Thursday, August 11, 2016
"You Really, Really Mattered."
He had me at horse heads.
It was my first day at my new job. First day in a new industry. I was nervous. Had I made the right decision? Would people like me, and would I like them?
I walked up and down rows of cubes, my manager introducing me to my new co-workers. And at the end of one row was a dark office.
"Charles sits there," my manager said. "He's traveling, but you'll meet him soon. Charles is a character. You'll like him."
I peeked inside the partially open door and saw ... horse heads, At least a dozen of them. Not the heads of real horses, thankfully, but various and sundry heads. Ceramic ones. Plaster ones. Drawings. Paintings.
I had noticed no one else kept a lot of personal effects in their work spaces. I planned to, so I knew that in spite of the fact that I wasn't really a horse person, I'd likely have something in common with this guy.
It took about a second to realize my hunch was right. Charles showed up a week later, an imposing figure in a too-big sport jacket and too-big pants. I was in the break room, putting together my breakfast.
"Girl, that looks good!" he said, eyeing my food. "I'm Charles Hall, and as you might guess, I like to eat."
We talked that morning as if we'd known each other for a long time. I learned he was in the midst of losing weight -- he was down 50 pounds despite almost-constant travel, and as I had some upcoming travel on my schedule as well, he shared some tips.
He told me that yes, he loved horses, and his children, and his grandchildren, and his work. He was a nurse who served as the organization's director of clinical excellence, and his passion for his job was evident.
I quickly came to realize passion was an integral part of Charles. Whether it was a team member's birthday, recognition of an award someone had received or simply a sunny day, Charles celebrated.
He delivered handmade birthday and anniversary cards to every team member, and probably to every resident in every community our company owned. He was a giver of gifts -- meaningful ones -- and he expected and desired no recognition for his generosity.
He was the first to volunteer to help with a project and the last to leave an event. Often, whether or not the occasion called for it, he wore a tuxedo, He owned three, he told me, in various colors.
When Christmastime drew near during my first year in that job, Charles became aware that a team member was in the midst of some personal difficulties, including financial issues. Charles didn't ask for details -- all he needed to hear was that because of a situation beyond a child's control, that child probably would not have much under the tree on Christmas morning.
Quietly, he slipped the team member an envelope of money, enough for presents and a tree. He insisted the team member accept it, and his only demand was that no one be told.
It doesn't matter who knows now, sadly, as Charles isn't around to hear the praise that would certainly surround and embarrass him. He passed away this week, after a cancer battle that he fought with a few trusted friends by his side. He had limited any news of his daily struggles to a small group, so as not to trouble anyone or disrupt life at the office, and his quick decline was devastating to many.
Companies often invest a great deal of time and resources in something they call "culture." I've worked for a lot of organizations, and all of them either took pride in or were working to enhance their cultures -- essentially, their environment. Their ambiance. What it feels like to work in that space. The "face" team members show to each other and to the external community.
It struck me as Charles fought his fight that although the people who loved him would surely miss his compassion and passion and consistent drive to make everything and everyone around him better, entire groups of people -- whether their members knew him well or not -- would be deprived of the way Charles impacted entire cultures. And that's a shame.
It also struck me that companies could learn much from the example that Charles didn't even know he was setting. Everything was organic with him; it wasn't "let's put a plan together" to improve this or that.
It simply came down to the fact that he was a naturally kind and loving person. His faith was a part of that -- not just what he believed, but the way he lived that faith. It was with selflessness, a deep desire to do unto others.
And then, it was the fact that it didn't occur to him, thank goodness, to censor himself. He loved, genuinely and openly. He didn't care who was watching, or whether he might be judged.
Charles also didn't care about being right. He probably didn't care a lot about being successful as "success" is defined by others. He dressed professionally, but didn't care about labels. If he wanted to wear cowboy boots, he wore cowboy boots. He was proud of his bald head, saying -- along the lines of the Velveteen Rabbit -- that he had lost every hair worrying about someone he loved.
Charles wasn't about exteriors. He cared about making others feel loved. Valued, Treasured, even.
Three months ago, I left the company at which Charles and I had worked together, Business is business; needs and positions change. Opportunities present. People leave jobs, and the world goes 'round.
But leaving was tough, and I was hurting. I missed many people with whom I had formed close relationships. Charles and I had exchanged notes, and he understood and validated the reasons for my sadness.
One day shortly after I started my new position, I arrived home to find a gift on my front porch. I opened it, and it was personal and lovely.
The card, though, is something I'll carry with me always. It's something that will influence the way I treat people. The way I view and try to influence that intangible thing we call "culture."
It was handmade, of course, and signed with a flourish.
"Don't forget," Charles had written, "that you really, really mattered."
Charles: I dearly hope that you know, from your new vantage point, how very much you did, too.