let her aches and pains keep her down – facing them with her wonderful sense of humour. Oh! If you could hear that laugh of hers – combined with her story-telling abilities – you’d see why I love to be with her whenever I can.
  2. I’ve always felt retirement is a word I have no interest in and she is my living proof that working keeps you young at heart.Although in the past year she has reduced her entrepreneurial activities to only one business, she continues to run her antique business at 94 years of age. She has no intention of slowing down if she can help it and I just love that about her. And maybe, just maybe I’m also enamoured by the fact she loves antiques just like I do!
  3. Through Miss Katharine and her brother,  Dr. Sidney Phillips, I was awakened to the fact that WWII wasn’t just about fighting in Europe. Being a daughter of Dutch parents, it goes without saying that naturally their war experiences are what I grew up hearing. In the Phillip siblings’ wartime stories, Miss Katharine was the sister left behind when Dr. Sid joined the Marines in Guadalcanal. I became aware of the battle which raged in the Pacific through Dr. Sid’s memoir “You’ll be Sorr-ee“. In it one is exposed to the atrocities of what soldiers faced everyday on the battlefield from their pathetic living conditions to the horror of witnessing gruesome deaths.
  4. Through their many stories, the realities of war then and now has become much more personal for me and has increased my sensitivity and thankfulness for those who choose to fight for theircountry, then and now.

    So, I can only hope that if I am blessed with a long and healthy life like Miss Katharine, that I too will find the secret of attracting young people to keep me company and give me purpose!

Is Silence Always Golden?

Phantom Screens 25 yearsSilence sure is golden when you’re planning a nice quiet evening in front of the fire, curled up with a good book and bowl of buttery popcorn – and have to share it with no one.

Strangely though, being a recent empty-nester those kinds of evenings are less in my dreams and more in my reality lately – its funny how the grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence until you’re the one stuck mowing it.

But let’s get back on track.

If you consider all of history’s revolutions, rebellions and revolts, they have one thing in common…

Someone slashed the silence.

Someone dared to speak up and defend a deeply held conviction. While I know there are some throughout history who spoke out for the wrong reasons or with the wrong intentions, thankfully, so many more real life heroes speak up in defense of the value of human life.

harvey weinstienThese are the good folk who broke the silence for the good of their fellow man, community and in some cases – the world. The most recent example I can think of is the #metoo campaign that followed the exposure of a Hollywood executive.

I think Tom Hanks said it very well when he reminded his interviewer that this wasn’t just isolated to the movie industry. This type of behavior exists in many, if not all, industries.

So let’s all be aware, brave and speak up when we see or hear of unacceptable behavior to one another – especially if a power imbalance exists.

So that’s what leads me to my Person of Influence #19. We have to travel back in history exactly 500 years, as of October 31 last week.

MartinLuther

Martin Luther…

My Marketing team always warns me to stay away from speaking or writing about my bent on politics, race and religion – which generally is really good advice. But I can’t let this influential 500-yr old day in history go by without at least saluting one of my forefathers of faith.

Meet my real life hero – a priest, composer and monk named Martin Luther. Now don’t get him confused with the modern day “I Have A Dream” Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement leader in America. Not only were their names almost identical – they both had an “I Have a Dream” speech.

MartinLutherKing

…not to be confused with Martin Luther King.

Ok, ok, I know the first wasn’t a speech. But he too changed the world when he nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany – sparking an intense conversation about God, faith and grace.

This event, known as the Protestant Reformation, has influenced the world then and now to a degree beyond understanding. Luther was one of those people who didn’t worry about what other people thought, rather led by God, he was compelled to speak up for what he believed was right – the ultimate betterment of mankind – despite the persecution he knew would surely follow.

I know I didn’t have that kind of courage when I was younger.

But in my middle years, I am beginning to understand when you receive insight into something wrong, it isn’t only your right, but also your God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and expose the evil.

I just pray I find the courage when it’s needed most.

Signed,

#metoo

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Daughters Know Best

Phantom Screens 25 yearsBefore you read this, I must point out that, although this becomes the official Persons of Influence blog post #17 and #18, the numbers are in no way representative of the level of Influence these two have had on me.

In fact they should be in the Top 3 for sure.

They are our two daughters and their influence on my life extends way past personal, deep into my corporate career and on Phantom Screens.

