When you look back on your formative years, who were the people that helped forge your character? When you think about the years to come, who are the people who will help you forge your character? No one becomes even a half-way decent person or creates a great life or great business by themselves. Who do you want to add to your loop? Whose loop would you like to be in?
On Canada Day this year, the last of my uncles passed away. My Uncle Bert was 90 and in my mind was a man who lived life in a simple, uncompromising way.
As our parents were divorced when we were quite young, we spent most of our summers at cottages and camps and on the lakes with our three uncles. Much of what we learned about being men came from those long immersions into the lake country of Northwestern Ontario. I learned about selfless duty from my Uncle Bob when he used his whole body to shield me from a vicious wasp attack when I was seven. I learned about taking responsibility from my Uncle Don after spending an entire day learning to tie proper knots after he discovered that the boat that I was supposed to tie up the evening before was in the middle of the lake. And I learned about elegant design from Bert, who made his own kayaks, canoes and paddles to go with them. His ethos accompanied me to and through design school where I developed my own design philosophy based on the simple and uncompromising.
One of the functions of a well-lived life is becoming a better person.
My uncles helped me identify and reconcile gaps in my character. Life is in a way about learning what works and does not work and this is particularly true in relationships. The Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman said of his work on cognitive biases that "it's easier to recognize other people's mistakes than our own." This seems doubly true when there is a substantial difference in age between the struggling character and the wise family counsellors.
Personal growth requires the mirrors of other people.
Despite all the personal growth work I've done, I am still most sensitive to being dismissed and not included. This seems like an obvious wound for a child of divorce, but we were fortunate to grow up in a large community of aunts and uncles and cousins who were all willing to be there when we needed them. We all enter and leave this world alone, but we are not alone in between if we open up to the possibility to share lives with the people who show up. Sometimes we don't fully realize the significance of someone in our lives until they are gone.