Oh, To See As We Are Seen

“I don’t have time for this lunch,” Sean thought as he made his way through traffic. The day had started with a line at his door, the “me, me, me” of half a dozen employees needing this, that or the other. He felt depleted. The joy of the promotion was gone as the reality of delivering had set in. The strains of disruption at home furrowed his brow as he considered his hectic schedule and the persistent demands of everyone in his life. “Be careful what you wish for” he thought as he turned into the restaurant parking lot.

The lunch had been scheduled a month earlier at the request of some friend of a friend.  Sean had agreed because of the gentleman’s relentless emails; he finally felt compelled to join him for lunch.  A flurry of excuses to cancel had been darting through his mind all morning.  As he considered the list of tasks facing him in the afternoon, he simply couldn’t believe he was actually taking the time to meet with this guy.

“Hi Sean!  Thank you so much for joining me for lunch!” the man practically bellowed as the beleaguered exec walked up to the table.  Sean nearly cringed at the guy’s enthusiasm; you know, the wince you feel after a night on the town and every voice the following morning seems about 20 decibels louder than necessary.  The man became serious right away, “Sean, you changed my life.”  The whisper was jarring after the initial introduction.  Sean produced a hesitant smile as he looked for signs of humor in the man’s eyes.  The man continued, “It was six months ago and I had hit bottom.  The downsizing had happened six months prior and I was losing hope.  Countless calls, letters and interviews had yielded nothing.  Money was tight and the strains were showing in my marriage.”  Sean sat silently wondering where this was going.

The man smiled, “It’s ok, I know you don’t remember.”  Sean’s brain raced, had they met before?  Where was I six months ago? he thought as he tried to piece it together. “You had just been promoted to lead your division,” the man continued, “and I met you briefly during a lunch you were having with Dave.”  Ok, Sean thought, Dave is our mutual friend; maybe this guy is vaguely familiar.  “I had been sitting at a table across the room when you walked in with Dave and I was immediately struck by how you carried yourself.”  Was that a slight flush to my cheeks?  Sean thought as a sense of self consciousness swelled within.  The man continued, “I was actually alone, feeling very sorry for myself and I can remember thinking that I would give anything to walk in your shoes.”   How awkward! thought Sean as he struggled to recall any bit of the moment this guy was describing.

“Dave had described you to me before.  He said you were one of those people who just had something special.  In business, he said you could ‘see around corners’ and ‘everything you touched turned to gold.”  Sean was now firmly in the embarrassed zone.  Not one to draw attention to himself and certainly not one to buy into the whole “see around corners” thing, he started his dismissive mechanism.  “That Dave, he is always such an exaggerator…” Sean started. The man held up his hand and smiled. “Sean, please let me finish.”  “I watched the two of you for a few minutes and built up the courage to introduce myself.  I walked over and interrupted your conversation.  Dave introduced me and you stood up, looked me in the eye and shook my hand.  I told you congratulations on your recent promotion and then, awkwardly, I asked you ‘what is your secret?’  Dave looked at me with a bit of alarm and I realized that my comment sounded a bit desperate.  You didn’t flinch.  Without missing a beat, you smiled and said ‘No secret. The promotion was a gift. I wake up every day counting my blessings and knowing that I am responsible for doing all I can with all of the gifts in my life.’    We exchanged a few pleasantries and I walked out of that restaurant changed.  You humbly reminded me of the gifts in my life and of my responsibility to be a good steward of those gifts.   Simply stated, seeing and hearing you inspired me.”

Sean still couldn’t recall the brief interaction.  As he listened to the man’s account of eventual job search success, he wondered about those words he shared months earlier and his own life.  He also wondered how he had missed the impact of that moment six months earlier.  Why is it, he thought, that we can’t see ourselves the way others see us?  “See around corners…” he chuckled to himself as he drove back into his day.

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