My dad is, by far, one of the wisest people I will ever know. He has always had the knack of sharing insight into even the most difficult situation that cuts through complexity and helps to move a difficult decision toward something that was morally and ethically correct. From humble beginnings — working in a gas station — to managing three steel mills in the Greater Detroit, Gary, Indiana areas, as well as Australia, my dad was respected for his tough love approach to the people that worked for him. He often shared these stories at the family dinner table.
Today, my dad is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, and I hate it.
But being the marketer that I am, I find strength and interest in the disease from a humanist perspective. Today, conversations with him take on a much different tone from those pearls of dinnertime wisdom. Today, we plan horseshows that will never happen … work itineraries that will never play out … and assign personnel that will never exist.
Why? Alzheimer’s Disease is interesting. As his memories fade, and he can’t remember what he had for dinner on any given evening … or even where he lives … his mind clings tightly to those things that mattered most to him in life. For my Dad, this means family, horses and … work.
Horses were his free time passion. Raising Paso Fino horses and showing them, too, he looked dapper in his Spanish garb. He was never very stellar at the effort, but he loved it and gave his all to the hobby. I admired that.
But what makes him the happiest today is talking about work. Planning, managing, executing and problem solving. In his mind, he thinks he still works, and he lights up when we plan. Again, as a marketer, I find this interesting. As an entrepreneur, I find this sobering. All of us, entrepreneur and team members alike, complain about our work from time to time. All of us have bad and good days, days that are fulfilling and those that seemed fruitless. But in the end, maybe we should appreciate every single day, and every single experience a little deeper. Maybe we all take this aspect of our lives a little for granted. Maybe we can all celebrate those big days, and those challenging ones, all the same.
If you knew that work was going to be regarded as one of your happiest memories, how would you approach each day just a little different?
My hope for you is that you don’t need to travel the Alzheimer’s journey with your dad to cherish each day that you bring your special gift to the world. Whether that be managing a steel mill or an advertising agency — shooting photography or serving a meal to a weary diner — our work is a gift we give every day. Today I will honor Gail Reninger by making every work day my best. I hope you will too.
- SR, Brand Strategy, RMD Advertising