I overheard a conversation between two captains of industry. One was a senior banker who retired some 15 years ago and the other was a big-time director of a large national company who was just about to retire. In fact, his company and associates were going to throw a big retirement bash for him on his last day of work at the end of the month. The banker said, “George, you know all these years, you have been used to a lot of attention. All these many people were trying to get appointments to see you at work and after work you had all these dinners that you were invited to. But let me tell you that after your big retirement bash, suddenly there will be no more any clamoring for an appointment and there will be few if any dinner invites too.”
The banker’s point was this; the big-time director was in charge of a company that would award some USD 10 million in contracts every year and because of this, all manner of people crawl out of the woodwork and try to “curry favor” with him, “show respect” or in the local euphemism, “carry big leg”. However, once he steps down and no longer hands out the contracts, it will be as if all these “friends” will have disappeared.
With perhaps a few exceptions (Steve Jobs may be one), most of us give the better part of our youth and vigor towards some soulless corporation or organisation. The corporation or organisation may benefit greatly from our efforts but in all likelihood, our contributions and indeed our names may be forgotten from the corporate consciousness as the fresh new enthusiastic crop of corporate climbers report in.
The flip side of the banker’s point was that our life’s value is actually measured by the lives we touched and by the people who remember us. This is something that I believe is true but it was nice to hear someone with all the money and worldly success to say it too. At least then, it is not a case of sour grapes on my part or should I say, it is not a case of “beetle infested walnuts”.
I feel the same way about traveling or other life achievements. What’s the point in being a war hero if everyone else in your unit died in the fire-fight and you have no-one who wants to listen about what happened during a war they would rather forget? Or what about walking solo to the South Pole but you continue to have your dinners solo too.
Achievements and experiences mean more when shared with people who care and who care about us. I have done much traveling and the experience was so much more meaningful and pleasurable when shared. When I reflect on my one month hitch-hiking and train hopping through Europe, I can still remember the majestic glory the Alps, the awesomeness of the Norwegian fiords, the wondrous culture and art in Vienna and the history of Brugges but even more, I appreciate the beer shared in pleasant company in the Ardennes, the cheerful guide at the folk museum in Bergen, the German farmer who picked me up during a torrential downpour and gave me a ride to town, the Dutch innkeeper in Yugoslavia who happened to have grown up in Indonesia and the many more people that made my trip to Europe unique and different from everyone else’s.
So in all things, people are the gems that shine in our crown of life. They sure keep popping up and ruining my photos of the scenery!