Terminal B in Philadelphia International Airport has just gone through a major renovation. Now, instead of sitting uncomfortably close to strangers as you wait for your flight, you can uncomfortably face them at long tables with unmovable bar stools. Thankfully, there are iPads at every spot to prevent any awkward gazing. iPads, however, couldn’t stop Carl. As I plugged away on my laptop I could tell an older gentleman was watching me. He was speaking to his wife, but always looking at me and the man sitting next to me trying to pull us into the conversation. The man to my right was definitely not playing along. I was trying to finish a few last emails and thought to myself “not today.” But Carl was persistent. Catching my eyes as I looked up, he said, “Olga, can you believe all these gadgets? We never had any of this.” I threw him a bone. “You were better off," I said. Game over. Carl won and went to town. After about ten minutes, I learned that he was 91, still working and golfing, going to visit his 3rd grandchild who was graduating college and already landed a job as a physician assistant. I closed my laptop and knew the emails weren’t going to get finished. When it was time to board, I got up and told Olga and Carl to have a good flight. As I stood in line, a hand grabbed my arm from behind. “Thanks for listening to me ramble,” Carl said. “Nobody wants to hear what I have to say any more, not even my grandson.” His eyes welled. “It might not all come out neat, but I still think there are some nuggets in there.” I assured him there were.
I couldn’t help but think of my own grandparents and how much I miss them, how much I was probably like Carl’s grandson, and how I feel like I am just now beginning to learn the lessons they were trying to teach me while they were with me. With Catholic Leadership Institute, I often talk about a focus on the Next Generation and I believe it’s essential. But as a leader, what “nuggets” am I missing from the past in my quest for what’s next? Carl may not have shared anything of value in what he actually said, but he reminded me that a focus on the future doesn’t require forsaking the past. Carl and Olga boarded before me and as I waited to get on the plane, I searched through my bag to find the one last little CLI back-pocket journal we give out to participants. As I passed Carl, I bent down and handed him the journal. I told him to capture some nuggets on the plane ride and give it to his grandson when he arrived. I promised him, with firsthand experience, that someday they would come in handy.