So let me introduce Courtney Johanna (’95) and Madison Lyn (’98) – Courtney De Wolde, Madison De Woldeour daughters from our 31 years of marriage. Do the math and you will note our first 9 years were sans kids. The remaining 22 was with them and I wouldn’t change that for anything, especially now as we slide into our second year of empty-nesting.

I admit it, I’m missing them a lot.

These two bright, unique, happy, wise and wise-crackin’ gals have kept their mama on her toes from day one! Having managed hundreds of staff directly and indirectly, I pretty much figured I knew how to run a crew, much less two skinny farm kids.

Oh how wrong I would be!

First lesson up is the power of doing what I say.

Whether you are a parent, an uncle, grandma, or Sunday school teacher – those little eyes are watching every move you make. When, not if, when your actions don’t match up to what you have told them… WHAM!!! It’ll fly back in your face faster than a creaky screen porch door.

And mark my words, our two girls have no fear of vocalizing their observation immediately and in front of anybody. But really, I’d have it no other way. Although I wouldn’t mind if they’d lose the scoreboard and finally forget the times they’ve heard me use some words I ain’t proud of saying.

De Wolde Family, Esther De Wolde, Phantom ScreensThe second free lesson from the girl birdies in my nest is keeping life’s priorities in order.

I’m pretty sure I do not stand alone on this one as a mother working outside of the home. Again, I am thankful both Courtney and Madison knew how to keep me in check without me feeling like they were intentionally laying guilt trips on me or being all whiny about it.

Leave it to them to say it like it is…

“Mom, you made Dad go skating with the class last week so it’s your turn to come watch me swim.” “Mom, you worked all week, put the laptop down and look at me when I am talking to you” (funny how that line would reverse itself when they reached teenage years).

They weren’t heart-wrenching, heart-string pulling words, just practical advice out of the mouths of babies. I tried to heed with all my might, balancing motherhood with corporate plans, field trips with business trips and bagged school lunch making with dining out with clients.

I have become the Queen of Balancing.

Certainly not the last lesson taught to me by them, but the last for this blog was and continues to be humility.

Nothing and no one keeps me more humble than these two offspring. They seem to make it their life’s mission to point out my shortcomings and failures. I swear it has become a game for them, but then again I’m pretty easy prey.

It started out so innocently on my part when they were young.

I loved to make them giggle themselves silly by telling them what dumb thing had happened to me that day. You’d almost think I searched out silly things to do just to hear their heart-warming laughter at the dinner table.

Recently I now realize they take huge pleasure of re-telling my foibles to their friends, making me out to look like the child and them the mothers.

I don’t know if that’ll ever change though. I always seem to forget that my desire to hear them enjoy my life’s crazies actually becomes future ammunition for them to fling at me.

Just yesterday in my haste to leave the house to get to work on time, I noticed the dog’s empty water dish outside. I hurriedly ran to turn the garden tap on, picked up the hose to fill her dish (all the while balancing files and my hot coffee mug in the other hand) only to accidentally drop the running hose into my cowboy boot.

And I kid you not, the first thing I thought of was wait ’til the girls hear this one.

I guess I’m just a sucker for punishment.

Enough about me. Tell me the lessons you’ve learned from the ankle-biters in your life. I bet between us we could write a book.

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First Impressions Don’t Always Count

Phantom Screens 25 years

Have you ever met or known someone you hope you never get stuck with at a party? Or even worse, stuck in a car on a long drive out of town? You know, the kind of person that puts your back up the moment you meet them?

And have you ever been spectacularly wrong? Talk about a misjudgment.

Yes, this is a set up to introduce my next Person of Influence.

Pretty unbelievable then, that 25 years later Geraldine Geraldine, Friend, Esther de Wolde(you have to say it with a heavy Dutch accent just because it’s fun to bug her) became a very dear friend, mentor and partner in all volunteer-related things at church.  So here’s a word of caution to all you young married women. If you are forced to hang out with that annoying wife of your husband’s best friend, chin up! She could be your next best friend.

Her influence runs so deep with me.

At eight years older and wiser than me – I learned so much from her. Not on the domestic front as much but more in the deep meaningful areas of life – and why having faith mattered. How to love the unlovables, the down n’ outers, and those plagued with mental illness.

