This past weekend my parents celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary which, given their health of the past few years, is nothing short of remarkable. It gave me some pause, too, when I considered what I’d learned from them–particularly patience and persistence–and how valuable those lessons have been. Many others have helped me, too. Some of these people include:
Charlie Weiser. Charlie was the executive director of the Reading Symphony Orchestra, and possessed the exceptionally rare talent whereby he could tell someone to pound sand and make it sound like the Ave Maria. He was also an excellent trombone player, and told me that as a musician you’re either getting better or worse-there is no stasis. That’s largely true in life: we’re either gaining ground or sitting back and watching our effectiveness diminish. Even if we think we’re holding steady, the world (and its expectations) may be leaving us in the distance. This is especially true in the digital era.
Uncle Herbie. Herbie was a guy from Brooklyn, who had first-class street smarts. He also gave me a great lesson in taking risk with there’s a terrific opportunity: Herbie ran the Holiday Inn where the acts at the 1969 Woodstock festival bunked between performances. I was a little too young to remember Woodstock, but when I was old enough to recognize its significance I asked Herbie about the festival. He smiled and said, “Jimmy, it was amazing. Those people drank like fish, so I said, ‘Sc**w New York State, I’m keeping the bar open day and night.'” He did very well that weekend, and was none the worse for wear, since the New York State constabulary had its hands full directing traffic.
Joe Rossini. Joe was the camp counselor who showed me how to play baseball without embarrassing myself. My father used to cringe when we played catch on Summer evenings; suffice it to say I was not about to give Willie Stargell any serious competition. Joe showed me that I didn’t have to hide from sports, and that with some patience and coaching I could throw a ball credibly, catch competently, and hit balls that went forward. When I returned home from camp, my father was pleasantly nonplussed. I learned that I could be good at things I didn’t necessarily enjoy.
Sal Gitto. Sal was a superb ad salesman for Popular Mechanics magazine. He was most impressive, though, for his kindness and thoughtfulness. Sal was born without an arm; before we first met he made a point to tell me that he had just one arm. It immediately eliminated any surprise or tension at our meeting, and put me at ease before the door even opened. If there’s an elephant in the room, discuss it from the start.
Ric Weidner. Ric was another superb ad salesman, for Successful Farming magazine. When I knew Ric in the late 1980s, I was promoting a product that could have some application to farming, but wasn’t designed for farm purposes. So when Ric called me he came prepared with specific information that showed why farmers needed my product. He would also call me about five minutes after five PM, and begin the conversation by complimenting me on my work ethic. I learned that by going beyond expectations you get the sale. Also, a well-placed compliment couldn’t hurt.
For some great life lessons raid your memory. The mentors are there.