May 9, 2023

Born with only two speeds is blessing and curse

Hearing “no” can do one of two things. The two-letter word can discourage you or encourage you.

            Over my almost 75 years, positive reactions to negative rejections have been a cornerstone of my life.  That’s why I’ve decided to update my 2009 version of Thank you for telling me NO! The book should be available by late summer.

There is one very important “no” exception.  If it’s a situation where country artist Lori Morgan sings, “What part of no don’t you understand?” that “no” is an absolute “No!”

            Otherwise, I am with Robert Rider, who retired from our company as one of our best-ever sales leaders. Robert said, “Unless you hear no six times, you aren’t selling.  You are just taking orders.”

            I was born with only two speeds: wide-open and off.  That’s a blessing and a curse. There’s so much that I want to do.  I remember the first time that I went down the line at Morrison’s Cafeteria in Savannah.  I had never seen so much food. I wanted one of everything, except the liver.  As they say, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”  And for sure bigger than my wallet.

            But that was just me.

            As a kid, I grew up in town on a quarter-acre lot, in an apartment in the back of NeSmith Funeral Home.  My country friends—Joe Phelps and Steve Strickland—had go-carts.  Oh, how I wanted one, too.  There were two good reasons I didn’t get one. My parents couldn’t afford to buy it, and there wasn’t a safe place to ride it.

            Other than a red Schwinn bike, the only wheeled “fun” that I had to play with was Big Dink’s wheelbarrow. I’d put a buddy in the bucket, and off we’d go, up and down the sidewalks of Orange Street. But one buddy wasn’t enough.  I wanted the heaviest load I could handle, so Joe and Steve would climb in.

            Looking back, I guess that silly example explains how I’ve lived my life—loaded and full of challenges.

            When Pam and I were selected for Leadership Georgia’s Class of 1983, its adviser, Dr. J.W. Fanning, became a member of my personal board of directors.  He replaced the “grandfather” whose nurturing and wisdom I never had the privilege of enjoying.  When he learned that I had mules, well, we bonded even more.  Born in 1905, he grew up plowing his dad’s mules, Buck and Tag. Dr. Fanning loved feeding apples to my mammoth mules, Ruby and Rose. 

            When he was in a pensive mood, Dr. Fanning would muse about Neil Armstrong’s walking on the moon and something brand-new—the internet.  “There’s so much that I don’t understand,” he’d say, “but I understand these mules.”  My friend understood how to give sage advice, too.  His mantra was “May you stay alive as long as you live.”  He walked his talk. At 92, with his Sunday school book spread on his chest, Dr. Fanning went to eternal sleep, studying to teach his next morning’s class.

            Staying alive as long as I live.

            That’s what I aim to do, too.

            Well-meaning friends warn, “Slow down.”

            I tease, “Thanks. But if I slow down, old age might catch me.”

            As I say that, I have an image of another trusted adviser, the late Pat Pattillo, who would say—when we were riding horses on his Costa Rica ranch—“Ride hard or eat my dust.” Pat and J.W. Fanning were co-founders of Leadership Georgia.

            In his syrupy Wilkes County drawl, Dr. Fanning advised, “Only ‘wurds’ [words] live forever.”

            That’s another reason I am writing this book.

            When she was about my age, Mother would say, “I have more days behind me than ahead of me.”

            That’s where I am.

            And here’s the essence of what I’ve learned from the “days behind me.”

            Life’s greatest treasures are family and friends. I have been richly blessed.

            I do not believe Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg—by those measures—could be any richer than I am.

            And I am grateful for everyone who ever told me no.