When pondering the future, it might sometimes seem easier just to let the present take us there, no questions asked. Fortunately, if awkward, even painful, the world has a way of begging certain questions. And when it does, maybe we should think twice before choosing not to answer them.
A third of a century ago, Kari and I met our new neighbor, Frank. He had come by to welcome us to his neighborhood in Maryland. Compared to our modest place in Massachusetts, the home we had just purchased two doors up from Frank gave us space to spread out, room to grow, and license to make a few purchases we could not have crammed into our previous dwelling. But on the day–and week, month, and years to come–Frank stopped by; spartan would have been a generous summary of the empty box he was taking in. Apart from our prized piano, and a few still-stacked moving crates, our new home was devoid of any features not already built into it.
As Frank took it all in, he asked innocently (hopefully?) a question we still kid him about.
“So, when’s your truck arrive?”
We laugh about it now, but at the time, razor-sharp Kari gave It right back.
“You’re looking at it, Frank.”
Living where we had in Massachusetts, we often rubbed our shoulders on the elbows of those we observed to be further along in their lives. Most were a few years older, but not all; some were younger. Our neighbors owned household-name companies, won athletic world championships, advised presidents and their cabinets, and published up-and-coming books on innovators who cannibalized their young. Looking up at them, Kari and I tried to take it all in, sometimes wondering to ourselves what kind of lives we might achieve in some uncalendared future.
As these things go, we weren’t the only ones asking that question. With Kari’s hands full of three small children, mine was the sole outside career to which others looked when sizing up our fortunes. A well-meaning neighbor who had made his fortune the old-fashioned way–call him Manfred–pulled Kari aside a few months after we moved in and asked her innocently (hopefully?) a crude precursor to Frank’s same curiosity:
“So, Kari, when’s Scott going to make his move?”
“You know, his breakout. His big moment. He probably won’t inherit a factory like I did. But maybe he’ll open his own consultancy? Or start a business.”
Probably smarting from Manfred’s end-around, I don’t remember how Kari answered what was essentially Manfred’s prequel to Frank’s question. In Manfred’s mind, however, the truck’s roundtrip would first point towards fortune before returning to us full of treasure. Looking back, I still wonder how I’d have responded to my presumptive, if sheepish, neighbor.
So here’s this week’s question: If the Manfreds in your life mustered the audacity to inquire after your truck, whether coming or going, what would you tell them?
For a lifeline, here are some tried and true replies others have tried on. For fun, I have jumbled them up like one of those dumbed-down IQ tests. Draw your own line between the correct speaker and the spoken.
Perry Mason…………………………….Le Truck, c’est moi.
Winston Churchill……………….You’re looking at it, Frank.
The Sundance Kid………Counsel is leading the witness
Louis XIV………………………This is the sort of nonsense up with which I cannot put.
Kari Knell….The total tonnage of what you don’t know is enough to shatter…
But seriously. Well-meaning but tone-deaf neighbors aside, when’s your truck?
(I can’t believe I’m even asking.)
This post is from a series of “Declarations on Being and Becoming” originally written as part of a LinkedIn Newsletter called Say the Change. You can access the entire series here.