This is fourth in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.
In the first post of the series, I wrote about the power of reading that my grandfather taught me. The books and reading were only the first aspects in his approach to never stop learning. This is one lesson that has stayed with me to this day. Constant learning is definitely already in my nature, but Pops certainly encouraged this in my siblings and me. Part of this ever present desire to learn he encouraged was also to explore and observe the world around us.
Many nights, once dinner was done and dishes were cleared from the table, I’d hop next door to my grandfather’s house and we would watch Jeopardy! together. One day I commented how impressed I was with the frequency of right responses that he came up with. Pops laughed at me and exclaimed, “Of course I know the answers. I lived through most of it!” I was a little embarrassed at how obvious the answer was, but it was a funny moment. It was obvious that Pops had, his whole life, had a keen sense of what was going on around him, watching, even if he wasn’t talking. The correct answers didn’t explain how he knew Revolutionary-era American literature or obscure elements on the Periodic Table. There are only so many times that a question might repeat on the show, and it must have been that he was picking up bits (or large chunks!) of knowledge everywhere he went.
But going beyond Jeopardy!, and going beyond books and newspapers, Pops always was ACTIVELY encouraging exploring through doing and observing. One of the biggest ways I always saw him encouraging that principle was through watching everything that went by in the neighborhood. Pops learned about the function and routine of people and animals on our little collection of streets. He knew every time a bus went by, who got on, and where it was headed. He sat in a green plastic chair on his porch, sometimes had conversations with passerby, and it always felt that, with his house the last on that side of the street, which had a slightly higher elevation at his end of it, he was a little bit a king of the neighborhood.
One of my favorite lessons from Pops about exploring had me the most nervous the summer before middle school. Knowing that I would be interested in after school activities and with a potential risk that my parents may not always be available to pick me up after school across the city, he felt I should learn to take the bus home. I had at that point never taken a city bus, and why should I ever need to if Mom and Dad would come get me? It was concerning thinking about the prospect of being unintentionally left alone, so taking the city bus represented some deep feelings and uncertain scenarios about why I might be left alone after school. Now, at this point in history, we had a city bus that ran down our side street right past our houses. He showed me the schedule that was stored on the fridge and we made a plan one summer day to explore taking the bus to and from school.
Pops taught me where to transfer, how to know where to catch the next bus, what to look for in catching the bus, and that if I had any questions to just ask a bus driver. He even brought me to the little convenience store and introduced me to the cashier so I knew where to buy my tickets. Pops even bought my my first multi-pack book of bus passes. We grabbed the next bus back home and had a nice day exploring the 5 Route on the WRTA.
A few years later, all of this came in handy because my parents were inexplicably held up after we were finished with some after school activities, and therefore our daily school bus was not an option. We could have visited some friends instead, but my younger sister and I were eager to go home. By some miracle, I still had the passes and they were surprisingly valid. We hopped on the bus and headed our way home. I was grateful to have known what to do and had the resources in hand to execute. Upon returning home, we went straight to Pops to tell him about our successful adventure, and of course he was pleased that his training had helped us out.
Even though Pops went through every detail, this was one of my first major lessons in planning and learning how to get myself around public transportation in much larger cities (first Boston, and occasionally New York). While Google and smartphones are certainly a convenience we have to help now, I was more comfortable with understanding transportation systems, and in the grander scheme, figuring things out in unfamiliar environments. I can evaluate the alternatives, know when I need to ask a question, and figure out what it will take to get where I need to go or what I need to do. It is amazing that a small bus trip some summer morning had such lasting impacts, but it provided immense confidence and a sense of self-reliance and independence.
Even further down the line, I realized that this exploration and adventure led to development of behaviors that help me be successful even today. A few key areas in my career I realized this lesson and adventure exploring the WRTA bus system taught me include:
- The ability to grasp all of the options available to me, and to think that there might be other options than what is in front of me
- A greater sense of independence and less reliance on others, and this extends to thinking critically about the best solutions without someone having to explicitly tell me
- That it is important to have a contingency plan in place for occasions when the original plan may not work out
- It is always okay to ask for help or guidance when you need direction, whether geographically or instructional
- Practice can make perfect, as taking that test run resulted in a flawless and fearless ride and transfer home for my sister and me
It is amazing how one little exploration of something new to me, though I was fortunate to have a seasoned guide, could open up my world, my eyes, and my way of thinking for decades. Only one morning with my grandfather set the stage for so much other skill development, and that too is a powerful lesson. Sometimes what we need to learn is beyond the scope of what we are being taught. It might be days or years before it sinks in, but if we open ourselves to adventure and experimentation, a little risk can pay off in unexpected ways. Thinking about what we have learned can help us continue to learn, whether we choose to capitalize on past experience or open up with exploration of new experiences.
My husband is now my Jeopardy! Partner, and I realize that we’re better now than when we started dating. We’ve lived more life, explored more of what interests us and each other, and are able to successfully buzz in from home more often as the years go on. A sense to keep exploring, whether it results in obscure trivia knowledge or a valuable skill like navigating major transit systems, helps us to constantly grow and develop personally and professionally.
What have been some of your most fruitful explorations and adventures? What were the lessons that you learned?
The remaining two posts will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!