Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Little Late by Vernon Harmon

I met Vern through a mutual friend of ours. We would often comment on the same Facebook updates he posted, liked one another's comments and just generally seemed to have a fair amount in common. He sent me a friend request because we seemed "friend compatible" and that alone was reason enough to get to know him. He's a great source of info on They Might Be Giants and running and I'm so happy to be able to share his writing with you today!

For various reasons it occurred to me this morning that I've never said thank you for all the help you gave me when I first started. I wouldn't be where I am today without your help getting on my feet. So a 13 year belated thank you. Hope things are going great for you and your family.
When I logged into Facebook one day a few years back, I was met with the above message from an old work colleague. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. This was someone who was always very driven and has since gone on to create his own business with at least moderate success. I know I liked him when he started, but I can honestly say I don’t recall going out of my way to help him.

After some consideration, I rattled off the following response:
Thanks very much for the sentiment, but I think you'd have been fine. You were always on the ball, very focused, and creative. I remember being impressed with how quickly you took to the job. I appreciate you looking past me often being a jerk back then, and I'm glad we've kept in touch, even if we haven't been really close.
You see, when we worked together, I was quite a hot-head, with poor social skills and an over-sized opinion of myself. My explosiveness was even captured in a nickname a different co-worker gave me: Verno the Inferno. The thing is, though, I never wanted to be that person – the butt of jokes, the living caricature. But once you get a label, it’s not only hard for others to see you in a different light, it’s hard to see yourself differently, too. You get stuck in the rut of expectations, however unpleasant.

Photo by Vernon Harmon
I changed jobs in 2000 (and, not coincidentally, also met my future wife) and took the opportunity to re-invent myself: I became humble, outgoing, cooperative, and calm – and a lot happier. Qualities once called out as areas of weakness for me now became cited as strengths. I make this sound easy, like I simply awoke one morning and decided to be a different person, but it took a lot of soul-searching and a lot of focused effort. In the end, though, I discovered, interestingly, that it was much easier to be this person than the Angry Young Man. (Yes, I just dropped a Billy Joel reference.) As a result of this change, though, I often found myself looking back on my previous self with some amount of shame, hence my self-effacing comment about being a jerk.

My friend’s unexpected expression of thanks touched me, but I assumed that my response would be the end of the conversation. It wasn’t. I soon received the following response:
Sure I may have been fine, but we'll never know about that parallel universe. I guess that's what I meant - I may still have wound up in the industry via some other route. I might have been productive on [X] if you hadn't been working on the project. But I'm here because of the things that did happen and the people who were involved. And for that, I am thankful. 
As for you being a "jerk", you know I learned a lot from that experience as well. And after working in the industry a while, I realize that even at your worst you weren't a bad guy. I'm glad you were able to reflect on your experience and improve yourself because of it. I'm not blowing smoke when I say that it's been at least a little bit inspirational for me. I don't think a lot of people can look at themselves that way and then follow through on changing what they don't like. I struggle with it myself.
Wow. I was blown away. I knew what my transformation had meant to me, but it never occurred to me that it would mean anything to anyone else. And the recognition that “even at [my] worst” I was still a good person flew in the face of that long-held, deep-rooted, secret fear that people cannot look beneath the surface to see the truth of your intentions, your compassion, even when your actions seem to run counter to those ideals.

I wept.

I wept long and hard.

I felt like I had been granted forgiveness, like I had been given permission to let go of my shame over the old me.

I doubt my friend had an idea what his words would mean to me any more than I did about how my actions would affect him. But whether he meant to or not, whether I meant to or not, we both had an impact on each other simply by doing things that felt right to us, and by the very act of interacting.

We do not exist in a vacuum. Relationships are at the core of the human experience. Virtually everything you do can, and probably does, have an impact on someone else, whether or not you or they realize it – and I don’t mean that in a Butterfly Effect kind of way; I mean a direct, tangible effect on someone else.

I found myself so inspired by this experience that during the years since, when I find myself thinking about some old acquaintance, occasionally I will send them a note about a particular recollection of them that means something to me, or a note of thanks for some kindness they showed me, or even an apology for an old wrong that I regret. The results are frequently revelatory.

Have you considered telling someone thanks for having a positive impact on your life? Or apologizing for an old slight? What’s stopping you? You may be very surprised by the results.


Vern is the last of the great Philosopher-Kings. He ponders the meaning of life in his Fairport, NY, castle where he dwells with Queen Wendy and two princesses, as well as three black panthers, the protectors of his grounds. He is an inspiration to some, an annoyance to others, and a friend to all. He loves clever wordplay and music. He has considered creating a blog many times, but has been unable to narrow his wide range of interests down to a single topic of focus. You can read some of what he has written here and here, and
he can be found on Google+ here. You can alsofind him on Twitter but that account is mostly used to autopost his running exploits.


 Subscribe in a reader or by email so you never miss a post!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Design by Eight Days Designs