Spring officially arrived on Saturday here in Georgia. This time of year reminds me of two things, gardening and my grandfather. We called him Paw Paw. April will have been ten years since he passed. It does not seem like it though. He played a big role in my life, so this post is dedicated to the lessons he left me with that helped shape me into the person, the husband, the father, the coach, and community leader that I am today.
I used to spend the summers working with him in the garden that he had in Canton, Georgia. In 1996, he and my grandmother (Maw Maw) purchased nine and a half acres there, it is about a twenty-five-minute trip Northeast of Acworth. The property was simply referred to as “The Land.” For the last several months my son Grant, my Uncle Phil, and myself have been working to resurrect the garden there. This project has reconnected me with Paw Paw and the seeds he sowed in my life:
Working with him there was my first paying job. The first task he assigned me was to dig a ditch (by hand for emphasis) to divert water away from the garden. That was some hard-earned gas money for a sixteen-year-old! The job could have been done much faster and easier with a tractor, but he was teaching me a lesson all along. He was teaching me a hard day’s work. Something that stuck and has benefited me ever since. Work hard.
Give Young People Experiences With A Margin For Error
Speaking of ditches. I was fifteen at the time, learners permit freshly in hand. We had finished our work and was about to leave. I was about to climb into the passenger side of his 1982 Dodge Power Wagon, four speed manual, four by four, with thirty three inch mud tires on it. To set the scene for the events about to unfold, the driveway was dirt, it had rained a lot that week, there was a narrow crossing over a ditch, and I had never driven a manual shift.
He looked at me and asked if I wanted to drive. At first, I was hesitant. Then after his encouragement to give it a try, I was in the front seat and ready to go. Things started off well. Made it through some mud, which could not have been more thrilling to a teenage boy. Then we arrived at the crossing. He could sense my fear. He calmly gave me the instructions on how to cross it. Everything was going flawlessly until the ditch got in the way! I felt horrible. All I could think is that I ruined his vehicle by sliding off into the ditch. He did not get mad. He just laughed, got out of the truck, hooked the winch up and got us out.
I always wonder if I am giving my own kids and my players enough experiences with a margin for error. If you are a parent, educator, coach, scout leader, or youth pastor, maybe you share these feelings. This could relate to those young people we lead in the workplace as well. That day he gave me a chance to create an experience I would write about almost twenty-five years later. I have not been in a literal ditch since! Maybe some figurative ones…
Do Things the Right Way, The First Time
We were planting the garden one weekend and he had me go through and replace every tomato plant that was planted the week prior. When I asked him why, he told me that the person (who will remain nameless) who helped him let the roots get exposed to the sun too long. He/she took them out of the container, laid them all out along the row, then went back and planted them one by one.
He coached me on how to do it right. Dig the hole, mix fertilizer into the bottom, take the plant out of the container, “tickle” the bottom of the root system to loosen them up, and put the plant in the ground, one at a time. He knew that because it was not done right the first time, it would impact the harvest later.
We can get in a hurry and skip steps in the process. As most of us have found out the hard way, the story never ends well.
Your Last Name Means Something
He taught us how to be Albrights. We are proud of who we are, take pride in what we do, strive to be the best at what we do, will give you the shirt off our backs, and want to work hard to provide for our families. As I was drafting his eulogy and running it by my grandmother, she made it a point to add stubborn and hard-headed. The rest of the Albright women might agree with that assessment. What does your last name mean to you?
Give Yourself Space
According to DISC, a behavioral profile tool, I am an introvert. I do not know for certain, but I would guess he was too. He enjoyed his time with us, but he typically drove separately to family get togethers so he could leave when he wanted to, which tended to be early. He drove from his home in Marietta to the land several times a week. It was his escape. It gave him space.
Community leaders better others in the world they live in. That role can be exhaustive at times. Good community leaders work hard to put their families and the people they serve first. As the leader, you come last. We all need space. I know I do. I reenergize in space, have clarity in space, and am more creative in space. Give yourself space.
Words Matter To Kids
Speaking of needing space. Kids today will never know the struggle of sitting in the back of a late eighties extended cab Ford Ranger. The one where the seats folded down, you faced the other person sitting in the back, and you could barely move.
On this particular day, I was the only one in the back. Paw Paw had a friend Billy in the passenger seat. I was around eight or nine at the time. They were having a conversation as if I was not even there. He told his friend that, “He (me) was going to be the one to do something big one day.” I will never forget this moment as long as I live. This moment ended up inspiring me to be the first one in my family to go to college, get a bachelors, and eventually my masters. Granted, a degree does not mean everything in life. Leaders in local communities come from all backgrounds and education levels, but that day, I knew when he meant, and I was not going to let him down.
Community leaders that impact young people have an awesome responsibility. Kids hang on to every word. The words you use matter and can impact the trajectory of the rest of their lives.
He Was Proud of Me
He did enjoy having close friends visit him at the land. Fast forward a little over twenty years later from that ride in the backseat. As was common as he got older, I would be in the garden working while he hung around the truck in the shade. On this day, he had one of his friends with him by the truck. From a distance, I could see him showing his friend a magazine. I got my work in the garden done, made my way over to the truck, and got a glimpse of what was lying in the bed. It was an edition of the Cobb Life Magazine where I had been named one of the twenty under forty for Cobb County.
Here is a subtle thing I noticed about the magazine. It was not the faces of the other nineteen people on the cover, it was not the words, it was how worn the magazine was. This was not the first time he showed it to someone. He was proud of me.
Be proud of those you lead and those you serve. Show your team off. Celebrate them. They will notice.
Reading Is Important
I made it from elementary school through a master’s degree with reading one book in my life cover to cover. Impressive, but sad! He was a fervent reader, especially when it came to history. I used to buy him books for a Christmas gift every year. I always assumed he was a life-long reader. When I was in my late twenties we got into a discussion on reading. He confessed that he really did not start reading books a lot until he was in his fifties and that it was one of his biggest regrets. That inspired me to get going. Today, I am a reader.
Leaders read. When you read, you get better. When you get better, you make others better.
Here is the cool part. When we visit the land, I show my kid the ditches. The one I was proud of building and the one I was not so proud of running into. Our experiences, good or bad, make a difference in others’ lives. We are twelve blog posts in and I can honestly say I have enjoyed writing this one the most. Grateful for my Paw Paw and the seeds he sowed in my life.
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Who is this someone for you? Are you creating space in your life? Who did or did not give you experiences with a margin for error? Have you told those closest to you how proud of you are of them? Are you reading?