Through her enthusiasm I got heavily involved in all things community with our church, teaching Vacation Bible School, running the evangelism program, Alpha with her and even creating an annual Adventure Fair for our church neighborhood kids.

None of these things held interest for me until she came along.

I realize now how contagious certain people’s attitudes can be. If that’s not inspiring enough I don’t know what is.

Before I knew it, our families were vacationing together, hanging out on weekends and just generally blended together. I always said when our two girls were young we had the best deal ever.

Geraldine, Esther de WoldeTheir two girls were of babysitting age, so going to Hawaii or Disneyland was perfect! Thank you Bec & Sarah!  Funny that now the roles are reversed. When our girls come home from college they babysit their children. Ah, the circle of Life.

This is my 16th Person of Influence.

But I waited ‘til now as this past week marks the 12th anniversary of Geraldine’s passing on to glory. It seems like only yesterday that I heard her cackling in the hospital hallway consoling me that her heart surgery would go well and she would see me tomorrow.

In life, we learn that we can’t control what happens to us or when, but we sure can control who our friends are.

I am forever thankful for the friendship of my dear friend Geraldine. Until we meet again.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Phantom Screens 25 years I know the title of this blog series says “persons” of influence but for my 15th one it’s actually a herd of people. They’re known in my world as our Phantom Screens’ Distributor network.

I spent two days with them this month in Niagara Falls at our 25th Anniversary Celebration and as always, I was reminded how they are a huge source of influence in my life, company and career.

Phantom Screens, Distributors, Ravine Vineyard Estate Wiinery

Our 25th Anniversary Celebration in Niagara Falls, ON with some of our wonderful distributors and staff!

Influence comes in many shapes and sizes – as do our Distributors.

Some have been with us for over 20 years, some only one year. Some work out of their garages, while others have big offices and a warehouse. Some are led by husband and wife teams and others have formal organizational structures.

But they all have one thing in common when it comes to my interaction with them.

They want the best for Phantom Screens and aren’t afraid to share their thoughts.  Over the years, at times I have been intimidated or frustrated at never feeling like we’ve arrived at meeting their needs and therefore may have possibly reacted in a less than effective manner.

But after 25 years of serving them as our customers, our partners, I look back and can honestly say their boldness to speak up for their needs, their forthrightness to cause correction on our part, and their absolute loyalty and dedication to our collective brand has helped me lead our organization to a much better place.

At times when I didn’t listen to them, I paid the price and had to come crawling back on my knees. And other times when I grudgingly listened with no payoff, I held it against them. No, just kidding, I didn’t. Rather I was buoyed by the fact that I had honestly tried.

But let’s face it.

They are in the field every day of the year and I am not. We don’t interact with our end-consumers as they do, so I’d be a crazy fool not to listen to their advice about product innovation, improvements or customer experiences. And the only way we are going to make Phantom Screens a household name is through their efforts – which makes us a true partnership.

They say a partnership can be the worst ship to be on but not so for me.

Our Phantom Screen’s network of Distributors is like family. A gathering such as we just had is like a family reunion filled with happy ‘remember when’s’. Lots of heckling one another and being there for each other to help each one walk the peaks and valleys of life.

Thank you Phantom Screen Distributors – you make this girl proud to call you not just customers, but family too.

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Behind Every Cloud is a Silver Lining

Phantom Screens 25 years

Of all the books and speeches I’ve read and heard on leadership and professional development, there is one author/speaker who consistently is my game changer.

Meet Dr. Henry Cloud, writer of such good reads as Integrity, Boundaries for Leaders, Necessary Endings and many more.

Dr. Henry Cloud, Esther De Wolde, CEO Phantom Screens, Niagara Falls

Trying to keep it together next to Dr. Henry Cloud

I’m a huge fan of his work. His ability to inspire grounded thinking and action within my own leadership makes him one of my 25 Persons of Influence to celebrate our 25 years in business. When we were planning for our 25th Celebration for our customers in Niagara Falls, Canada this week, it made perfect sense to me to have Dr. Cloud come speak to us all.

And speak he did.

He is one gifted fella. I tried to be mature, and act all business-like while sharing the stage with him. But before I could stop myself, I publicly admitted I was like a stalker fan and, if he didn’t mind, could I please just touch the hem of his robe?

