Those who drink the water should never forget those who dug the well
Who dug your well?
As you look at your successes and your accomplishments, do you pause to remember who contributed? In other words, who laid the foundations for you and taught you some of the things you know? Who advised and corrected you along the way? Who encouraged you when the going got tough? In a world where individual accomplishments are celebrated, it’s important to remember that, in reality, no one does it alone.
As we enter a new decade, it’s natural to think back about past decades in our own lives, and even well before our time on this earth. Yes, I think it’s helpful to reflect back on our ancestors and their life stories. In my own case, I’m particularly mindful of great-grandparents on both sides of my family who were early settlers in southern Manitoba. They arrived as farmers to raw prairie land, determined to carve out a new life. They faced daunting challenges and suffered setbacks of all kinds along the way. But they persevered, and they did create a new life. In the end, there is much to learn from their rocky path.
Of course, my ancestors are just one of multiple Canadian stories of immigration in the midst of harsh conditions. So what can we learn in 2020 from the various lives of so many early immigrants?
They had a persistent and abiding work ethic. In most cases they had no choice but to work diligently, to avoid putting their families at significant risk of being hungry or worse. In unwelcoming conditions with few tools and minimal training they persevered. In today’s relatively comfortable environment, few of us understand what their lives looked like and how important it was for them to stay focused. The term “work/life balance” didn’t exist since “life” couldn’t be sustained without focused “work.” To be sure, we are all thankful that day-to-day life has evolved for the vast majority of us, yet it’s beneficial to reflect on the value our ancestors placed on an honest day’s labour.
Our ancestors were incredibly resourceful. In 2020 we have an unlimited supply of knowledge at our fingertips. We can find the answer to virtually any question in seconds. Experts are available at every turn. Think back to a time when none of that existed. Instead, you brought your singular skill set to a new country and forged a life with almost no tools. These pioneers worked with what they had, and they learned from their mistakes, sometimes painfully. In farming communities when the weather didn’t cooperate, they could only hope and pray for better conditions, and remain determined to be better off next year.
They had an attitude of gratitude, which included an abiding thankfulness for small successes along the way. I suspect the level of complaint by early settlers was a fraction of what is common today. To be honest, there wasn’t much time for complaining and it didn’t help anyway. In many cases their faith encouraged thankfulness, and while life was very difficult, they were always mindful of the most basic necessities they possessed. They understood that complaining slows progress, and gratitude brings energy.
They had hope for the future. They believed the sacrifice they were making would result in success. Imagine leaving your country of origin, and bidding goodbye to most of your family members, knowing you would likely never see each other again. Remember that most of the early settlers crossed the ocean once; there were no return visits. Why would they do this? Because they believed that life could be better, perhaps not for themselves but for their children, and their children’s children. This was their inspiration. This was their hope. And hope can carry you a very long way.
Fast-forward to 2011 – a very different time and place. The Dallas Mavericks had just defeated the Miami Heat to win the NBA title. But when it was time to celebrate, Marc Cuban, the owner of the Mavericks, did not lift the trophy over his head as owners often do. Instead, he asked officials to pass the hardware to Donald Carter.
Donald Carter is not as well-known as the famously wealthy Cuban. But Donald Carter is the man who “dug the well” by creating the team three decades earlier. How fitting that Cuban would honour the man who founded the team.
We would all do well to remember who dug the well for us in our professional lives.