Life Lessons from Grandpa

One of the most emotionally challenging periods of my life came with the passing of my Grandfather, Perry (P.G.) Harris. I was smart enough, I guess, as a young man to keep my mouth shut and listen to his and his friends’ stories. Grandpa was a Kansas hardscrabble wheat farmer. He was also a guru in bib overalls. He was a life coach with dirt under his fingernails and a farmer’s tan. His lessons were powerful and insightful; I use them today, some 50 years after his passing.

I have a feeling I will use them for a lifetime.

He would say, “the job isn’t done until it’s done right!” which was a lesson in starting and completing a task no matter how menial. This was a lesson in focus and effort and pride in your work.

He would say, “If you make a mistake, make it at full speed!” which was a lesson in the effort. Never go at a task with a dismissive attitude and a mediocre effort. When you make a mistake going half-speed, you will deserve the consequences. But when you make a mistake going full speed, you can at least have the satisfaction you gave it your all.

He would say, “Whatever you decide to do in your life, be the best at it. If you’re a ditch digger for the county, win the award for the best ditch digger. Whatever you are, be a good one.” So many people don’t get ahead today because they don’t try very hard. Grandpa’s advice meant that even if you must take a job that’s “just a job,” you’ll never earn the dream job if you don’t do the job you don’t like well. You owe it to the person writing you a paycheck to do it well right up to the time you leave. You owe that to your employer and, more importantly, to yourself.

One of his most poignant lessons was a very personal one. When I was a young man, I went away to college. I returned home with the designation of the first in my community to have long hair. It came down just a bit below my ears at the time. I was ridiculed and literally told to get it cut or leave. I was heartbroken and a bit discouraged. I got in my old car and left town.

I stopped by the farm to consult with Grandpa on the way out of town. I needed his opinion. After considering the facts, he took a puff on his pipe, looked up at me, and said, “Well, son, I guess it’s what’s under the hair that counts.” That was his way of saying that we should never judge a person by what we see. Before judging anyone, we need to understand who they are, how they think, and what makes them tick. What makes a person who they are is never what you see on the outside as much as what is inside.

I advise everyone to have a mentor, or at least sit down with your grandparents or even your parents for that matter and talk. They just might have something to say. The old saying is true, you know. The older you get, the wiser your parents become.

It has been said that the greatest repository of knowledge in the world today is in our cemeteries. Yet, so much knowledge goes unheard, unlearned, unshared, and wasted. We can keep that from happening by listening to and acknowledging the wisdom of the ages that might be as close as members of your own family.

So, take a moment and go have a conversation with Grandpa. I did and I’m a better person for it.

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