True story, there’s a picture to prove it.

r. Henry Cloud, Phantom Screens, Niagara Falls

Thankfully, he took it all in his stride. His microphone produced a nasty screeching noise from feedback when I came on stage to thank him, but he just laughed and explained it was a built-in police protection radar.

Seriously though, as a clinical psychologist, he excels at breaking down the seemingly complex into bite-sized chunks of advice to help you move forward in pursuit of making life better for yourself, others and your company.

One of the best pieces of advice I have learned from Dr. Cloud is found in his book Integrity. It is to consider the “wake” one leaves behind them-self while plowing through the waters of life.

He points out it doesn’t matter how great a person is if they are leaving injured or dead soldiers in their “wake”.

Dr. Henry Cloud, Esther De Wolde, CEO Phantom Screens

Applied in a work setting, when you have a staff member who does the task side of their job incredibly well, but fails to handle their people with respect and care, then no matter how good that person is, they need to be invited off the team to save your culture from the poison.

Heeding this advice can be extremely hard, but I have seen its benefits many times over and Dr. Cloud is right. The long-term gain always exceeds the short-term pain.

Are you struggling with something in your own life but don’t like to read self-help books?

I get it – but you don’t have to miss out. There are plenty of clips by Dr. Cloud on YouTube for you to watch and be inspired to make a leap of faith or next step to change your situation.

Thank you Dr. Cloud for changing so many lives … including mine.

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A twist on outdoor living

They call him homeless.Phantom Screens 25 years

It’s almost said with disdain. Not overtly because that goes against some unwritten social moral code but it’s there. I recognize the undertone because I used to emanate the same one.  It’s crazy if you think of it.

How the lack of a door on his home or running water and electricity puts one human being in a lesser category.

We don’t mean to judge others, but our world is wired to compare – who’s more famous, who drives a newer car, lives in a bigger house, wears more expensive labels, has more likes and shares and followers…

Let me introduce you to my friend John.

Actually, he lets me call him Treehouse John – you know, when you give someone a nickname, it means you love them and he knows that. John is in my top 25 people who have influenced my life. Because of getting to know him, my eyes have been opened.

Treehouse John, Phantom Screens, Esther De Wolde, 25 People of InfluenceWell, actually I should say my heart has been opened.

Suddenly John is no longer “that homeless guy who lives in the bush behind the Phantom plant”.  John and I share the same age. He has a full name and he’s told me about his sister and family who desperately want to help him.

John can point to a specific time in his younger life when he made some poor decisions, which led to him not having a fixed address. Well, until he moved to our neck of the woods.

Treehouse John as you guessed, has a treehouse dwelling that he’s built. It is impressive. Constructed out of neighboring businesses scrap pallets and other odds and sods. It has a bedroom, sitting room/kitchen, and a bit of a storage room. Yes it’s crammed full of things we would toss due to being stained, bent or torn but he makes do with it. His treehouse is built on top of a forested ravine, on protected city property because of a creek that runs through on the bottom.

For the most part Treehouse John minds his own business.

Sometimes he has a bad day and causes a bit of stir with his cohorts but only when he feels threatened or violated.  We would be no different except we can safely drive our car into the garage and push the button to close the automatic garage door, enter our home and lock the door behinds us, draw the blinds and escape from the madness of society. For some of us we’ll plug in the kettle for a cup of tea, or run a bath, or turn on the TV for white noise to soothe us.

John can’t do any of that to refresh and restore his soul but he tries.

We have a deal him and me.

He gets to use our exterior outlets for power to charge his cell phone (yes, even homeless folks are wired into the digital age) and the outside tap for water. In turn he watches our place. He runs off kids up to no good in our parking lot late at night and other unwanted visitors.

I like our arrangement and it makes John happy.

I personally can’t force John to make different decisions so that he becomes mentally well or choose to live under a permanent roof or go to a paying job lunch box in hand.

But what I can do is love him. And make sure he feels loved and valued.

Embarrassingly, I’ve learned he and I are no different. We serve the same God who gave us life. We both had a mom and dad who loved us. We both made decisions which led us to our present realities.

