I Had a Flat in Montesson:
Introduction to my book in process. (Yes, it is real.)
Like many people, I always wanted to write a book, but also like most of them, never got around to it or thought perhaps my life was too dull to be interesting to others. Yes, there are many business experiences and topics that could have expanded into a manuscript. After all, most business tomes have only one good idea, which is expanded with many stories to illustrate the idea. Over fifty thousand such books flood the market each year, and I did not want to write the fifty thousandth and first book. So this one turned out to be a memoir.
We use personal assessments in my business, tests that help a person learn their strengths, behaviors and personal values, thus giving them guidance to help achieve their own success. In one of the assessments, we ask participants to order their life priorities, one of which is “Living a life of adventure.” I’ve often ranked that item low in my priorities. But looking back over my life, I’ve come to realize adventure was one of my top motivators. I like change, meeting new people, seeing new places, having new experiences, learning new things. I like to explore.
That urge has often been at conflict with my upbringing. I grew up in a small Southern town in the forties and fifties, imbued with the myths and social norms of the old Confederacy. At an early age I realized the cruelty that system brought to people I cared about. During the sixties, I vowed never to live in Virginia again because of the state leaders’ stand against integration and civil rights. Even now, I struggle every day to overcome the built-in messages of the old culture. And I understand that adopting new beliefs and behaviors requires a person to deny their old culture. This is a long learning process, not one that happens with a lightning strike. But I work hard to be better.
Taking risks and entrepreneurship are not the legacies of my clan. They were more likely to be dirt farmers than estate owners. And I don’t know any relative who was willing to risk other people’s money to start or grow a business. That would have been contrary to the family’s ethics.
Yet, the family ethic demanded good behavior: Attend church, love each other, help other people, work hard, raise your family, avoid conflict, be self-sufficient, take responsibility, obey the rules. Isn’t that the ideal family environment? How can I complain compared to many other people?
That legacy was fine until it wasn’t. My self sufficiency folded under the weight of carrying too much responsibility alone. When I faced difficulties, I was embarrassed to admit them to my family and friends. I found myself alone on the prow of the ship with the cold wind blowing in my face, blinding me to the need to reach out to my shipmates.
I had a unique ability to understand the convolution of technology and organizations, but could not find ways to weave my family into the complex system. When I needed to reach out, I turned inward, but finding no one there, swirled around in the miasma. I was drifting. I had stopped exploring. I was estranged from my family, my friends. I had failed to build a personal support system.
When I finally learned to reach out, to give and receive love and support, the path became clear, but it ultimately took moving to a new continent to find the way. Moving to Europe is but one of the many turning points and associated decisions examined in the book. It is easy to say, in retrospect, that I did not examine all the facts while making a decision at each turning point, but fate is real.
A recent article told of a driver who hit a pedestrian, severely injuring that person. What if the driver had taken a different route home? Could they have considered the possibility of a pedestrian illegally crossing the street. How different the outcome would have been if the driver had taken a different road. Unanticipated consequences are part of every decision we make. But once made, we need to make the best of the route we have chosen.
Writing this book has been part of the healing process, an opportunity to reexamine turning points, to reconsider old decisions and to take a fresh look at times and relationships. I write this with deep apologies to my three children, David, Lynn, and Laura for all the missed opportunities of time together and for my absences in time of need. But I am thankful for them, my wife, Ancolien, and my brother Warren, for all their love and support for my exploration of life.