Unexpected Inspiration

Inspiration can come from unexpected places, people or events. If you can turn the inspiration into action, you’ll often find pathways to help others win.

I was having coffee with my dear friend Susan when I recounted meeting Hall of Fame Detroit Lion and childhood hero Lem Barney 15 years ago. As I was telling her what happened, details she’s heard before, my eyes welled up just like they did when I met him.

That chance meeting and Barney’s grace towards me inspired me deeply. I wanted to treat others the way he had treated me. Tolerant, kind, humorous, listening patiently to me telling him about my feelings about a guy I only knew threw television and sports cards. He was magnificent.

In 1997 I was working for Meijer and my boss, John Zimmerman challenged me to find a way to do some good work in South Bend, Indiana. It was a market where new stores were being built. I was on a brief walk in my neighborhood when I remembered reading a story 13 years earlier about George Meegan. He had walked from the southernmost point to the northernmost point of the Northern Hemisphere. Meegan walked over 19,000 miles and it took him seven years to finish.

Meegan was from Rainham, England and was inspired by adventurers in history. His goal began as a record-setting project. But became much more as he worked with indigenous peoples along the way, teaching them farming skills and to celebrate freedom. He gave them the win and they inspired him to continue. He was successful in his journey, and he helped a lot of people win along the way.

Back to John’s challenge. Inspired by Meegan I imagined a walk. From Grand Rapids to South Bend. We had just visited the Center For The Homeless there and I believed if I walked there it would capture enough imaginations that we could raise needed funds for the center. It was undergoing improvements back then.

I developed a plan that included a fundraising goal of $10,000. I did my research, set a date for early May, 1998 which gave me six months to prepare. It would be 130 miles non-stop. The pledge was “50 Hours.”

After months of preparation, advice, miles, and miles of practice, we did the event and finished at the steps of the center with a group of some of the center’s clients. It took 53.15 hours. We still cashed the checks for almost $11,000.

We entered the building, went upstairs where there were stories, food, and celebration. Physically I was a wreck. But I remember thinking, “I could keep going. What if I kept walking. Like Meegan. I could walk to Indianapolis. I could walk to Kentucky. I’ll never be afraid of anything again.” That was a success to me.

In that upper room, surrounded by the homeless who patted my back, hugged me and offered plates of food, I was moved by their spirit of giving. I represented a company that wanted to give them better facilities. To get them a better place. Hoping they would be inspired to carry on and eventually find themselves. They, reciprocated with love, joy, appreciation, and support.

Inspiration can come from unexpected places, people or events.

Success, when others win, goes far beyond business accomplishments, promotions, money or status. There is a deep, spiritual, emotional, and inspirational element that comes with someone getting a win – and you had a hand in it.  When you help make that happen, it always comes back. Sooner or sometimes later your heart will be filled.

The word “success” requires a definition from each of us. How do you measure it? What does it mean? Who do you know who is successful and how do you describe what it is that makes them a success? You know where I’m going. Is it their possessions that inspire you? Their social standing, friends, homes, blah, blah, blah? Instead, look at the long-lasting effects of their enthusiasm, imagination, giving nature, kindness, wisdom, compassion, and mission to get other people a win. That is what connects us and is a success I will take any time.

I love Lem Barney. I don’t know him. But I met him once and he was a bigger hero in person than he was when he was returning punts and interceptions for touchdowns. Hall of Fame. Over 1,000 yards in interceptions. Rookie of the year, seven Pro Bowls.  As a kid, I would draw his name and number 20 on my sweatshirt and pretend I was him. We spoke for barely five minutes that day. He put his arm around me for a photo. Spent time with me. He gave me the win. What success does he get?  None of my business and it’s not for you and me to decide. My guess is, by the way he treated me, his win comes from the thousands of fans who still adore him and support his charities.

Dear People, how about you? What inspires you to help others? What inspires you to give them your time not thinking of the success you get in return?

Inspiration can come from unexpected places, people or events. If you can turn the inspiration into action, you’ll often find pathways to help others win.

For Meegan and Barney, it’s in their DNA. It’s in their biological makeup for them to think about the other person. If it’s not in your genes remember it doesn’t have to be. The key is to intentional. Look around you and you’ll see someone to support, encourage, give time to.  If you don’t see them right away, keep looking. Be intentional. Give someone a win today or sometime soon. Meegan and Barney, they still inspire me today and they don’t even know me. You don’t need it to come back, but it always does. Always.

South Bend Center for The Homeless today. https://www.cfh.net/

Hall of Fame Lem Barney

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