I now realize when I was 15 if I hadn’t stubbornly refused to join kids in my class to smoke pot or do the drug of choice back then, I too could be camped out beside Treehouse John. I keep thinking “wow, we are all one decision away from living under a bridge”.

I don’t pity John (nor does he want to be pitied). He is choosing to remain where he is at. I am however, beyond thankful, for whatever reason God gave me the capacity to make the choices I did, when it comes to my living conditions.

But just like John, there are some choices I made that I too wish I could take back.

Phantom: the cat’s meow.

Phantom Screens 25 years If this blogpost makes it to your eyes it means our Marketing department has cut me slack for not following their edict. Specifically, I am supposed to be writing about Persons who have influenced me but for this post I have to bend the rules and change “person” to “animal”.

Yes you read that correctly.

You see for over 15 of Phantom Screens’ 25 years in business, I had a trusty office sidekick named… Phantom. She was a tortoise-multi coloured short hair feline who I fell in love with at the SPCA in 1997. She was just a year old and her sad little face said “pick me”.

I couldn’t resist.

Plus, my husband always said we couldn’t get another cat, so this was my way of getting me a pet cat. As for bringing her to the office, I used the excuse that we needed to keep the mice under control. Never mind that I found out later she was petrified of rodents and cried like a baby when I trapped her in the bathroom with a mouse encouraging her to dispose of it.

If you’re wondering where the influence part came in, it was more in the office dynamic she created and what a great HR recruiter she was.

Potential applicants for hire would sit down in the office foyer waiting for their interview and unbeknownst to them, Phantom would stroll on by and give her opinion.

If she ignored them it meant ‘don’t hire him’. If she jumped on their lap, bingo! We had our next employee selected.

As for existing staff, it became apparent very quickly who the soft touches were – those who gave her treats and bought her toys, and those who begged to take her home on weekends. Over the years though, she began to get fat, and fatter, until finally I had to put my foot down and find out who was supplementing her diet causing extreme obesity.

To my surprise, there was a large number of staff throughout the building who had fallen prey to Phantom’s wily ways as she would strut into their office each morning pretending they were the one and only in her life.

Silly putty tat.

She brought sincere joy to the office and especially to the Finance department. Soon after we moved into our new two-floored office building in 2001, Phantom found her home with the numbers people in the downstairs east wing.

It wasn’t uncommon to find Phantom sprawled over their arms while they were trying to work on their computers. Especially with Jolanta, our Controller who spoiled her rotten on all fronts.

To this day, Jolanta is our cat, bird and dog whisperer in the office. She has her own private show of hummingbirds all day long thanks to the feeders outside her office window.

We might have been one of a few companies with the question: “Are you allergic to cats?” in our interviewing process when hiring Finance staff. Yes, the cat ruled over allergy-ridden bookkeepers.

Sadly, Thanksgiving Day 2012, we had to say our final goodbyes to Phantom, whose health was deteriorating rapidly. And five years later, those of us who were fond of her, still miss her presence in the office. If you own a cat you will agree nothing rings truer than this …

If you own a cat you will agree nothing rings truer than this … “in ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett 

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Does business coaching really work?

Phantom Screens 25 yearsWho…

There are some people in life who have extraordinary abilities.

Not in the able-to-paint-the-Sistine-Chapel or wrestle-a-polar-bear-and-win sense. More in the subtle art of people skills. Take my friend Karen Thrall for example.

Karen ThrallShe’s best known to me for her insane ability to see right through me.

I first met her through Nathan Rooke, son of my business partner Ken Rooke. They all attended the same church and asked Phantom to sponsor a fundraising event for the Vancouver Burns Unit (if I recall correctly). Karen’s best friend had survived a horrible fire and was passionate about the cause for sure.

There was something about her that just made me like her. An instant feeling of ‘hey, I want her to be my friend’.

And that’s exactly what happened. Friends we became.

Although for complete transparency, after that I found out she was a leadership and team coach I paid her to hang out with me. She did a number of team building events for us at Phantom too.

She is terrific at coaching. But soon after we met she joined the team of John Fluevog, those $500 for a pair of shoes company. She headed up his store expansions, flying hither and yon and sadly we lost touch.

That is, until just a few years ago.

