Ice Cream and Leadership

Though it may sound a little cliche, kindness counts. Every day, we are faced with innumerable opportunities to change the lives of others around us for the better. Whether it's extending a simple smile to someone having trouble seeing the sunlight through the clouds, taking a moment to help someone move a heavy cart down the stairs to the subway platform, or giving up something of ours to someone in need; we all have the power to initiate an impactful change. Our guest this week reminds us of the tremendous importance of little gestures and, more importantly, the tremendous power of the kindness they carry on.


 

          A few weekends ago on a warm Sunday afternoon in September I got in my car, turned the key, and began to drive. I didn’t have a particular destination in mind, more so my goal was to make sense of the emotions that were running through it. I drove to a park along the waterfront of the Hudson River, and while the sun was still golden as it began its way down behind the mountains on the other side of the river, I took a walk. I needed to breathe, and I needed to figure out exactly where to put my foot next. In that particular moment, the questions about life, it’s purpose, how I would get through my challenges, and what I was doing with my time all began to sing at once in a chorus so loud I eventually found myself sitting on a park bench, head in hands trying to find inner peace. Regardless of the walk of life we come from, the question in one form or another about “what exactly am I doing with this life I’ve been given” is constant. As a matter of fact, it’s so constant that typing “what is the” in the search bar on Google will periodically bring up “the meaning of life” as the top search term. If you ask Siri on an iPhone “what is the meaning of life” she will give you a different answer every time. Asking the internet and artificial intelligence about the meaning of life is definitely a sign of having a quirky sense of curiosity, but interestingly enough, the way Siri answers in part is actually kind of the point.

          Growing up like you, I faced a number of unique challenges. For me, it was growing up in a home with two parents who did not get along, and their personal struggles affected me on a profound level. Caught between a constant state of upheaval in my home, I was often faced with a lack of adult guidance about what life really meant and how to navigate it. Honesty and being able to accept and come to terms with your past to transform it, and let it fuel your desire to succeed and share with others is paramount. On that Sunday in the park I was continuing to learn how to do that, along with the fact that doing this is something we need to do throughout our lives. Learning exactly how to always be honest, or rather, be unafraid to face the reality of the challenges we are dealt with is foundational. It’s the binding of the book of life that we write our stories on. Key word “we”. Sitting on the bench in the park as a Metro-North train rumbled past, I was beginning to finally make sense of how to do that, and it all had to do with the word “we”.

          Despite my circumstances growing up, one thing my mother gave me which I am today grateful for the most was faith. At least a seed of it, but it turns out that that’s all you need. No one can bear the weight of the world, overcome struggles and answer questions of purpose in it alone. In a diverse world of over 7 billion people, this is a fundamental truth that unites all of us. You are not alone. Even when you think you are because you’re metaphorically sitting with your head in your hands and there is no one seemingly around you, you are not alone. Believe in love through you and let it take whatever you’re dealing with. I promise, you’ll find the truth and the mercy to deal with whatever you’re facing. Love is patient, love is kind, love is selflessness, and seeking the good of others. It has a unique path through you, and the meaning of life is learning to completely want and accept however that may be without a measure of time attached, and critically to see and accept that in everyone you meet. The way love works if you accept it through you is the source of your dignity and purpose with everyone else. Enjoy that. Like the way Siri metaphorically answers, this will be different through every person, and the opportunities will be different for everyone, but it all works together. You know the often used phrase that says “it’s the journey that counts”? This is that endless journey. It’s your choice to embrace it and walk with everyone uniquely in it.

          After sitting on the park bench for some time entertaining these thoughts, I was suddenly faced with another reoccurring and daily challenge; I was hungry. I decided to get up and cross the street from the park to investigate what appeared to be a new restaurant. “Tacos”. Yes. “Hello, I’d like a table for one please.” Sometime while enjoying my second of three tacos I began to notice people walking past holding ice cream. “I haven’t had ice cream in a long time, like real ice cream with multiple scoops in a cone and sprinkles and sticky fingers and a brain freeze…” I thought to myself. “Yes”. In that moment of extremely simple “treat yo self” thought process I knew I wanted ice cream. What I didn’t know after entering the enthralling retro modern ice cream parlor around the corner from the Taco restaurant, ordering a triple scoop of lavender ice cream with a dulce de leche glazed waffle cone, and chocolate and rainbow sprinkles because I wanted to “do the works, since it’s been a while”, is that my credit card would suddenly inexplicably not work in the card reader to pay for my extravagance. Ice cream slowly melting in hand with me realizing I had no cash and trying to figure out how to pay while a line formed was not the challenge I was looking for. I began to tell the clerk; “I’ll just move over to the side, I don’t want to make people wait while I figure out what to….”,  “Hey wait, you know what it’s on me,” said a voice to my right. Utterly surprised I looked over to see a man pull out a twenty dollar bill to pay for his and my purchase. “You know I’ve been in that situation before where it doesn’t work I understand,” he said. “Well then your coffee is on me,” the patron told him. Amazed I began to thank him repeatedly. After exchanging information and thanking him a few more times I walked outside to take in what just happened.

          Love works in mysterious ways. Believe, not just through yourself, but most importantly, through others. The greatest mark of leadership regardless of the walk of life you face is the desire to grow in love that builds one another up. A leader makes other people leaders. Through whatever unique path that love is meant to work through you with others, make the most of every opportunity with that in mind, and realize that you’re on a journey. If you do, I promise it’s pretty much a walk in the park.

-Johnmichael


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This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original thoughts & expressions of the author.