One of my favorite writers is Malcolm Gladwell. One of my favorite Gladwell books is “Outliers”, in which Gladwell introduces his readers to the concept of milestones — those seemingly random events in life which turn out to have significant impact on our destiny.
It’s kind of like the seasoned hiker who inadvertently steps on a stray twig and twists his ankle … which leaves him stranded in the cold, rainy woods for the night … which in turn, leads to him discover the obscure opening to an incredible natural cavern … where he ends up spending a comfortable night … which culminates in the snoozing hiker becoming a tasty breakfast for the early-rising bear who considers that cavern her “home”. That story sucks if you’re the hiker but if you’re the hungry bear who needs to feed her young cubs, that errant twig was a gift from God.
Upon a closer reading of Gladwell’s masterpiece, I realized it’s not mere milestones that direct our lives. It’s the human connections that precipitate those milestones. If you’ve ever read the New Testament Gospel of John, in verse forty of chapter one, it says John the Baptist pointed out the relatively unknown Jesus to two of his disciples. They followed Jesus and spent the evening in conversation with Him.
The next day, one of those men, Andrew, went away and found his brother Simon, who he introduced to Jesus. Andrew fades into obscurity, but his brother Simon Peter, becomes the rock upon whom Jesus builds His church. Imagine if Andrew had allowed childhood rivalries and jealousy to prevent him from introducing his brother to Jesus.
What’s In Your Yesterday?
In 1970, my high-school friend, Ray Green talked me into skipping our Sophomore English class and attending a presentation about vocational education. That’s where I met Vernon Took, unquestionably the most gifted and committed teacher I’ve ever known. Vernon Tooke later introduced me to Herman Hersch, the man who gave me my first serious job as a technical illustrator. Mr. Hirsch introduced me to Chuck McFatridge, the man who invested so much trust in me that I had no option but to succeed as a product designer.
On a morning in October of 1973, I drove my mother to work where she introduced me to her friend, Don Dochterman. Don hired me on the spot and introduced me to Larry Simmons, the fellow I would be working under. Larry became one of the most influential people in my life and in turn, introduced me to Bob Deffenbaugh, another life-long friend and significant influence. Additionally, through Larry, I met Mike Hartley, one of my oldest friends who has introduced me to everyone in his extended family as well as his vast throng of acquaintances, many of whom I now consider friends.
On a rainy day in the Autumn of 1974, I was riding a crowded shuttle bus towards the University of Texas at Austin campus. I shared a cramped bench seat with a mousy little girl named Theresa McKinley, who introduced herself and told me about a group she got together with every Sunday evening. Since I knew almost none of my 40,000 fellow UT-students, I agreed to visit her group. It was in that group that I met another girl, named Paula, who would eventually become my life-long partner and the perfect mother of our three children.
You could easily say that the majority of my life hinges on those three milestones, but I would contend that it’s the people I met through those events and the people they, in turn, introduced me to that shaped my very existence. Just like John’s disciple Andrew, if any one of those people had been too busy to waste their time on me, I might well be living among the homeless, drug-addicted hordes on the West Coast.
So, who do you owe chunks of your destiny to? And when was the last time you thanked them for that? Forget email. Forget texting. Forget phone calls. Sit down and write them a handwritten letter. Or, better yet, do whatever it takes to go visit them face-to-face.
Maybe they’re already gone and it’s too late to thank them, but it’s not too late to pass their generosity on to someone else and become the catalyst of a dynamic, new connection that could even conceivably impact the future of mankind.
Face the hard questions that life requires you to ask. Gather with other travelers on the narrow road, pilgrims who acknowledge their confusion — and feel their fears. Then, together, live those questions in My Presence.
― Larry Crabb, 66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God That Invites You into His Story
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— Malcolm Gladwell
Yep, I’m re-recommending a book I’ve recommended on previous occasions, and I will probably keep recommending it until you read it (again). Nobody cuts to the heart of culture like Gladwell does. And very few can apply the insights that he provides.
The Power of the Other
— Henry Cloud
There’s a reason I recommend books more than once. It’s because they’re seriously worth the investment of time it takes to read them. Dr. Cloud uncovers the powerful influence that even casual relationships play in our thinking. He also provides the foundation for us becoming the positive force in those relationships.