But she lives in San Diego now so our face to face visits are rare and special. Oh and she’s back to using her amazing skills and is coaching again – check her out at: www.karenthrall.com

Greatest Lessons I learned from her…

There are many lessons I’ve learned from her. I guess that’s why she’s a coach.

But in the spirit of choosing just one, it dates back to 1999. We were having one of our infamous Starbuck dates where we dipped from friendship to giving each other business advice.

This time it was her turn and I was in the hot seat sharing about my anxiety over some public speaking event I agreed to. I was probably also worrying about not being perfect or something.

Karen went into speed demon coach mode, grabbing the nearest napkin she could find and a pen, and started firing off questions at me. Who were my three Bible heroes? Give me 3 reasons why? What was I scared of?

And on and on.

Before I knew what was happening, those big blue piercing eyes of hers were bouncing with glee, so eager to show the correlation between who I admired and why they resonated with my heart so much.

And what it said about my God-given destiny. The napkin looked like a treasure hunting map gone bad.

But here’s the thing.

The gift Karen gave me that day in building up my confidence to be able to say to myself: “Yes! I can do this!” was beyond earthly value.

I still carry that “treasure map” napkin in my purse, tucked in my travel Bible, right next to my folded up Bucket List.

It is that special to me.

If I could talk to her this very second, I would say…

Go get your clubs, so we can play a round of golf!

It’s been awhile. And while playing there’d be a high probability I would remind her of that infamous coffee date where she infused life into me. I would profusely thank her for being that heaven-sent angel to my rescue.

And she would don her genuine humble response of acting like her gift was just another day at the office. Her amazing gift of being able to see through people, draw them out and having such amazing knowledge of what makes them tick.

Then I’d make sure I’d win at golf. I may love her, but I still have to win, right?

But Why Does It Have to Hurt So Much?

Phantom Screens 25 years

At the risk of my Senior Marketing Manager giving me heck for too long of a word count in this blog post, I want you to know that I’m combining five People of Influence into one. 

When you read the post, you’ll understand why. It’s not that I haven’t got things to write – I just want to restrict myself! You are welcome Paul.

Sunrise Phantom Screens

Who…

His name is Mr. Adversity.

I know for a fact that everyone who reads my “Person” of Influence blogpost this time has met him before too. Regretfully, he is alive and well with no fixed address.

I say “him” but sometimes he shows up in a dress and is a “her”.

Although I don’t camp with the feminists and am not a woman’s rights bra-burning type of gal, I’m going to have to stick with calling him a man in this blog. That’s because it seems to be the gender he has shown up in when I recall the four serious times I hung out with him.

I mean seriously hung out with him, like in longer term business-type relationships lasting a minimum of three years.

If it annoys you that I am protecting the guilty by not stating their real names, then think again.

One, it would be cruel to publicize them. Two, I don’t want to air forgiven laundry even if some haven’t repented. And three, I may have forgiven them, but I don’t need to feed their narcissistic selves with credit for being an influence on me or risk giving them permission to justify their actions.

When I originally created my list of 25 People of Influence, my first instinct was to think of people who positively influenced me – like the five previous posts. It was hard to come up with 25 names of positiveness. But at the same time it occurred to me that I have endured some pretty negative influencers in my life and they should really make the cut too.

Because really, they have shaped my thinking and actions hugely too, in fact maybe even more in some cases, and led me down life-giving journeys of learning in each encounter.

And that my friends, leads me to my Greatest Lessons learned from Mr. Adversity.

Greatest Lessons I learned from him…

Read plural form – Lessons.

The first and hardest lesson learned was to forgive someone when you’d rather scratch their eyes out. 

I’m not gonna lie – in each of Mr. Adversity’s arrival in my life the time together started out wonderfully, fun, engaging, bursting with fresh ideas that abundantly flowed in hopes of a brighter future.

Then slowly, oh so slowly, right under my oblivious nose, the relationship unveiled the ugly truth – that my trust of them was being used to self-serve their needs and wants – as they slithered around me like a snake in the grass. And not a cute Gardener Snake either. Think snake like the-snake-in-the-Garden-of-Eden snake tempting Eve to bite the apple.

Besides recognizing I own my own part in having allowed things to go unchecked, the richest lesson I learned was I was only hurting myself when I withheld forgiveness from Mr. Adversity.

I don’t mean to get preachy here, but for me, if I didn’t live with a faith in Someone Bigger Than Me, I really couldn’t have forgiven him each time. Being reminded over and over that God loves them as much as He loves me gave me the ability to see Mr. Adversity’s heart separate from his actions.

It’s no different than us parent’s love for our kids – no matter how badly our kids could hurt us or screw up, we would never take their school picture off the wall in the family room. Never. Ever.

The second lesson learned was to think bigger, wider, deeper and in a contrary manner. 

Not that all of Mr. Adversity’s ideas brought forward were right for me or the business, but it helped me get out of a “groupthink” mentality.

It forced me to walk a day in his dress shoes. I’m not talking being able to empathize with him, I am referring to considering business strategy or contextual interpretations from a non-natural position for me.

I am loathed to use examples as it would give away identities but here’s a generic version.

Let’s say I want to drive to Lethbridge, Alberta. I’ve done it often and I have my usual route mapped out in my head – head east on the Trans-Canada Highway all the way to Calgary and then head south on Highway 2 and twelve hours later I will arrive, Lord willing, in Lethbridge.

Twenty minutes into my road trip I pick up a hitch-hiker whose raggedy cardboard sign has Lethbridge scrawled on it. He gets in and won’t stop talking about a different way to drive to Lethbridge, explaining why they are all better than my usual route.

I am tempted and intrigued by the excitement of a new road with steeper hills and curvier curves so I risk it and turn off the #1 in Hope to take Highway 3 East via the Crow’s Nest Pass genuinely enjoying the new sights and sounds until…..

I’m stopping the analogy now.

It’s getting too long and is ripe for interjecting more lessons like running out of gas, crashing, getting knifed by the hitchhiker and I am trying to stick to the point of the lesson that is: there are more ways to achieve a goal then the ones I alone know of.

And for those of you who I lost at the point of picking up a hitch-hiker, don’t worry, as much as I always want to, I never have and I probably never will.

The third of my Top Three lessons I learned really bites my apple.

I believe that everyone is born with the ability to trust and be trusted and that is how I treat people.

It’s the Golden rule played out: “do unto others what you would have them do unto you”. Our business alliance partner JeldWen even has that written as their company Mission Statement.  Well, it used to … before they went public. Interesting.

What I have learned though is that I need to be much more discerning of giving out blanket trust.

Actually more discerning as to my expectation in return.

Just because I trusted them, doesn’t mean they have the capability to trust me back. I have learned the hard way – I cannot MAKE anyone trust me no matter how trustworthy I actually am or try to be.

At the end of the relationship, when I dissect the demise of it as I can do so well, for so long, until I am sick of myself thinking about it, I realize that, for whatever reason, Mr. Adversity never had the capacity to trust in the first place.

Nine out of ten times if Mr. Adversity laid down on a shrink’s couch we would will likely discover the root of their trust issues link all the way back to their own trust bank being emptied out, usually during their formative years when they were still an innocent wide-eyed child.

It is sad really.

Before, when I wrote: “at the end of the relationship”, I meant that. There always is a final end to the relationship in my experience with Mr. Adversity.

It’s the entire premise of Phantom Screens’ first corporate value “To Speak the Truth”. Kind of like the restaurant sign on the door: ‘No Truth, No Trust, No Relationship’.

The only exception for me to this rule could be when marriage vows are involved but let’s leave that topic to the side for now, shall we?

If I could talk to him this very second, I would say…

“Dear Mr. Adversity, here’s what my brain wants to say to you… ^+%*()*&^%^#$)!!!!”

But I will intentionally choose to follow my Mom’s advice and “try and be the bigger of the two” despite my human weakness to want to be spiteful.

So, let me try this again.

“Dear Mr. Adversity. I wouldn’t have chosen to have you in my life nor am I going to thank you.

However, since we mortals do our best learning in the valleys of life, as opposed to the peaks, let it be known I am thankful to God for having guided me through the rough spots and for giving me a capacity to learn, develop and grow from it.

You know, that whole Phoenix thing, a sun out of the ashes.

And although the chances of you reading my blog are slim, I will say this much to you.

I hope for your sake that one day, you too will find the real joy in life from learning to trust others and serve something bigger than yourself. You have so many incredible gifts to use for good on this earth if given with no strings attached.

It is my prayer for you.”

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