I am usually in such a hurry to get to my To Do list items, that if I am not careful, I miss something really valuable. This weekend, my wife and I went down Redlands, Florida way to buy some fresh produce, orchids (lovely and fragrant), “sticky” (cinnamon) buns and milk shakes (mine was wonderful mango) from Knaus Berry Farm (treats that most South Floridians will recognize), and ground corn (maiz criollo) to make tamales.
We went to a place we had been going to for years., where a spry old man grows the best corn and sells ears, ground corn, and other produce, right from the back of his house. So, as usual, we drove down the private road to the old man’s house, and turned into the driveway. His wife came out to greet us, and much to our chagrin, directed us to the spiffy looking building we had passed on the main road. So, back we went, to buy the ground corn, and sure enough, there he was, wearing a cowboy hat, with his sun-browned leathery skin and wide smile.
If I had been my usual self, I would have just picked up the ground corn, paid the young clerk for it, and been on my way. But the man’s infectious smile caught my attention, and he came over to talk. Twenty minutes later, he had shared such a treasure trove of valuable lessons, that I realized how foolish we are that we miss out on so much when we are in such a hurry. The old man, let’s call him Herman to respect his privacy, had so much to offer, as might many of the people we come into contact with if we would only stop to LISTEN. Here is what he said, in no apparent order:
- When we complimented him on his new building, he said, “Some people ask me why I didn’t do this before, and kept selling my corn out of the back of the house. It just wasn’t the right time to do this, that’s all. Everything has a time. This younger generation gets impatient, and I wasn’t ready, it wasn’t time. Now, I did it, I paid cash for it, don’t owe anyone a dime. And nearly every dime I get out of here is profit.”
- When we asked how he was doing in these tough economic times, he responded, “What tough economic times? Life is a series of cycles. Up, down, then back up again. I’ve been through many of them now. Twenty two years growing and selling corn here, and when I started I was in it for the long run, and still am. I wasn’t thinking of getting rich in 6 months. This is what I do, and I do it well. How long have you been coming here? I have people who have been buying corn here for over twenty years. If you eat good tamales in Miami, you are probably eating my corn.”
- On things he had seen that surprised him in twenty plus years, he said, “Nothing surprises me. I have a good friend that struck it rich in construction 15 years ago. I used to do all the landscaping for the houses he built. Fancy cars, luxury mansions, he was leveraged to the hilt. Now, he drives a $300 pickup truck. The banks took it all. He has nothing. Does his tale surprise me? No. It’s sad, but not surprising. You reap what you sow. He was reaping more than what he sowed. Look around you. This is what I sowed.”
- On why he thought he had been successful, he told us that “whenever I had an extra $500, or $1,000, I put it away and then used it on an option to buy the farm land I leased to grow my corn. Now I own it free and clear. And I always paid my debts. Own the house I live in that you saw, free and clear, and waited until I could afford to build this building. There are no foreclosures in my past or future”.
Quite a conversation for twenty minutes! If you missed it, these were the secrets of his success, plain and simple:
- Long term outlook
- Hard work
- Fiscal responsibility
And aside from these valuable bits of counsel, I am reminded to continually LISTEN, and don’t talk so much. For out of the mouths of not-so-ordinary people, comes wisdom and sage advice. What has been your experience in meeting unassuming people who went on to share incredibly rich and valuable stories? Did you take advantage of these encounters? Or were you too busy to stop and LISTEN? I’d like to LISTEN to you!