Yesterday I was on my way home when I walked past an older man who often sits on a bench on Main Street, taking in the ambiance, I guess. I’ve talked to him a couple times before, so I slowed down and said him, asking how he was. He inquired about my own life and I told him I was writing a research paper which was taking up most of my time at the moment.
He spoke some encouraging words about being able to finish and asked me what my plans for after the summer were. I hemmed and hawed, explaining I was in the middle of trying to figure something out; the subject has been weighing on my mind lately. He abruptly interjected, “You know, you’ve got personality. And that means you’re going to go far.”
I scrambled for words to thank him for such an unexpected compliment. Being a shy person, usually personality is the last term people use to describe me. People who have only met me a few times tend to assume I’m a placid doormat with a kind soul and a quiet voice, which may be true, but I always get frustrated that people don’t get to see the witty side of me, the side that loves dancing and singing along to the radio, making off-color jokes and doing impersonations and complaining about people I don’t like. Here was this man I had talked to for maybe five minutes of my entire life saying I had personality.
He went on to explain that hardly any other young people stopped and talked to him or even say hi. And then he told me about his own years of running the hockey rink at the local school, how he would keep an eye on people and notice when they were upset. How he knew one boy had diabetic seizures and called an ambulance because the kid didn’t look well and ended up saving his life.
How another time he saw a student sitting in the bleachers looking pensive and went up and asked what was wrong. The boy said his parents were getting divorced and he didn’t know who to stay with. This man drove the boy that weekend to talk to both of his parents and figure out what to do. I bet plenty of people assumed the kids at this place had so much money they didn’t need any other help, but those kids were just as needy as anyone else.
The school is going to name a room in the new hockey rink after this man. His hands shake and he has chronic migraines now. He can’t fly anymore because of an aneurysm in his neck. He told me he was afraid soon he’d have to stop driving on his own. We’re all frail and limited in what we can do. I’m sure at a ritzy prep school nobody thought much of the hockey rink manager, but as I stood there listening to his stories, I was struck by what a legacy he had left, beyond just a name above a door. He has left an imprint on a constellation of lives. I swear during the ten minutes I stood there, at least three people must have driven past and waved to him.
At the very least, this man brightened my day. Most of my summer here, I’ve felt inferior. I’ve felt bad for being the person who doesn’t have the next ten years mapped out. I’ve hated how quietly I talk and how awkward I am. How much I suck at networking because I get socially anxious and overwhelmed. Someone telling me I’m gonna go far and have personality? Thank you. I needed that.
I don’t know if I’ll do anything great in life or work at Sotheby’s like one of this guy’s former students, but I hope I can do what he has done – keep an eye out for people who are hurting and go out of my way to help them through whatever is going on. I don’t know if that will actually help me in my career the way this man suggested, but either way, people matter more than my LinkedIn profile. I’d rather leave this world knowing I helped people feel listened to than knowing that they knew what my name is. People need other people, and people need to know that someone is in their corner.