I’ll cut to the chase. The lesson is simple: play the long game.
My father and grandfather both taught me this lesson in completely different ways. It is the single greatest lesson any person can learn.
I still remember my grandfather telling me his salesman stories I was in my early teens. He was a widget salesmen, for lack of a better word. He traveled all around Quebec and Eastern Ontario selling random products. The one I remember most was a spray foam cleaner. I used to use it clean the white leather sleeves of my high school jacket. The products he sold isn’t important, it’s how he sold them.
The story he told me was about how he talked to the receptionist, the assistant manager, the clerks, and everyone he would meet on his way to pitch his client. He remembered their names, he remembered their stories, he paid them attention.
“There’s one boss today,” he explained. “But you never know who the boss is going to be tomorrow.”
My grandfather was an expert at the long game.
In an era where people were retiring in their early 60s, he worked until 70. His sales numbers never slipped, he pitched his widgets to generations of clients, and different rosters of managers. He watched stock boys become buyers, he watched local bosses become district managers, and he had a good relationship with all of them.
Time is not a thing we truly appreciate until we look back over the road we’ve traveled. When we’re young, and there’s not much road behind us, we have a limited history to compare actions and outcomes. When we’re young we have brash confidence.
But the longer that road gets, the more potholes there are, the more long uphill climbs we’ve made and, if you’ve built your road properly, there are a lot of long easy stretches and downhills where you got to coast. Only then, when you look over the shoulder and see a history, can you compare the actions and consequences of the past.
My grandfather gave me the advice when I was young, when I needed to hear it, but it wasn’t until I got a longer stretch of road behind me that I truly began to understand it, appreciate it, and put it in to practice.
My grandfather played the long game, and is still playing it.
My father taught me how to employ the long game in a different way – with money. He had me start an RRSP in my early 20s. I had barely started my career and he had me planning for retirement? I didn’t quite understand it, but I followed along.
Now, more than 25 years later, I’m proactive in my saving. I started an RESP for my sons to save for their university, and after a sit down with a financial planner in the spring, I’ve learned that the foundation my dad had me build decades ago will be strong enough to support me in the future.
I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have these two men in my life for so long. I’m the oldest of the oldest of the oldest. I knew my great grandfather, and have lived 47 years with my grandfather by my side. He turns 93 this year and is showing us all he plans to play this long game for a very long time. My father turned 75 last year and is very much active and engaged with his grandsons despite living a 12 hour drive away.
Families are changing faster than our traditional holidays to celebrate them, from grandfathers and uncles, to teachers and coaches, there are a number of men who have made a significant impact by caring for others and their roles should be acknowledged too.