How to Be Less Wrong
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
Things were different in 1983. That’s when I relocated my young bride from Montana to South Carolina. The two locations are culturally and physically miles apart. (Boy, howdy!) Sheri and I didn’t know how poor we were at the time, so trekking across the country with only $250 seemed like business as usual. Today, the memory makes me cringe. Matthew was a little over a year old, and Becky was gestating nicely. She would join the party in March of ‘84.
The purpose of our move was for me to enroll in an electrical apprenticeship program. “You can make a good living as an electrician,” my dad (a South Carolina native) said. So, off we went. The bumper on the Ford Pinto station wagon was too small to take a hitch—so we welded a ball to the unibody. It worked. With a 5' x 8' U-Haul trailer in tow, we lashed a three-foot-tall Jerry Giraffe toy box to the roof of the car and headed down the road. It was quite a sight.
Quite a sight especially for the line of traffic that formed behind us in the Badlands of South Dakota. My dad had said, “Tommy, you’ve got to see the Badlands—you never know if you’ll ever get back to that part of the country.” I decided to take the detour. Bad call. The little four-cylinder engine could only muster about 15 miles per hour on the hilly terrain, and there was no place to pull over or turn around. Hours later, with probably a hundred cars stacked up behind us, we made our exit. I learned a valuable lesson. Never navigate the Badlands of South Dakota in a Pinto station wagon pulling a 5' x 8' U-Haul with a plastic giraffe strapped to the roof. It’s just not good public policy.
We arrived in Charleston, hot and humid—with mosquitos the size of a nickel. (“Dear God, are we supposed to breathe this air, or eat it with a spoon?") Not able to afford an apartment, our first home was a campground. Sheri, trooper that she was, embraced our itinerant lifestyle. For many dinners, she spiked a can of Campbell’s soup with rice so that it was heartier. That was it. She always gave the bulk of the simple meal to me.
And Mrs. Wilson tackled other challenges with a pioneering spirit and missionary zeal. It would not be inaccurate or unkind to conclude that I did not deserve a woman of her caliber. She filled her days chasing a toddler who was very interested in catching a skrill (squirrel). “Skrill, Skrill!” he’d call, followed by the pitter-patter of eager little feet. When exhausted with aching back, Sheri rested at the only available seat—the picnic table. She did it all while being very pregnant. One day, a fellow camper took pity on her. He walked over with a lawn chair, sat the chair on the ground, and said, “I don’t need this for a while.” Sheri reported that a La-Z-Boy recliner couldn’t have felt any better than that simple seat! I guess one could say that sometimes life gives one… perspective.
That’s how it was when we finally got into an efficiency apartment. With air conditioning, clean sheets, and a real kitchen—dear Lord, we were the most blessed family on planet Earth. I can still see Matthew giggle, clad only in a diaper, as he snuggled his pink baby body down into the freshly washed sheets. Life was good!
Nowadays, we have multiple vehicles, a saving account, our own home, various toys, and freedom to buy a book or home decoration without even contemplating the cost. Things were different in 1983.
Now, I have an office job. Not so, then. I went to work for Metro Electric at a papermill. (Have you ever smelled a papermill?) And work is the operative word. I had never worked so hard in all my life! No hyperbole, but I would have to rest in my car (the Pinto) at the end of shift before I felt confident enough to drive home on I-26. This went on for three years.
And employers yelled at you in those days. I don’t think employers can get away with yelling now. That would be a hostile work environment, right? But then, yelling was okay. I’ll never forget Roy Jones, a particularly colorful superintendent who, when warned of a potential heat injury due to lack of water on a jobsite, said, “If you fall out, I’ll have your final check in your hand before you hit the ground.” He didn’t smile when he said it—so I went back to work. Hey, I had a little family to support in this verdant, moist, bug-filled, land. Montana was a million miles away. Things were different in 1983.
One day, in the middle of my Carolina residency, my journeyman (supervisor), Jimmy Montgomery started to chew me out. Normally, I’d take it like a man, but on this day, I was incensed because I didn’t do what Jimmy assumed I did. So, mid-butt-chewing, I stopped him, and gave him a piece of my mind. Heads turned, and eyes widened, as the room grew silent. The whole crew wondered at this new thing. An apprentice telling off a journeyman? Would an altercation ensue? Would it get physical? Will Tommy get fired? This was high drama, indeed.
Jimmy didn’t say anything for a long moment. Finally, he said, not unkindly, “Tommy, you an apprentice—that means you ain’t never right. But if you work real hard and apply yourself, you might be less wrong!”
And that was the end of it.
For the last 35 years, with varying levels of success, I’ve not deceived myself with delusions of perfection. Instead, I’ve tried, every day, to be less wrong. I’m not the same man as I was then. I’ve grown, learned, ripened, and mellowed. Sheri was there the whole way to provide the ballast I needed to keep from capsizing. Years later, my dad would tell her, “You’ve done a good job with Tommy.” Then they shared a smile.
Things were different in 1983.
A growth mindset… is characterized by a desire to learn and develop. Failure is not an indictment of an individual’s worth, but it’s the crucible where personal improvement is smelted. People with a growth mindset understand: 1) leadership is not bullying, 2) feedback is not abuse, 3) inquiry is not intrusion, and 4) exertion is not injury.
Affirmation of the week: I am aware! I process my reality with a deep appreciation of the truth, and a voracious appetite for wisdom.
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