Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Past, present and future

A video with music which evokes memories of the African adventure three decades ago.

Last night, I opened an email from someone I had last seen close to 30 years ago.

I still remember that final moment. A few days after Zimbabwe's independence, and a week or so after I had been dismissed from my employment as a sub-editor at the Bulawayo Chronicle, I returned to the newsroom with a parting gift, a bottle of Canadian Club.

Ian Watson, who had worked in Canada in the 1960s as a strike-breaker at the Globe and Mail before heading to Zimbabwe where he combined his work at the Chronicle with para-military service with the British South Africa Police, had sat next to me for close to 18 months, handing the motley crew on the "subs desk" news wire copy for editing and headline writing. Part of our work included removing Robert Mugabe's name from the stories and turning the Zimbabwe leader into "an external terrorist leader based in Mozambique".

When I walked out of the room that day in late April 1980, I didn't know if I would ever see any of my fellow Chronicle employees again, but I knew for sure the experience had permanently changed my life.

Last night, Watson invited me to call him at his home in Hong Kong and I reached him there this morning. Now in his 70s, and in good health, he brought me up to date on various co-workers and their fate over three decades.

We pieced together common acquaintances and friendships. Notably, the impressive number of people I know who made their home in Hong Kong, not only from Rhodesia, but also from Vancouver and my former student newspaper peers.

It seems the South China Morning Post had become a haven for expatriate journalists from my circle. One of them, Gary Coull, went on to fame and much fortune as an investment banker before his untimely death a couple of years ago. Watson worked with Coull on the Post before starting his own publicity and communication business.

As you read these words, you are probably wondering: "What does this have to do with Construction Marketing?" Nothing, specifically, but much, generally.

When we are young, we cannot know for sure our life's trajectory. The events and decisions that led me to Africa, and the things I learned there, however, set the course for my future and allowed me to define and establish my values.

Ian Watson remembered the tense battle I had with another young co-worker, in the final days before a wildly insane evening of drinking and self-discovery that led to me being asked to leave The Chronicle. I sensed this colleague had serious problems, especially in lacking respect and concern for women.

Watson said the former Chronicle colleague also turned up in Hong Kong, drinking himself to death in anger and hostility.

Keeping score, I realize I now know someone who grew rich and successful, and died, and someone who died poor, broke, and alcoholic. Two I know are divorced. One, a young colleague seemed to have everything going for him, has been at the desk of a London England newspaper for years going nowhere, slowly.

Then, there is me. Married for 16 years, with a 12-year-old boy and a five-month-old dog, not extremely wealthy, but certainly not impoverished, I can look forward to years of healthy adventure, dreaming and risk taking. I realize that when I was young, I made a decision not to grow old, at least in spirit and values. And that means I am truly fortunate.

I cannot suggest to you when or how you should decide to break your barriers, to reach out beyond your presumed limitations, and head in directions like the one I took in the late 1970s, when despite a personality beset with fears and social skills inadequacy, I decided to go half way around the world to witness first-hand the end of a seven-year civil war in Africa.

The biggest lesson I learned occurred at the end of the journey, however. I attended a gathering of the International Press Corps and looked at the people around me. "Is this the life I really want for my future?" I asked.

Yes, I had broken the bounds, but I realized my life dream would truly be fulfilled with a stable home life, married to a woman I love, with a family and security. I discovered what really matters. You can travel far and wide, seek new adventures, and try to find answers in faith and experience but often the truths are simple, and right in your backyard.

No comments: