Sometimes I wonder if that’s the primary lesson we’re supposed to learn down here—that most of it doesn’t matter. The size of your house or the cost of your car—they don’t matter. The number of promotions you get or the amount of money you make—no matter. Even when you think about people we consider extraordinarily gifted like the two who were honored this week—John McCain and Aretha Franklin—the same is true. It’s not the number of military commendations Senator McCain won that matters—it’s the courage that earned them. And it’s not the number of gold or platinum albums the Queen of Soul collected—it’s that powerful voice she shared with the world. And in both cases, it’s their willingness to use their considerable gifts for causes they considered worthy that set them apart.
Recently, Daddy told me he feels like he missed my college years because he was working all the time, and he wanted me to tell him about the classes where I learned to tell stories and write for magazines. I told him I didn’t learn any of that in college—I learned it at Southern Living, from seasoned writers like Dianne Young, Gary Ford, Les Thomas, Karen Lingo, John Logue, and too many more to mention. They coached me, encouraged me, and in Dianne’s case, even took me on a trip or two so I could shadow her and learn from her. The knowledge they passed down is lasting because I like to think my best stories are lasting, or at least I hope so. (There are some I’d rather forget, but the best ones will maybe hang around for a while:)
This week at work we had a town meeting with our new parent company and, as is custom, they laid out the new corporate vision. I’ve heard a lot of corporate visions over the past 30 years. From a business standpoint, I can see the need for them, but from a human standpoint, I’m going to do the best work that I can for as long as I can, no matter what’s going on above me, and I’m going to try to be a friend to the people around me. That’s all. Because it’s all I can control. And in the end, it’s what will last—whatever good work that I leave behind and whoever I help along the way.
It has been a great joy this year to start coaching young writers because I want be, for them, what Dianne and other veteran writers were for me. I want to see them shine. I want to see them learn and grow, to catch the same excitement for stories that hooked me a long time ago. Because those things last—a passion for something you do, a desire to share it, and the friends you make because of it.