She just wanted a porch….
When I first started consulting over a decade ago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make good money and use my strengths to help clients achieve success. I had people in my life who had given me advice in tough times, and I wanted to be that person for others. But I never was really confident I could make a true impact on peoples lives. It was a job. And although, I always new I wanted it to be something more - I just never thought it could be truly significant in the grand scheme of things.
One of my mentors, John Maxwell often says “once you taste significance, success no longer satisfies”. I wanted that! But just didn’t see it happening.
And to be honest, I didn’t even know if I would be in business long enough to make any kind of difference to anyone! I started my consulting company during a massive recession and frankly didn’t know how I was going to pay my mortgage, not to mention making and impact on the world!
That changed one year, when I was really struggling and I was visiting my aging - albeit gracefully aging - mother. Whenever I felt like quitting I would just make the short drive to her home for a visit. My mother is an Irish woman - stubborn to the core and doesn’t quit anything. And that spirit would always rub off on me and get me through some of the toughest times.
During one particular visit, she asked me for a favor that would later provide the perspective that would change everything for me.
Like most of us, as my mother grew older, certain things become more important in her life. Often the things she used to see in the margins became the things that meant the most. This was certainly evident the year she and her husband moved into their new house.
My mother enjoyed sitting outside and watering her plants, but there just wasn’t an enjoyable spot to do this in the new home. This was a situation that surely needed to be remedied. Being well connected with the local business world, my mother asked if I new anyone that could build her the porch she really wanted.
She just wanted a porch.
Tim, was a good friend of mine who I served with in the Marines in the early nineties. He was well known for being “extra”. Whether it was his battle with alcohol, an addiction to cigarettes, or his often turbulent relationships - he was that guy who just tended to go overboard with everything. But Tim was my great friend, and my great friend was simply “extra”.
And when Tim decided it was time to get his life together, he went the extra mile in those efforts as well. He channelled his energy to staying sober, raising his beautiful son, and starting his construction business - and in true Tim fashion - he became great at all of it - he became a great father, a sober friend, and a great builder.
And my mom…well…. just wanted a porch.
I gave Tim’s number to my mother and she called him to see if he was interested in building her dream porch. She knew Tim well since we had been friends since elementary school, and agreed to hire him to build her new porch.
And build her a porch he did! In typical Tim fashion, he nailed every detail and created it just the way she imagined. It's great porch and my family has spent many nights on it making many great memories. We have laughed as all the grandchildren have grown, cried as we have lost loved ones, and waved at all the neighbors as they walk their dogs through the neighborhood.
My mom got her porch.
But as great as that porch was, it turned out not to be what my mother loved the most about the new build. Of all the details Tim attended to - the lighting, the colored concrete, the ceiling fans, and all the other little details - the thing that made the greatest impact on my mother had absolutely nothing to do with the porch.
Sometimes life has a way of reminding us of what is important. It takes those things that live in the margins and puts them front and center faster than time would normally allow for. We experienced such a reminder shortly after my mother's porch was completed.
My friend Tim passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack at the age of 38. A stark reminder how precious our time really is. I remember visiting my mother shortly after his passing. I looked at her and noticed she was staring at the side door of the house. She had a distant look on her face, and was clearly lost in thought. When I asked her what she was looking at, she told me that she was looking at something that Tim had given her that meant more than any porch he could ever build.
My mother is a survivor. She has battled cancer twice - and won. She has gone though multiple rounds of treatment and many surgeries along the way. And although she has alway come out on top, it has taken it’s physical toll over the years. She has pain and despite her stubborn denials, has to fight to do things we often take for granted.
As her dream porch was being built, she would often come home from running errands while Tim was working. Many times he would see her struggling as she walked up the small set of stairs to the side door of the house. Being the stubborn woman she is, she would never accept any help, instead insisting that she had everything under control - and it was ok.
She just wanted a porch.
But Tim was “extra”. So one day just before the porch was finished, Tim decided he was going to help her in the best way he knew how - using the skills he was gifted with. He installed a simple handle next to the side door so my mother could grab it and help herself up the stairs and into the side door. It is an old house and the design made a railing too restrictive for her to maneuver as needed. The handle allowed her to steady herself and carry things into the house without having to ask for help.
So as we sat there, my mother was staring at that handle. She went on to tell me that every time she walks in the house, she think of Tim. She told me that simple handle means the world to her - even more than the porch. To this day she still talks about Tim and that handle. She recounts the story about when Tim first showed it to her and how grateful she was. And even as we now prepare to move her from that house, she insists the handle is coming with her!
She just wanted a porch
It was then that I realized that everyone has a superpower or a skillset of some kind. And if we direct that skill - and use it in the best way we know how, we can change people’s lives in very special ways. The handle is a simple thing, and to many people who have a similar skillset, it may actually seem trivial. But to me, the handle represents a significant ability that we all have. It is more than the ability to make a simple gesture. It is a magnifying glass that concentrates and focuses a light we all have and directs it in a way that is far more powerful.
It was also then that I realized I really could use my skillset and make a true difference in people’s lives. And since then, I have heard John Maxwell’s words ring true in my head often. I have since tasted significance….. and success no longer satisfies.
We all have a “handle” to give. We all the opportunity to deliver it if we just pay attention to the opportunity. I now coach other coaches to help them maximize the opportunity to find and deliver their version of the handle - to make a significant impact on others.
It is the most fulfilling part of my professional life to date. As a coach, I am blessed to have the opportunity to change lives exponentially by helping people who help other people.
And it all started to come together with my friend Tim and the simple, but powerful impact he had on my mother - and she never saw it coming.
She just wanted a porch.