Three Lessons I Learned About Road Signs

Photo credit: Steve Hawkins

Photo credit: Steve Hawkins

This weekend while cleaning my home, I found an unmarked box in my bedroom closet. Setting my cleaning tools aside, I pulled the box out of the closet, hauled it into the living room, and set it on my coffee table.

As I opened the box and looked inside, I noticed several two-inch notebooks labeled “College Group” with the corresponding year on each cover. I pulled one of the notebooks out of the box, opened it to the first page, and was surprised at what I found.

The notebooks contained photographs of a college-age sunday school class I visited several years ago while attending a neighborhood church. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I sat on the couch and paged through the memories of old friends and situations from my past.

A few minutes later, I came across a photograph of the man who led our group for several years.

His name was Steve.

Steve was a church intern who led our college group. During my tenure at the church, I worked together with him to plan group events and drive the church vans to several ski retreats during the winter months. Steve became not only a good friend, but a mentor as well, guiding me through some tough years when I needed coaching and direction in my life.

During my third year in the college group, Steve finished his college education and moved out of state to pastor a church in his hometown. When he was ordained at his new church, I was in the audience to support him.

We maintained our friendship through phone calls and letters. And then one day, he stopped returning my calls.

We never saw each other again.

As time passed and I grew older, I had similar relationships with men and women who walked into my life and helped me grow in a certain area. When the relationships ended due to changes in job or family, I was disappointed because we had so much time invested in each other.

Over time, I learned to accept the fact that people change, including me.
Instead of closing my heart to new friendships, I welcomed them into my life and allowed them to grow me, as I helped them grow as well.

After I closed the last notebook and set it back into the box, I thought about the people I met in my life who shaped me into who I am today.

Charlie helped me endure the dark days of my brother’s death from cancer.

Ed helped me understand that life moves on after tragedy, and that I needed to move on as well.

Pete taught me leadership principles and how to think clearly.

College professors taught me new skills and helped me move beyond my narrow-minded thinking.

I was sorry to see them leave, but thankful that they helped me navigate key intersections in my life.

Saturday evening, I tried to make sense of these photographs and all the people who entered and wandered out of my life.

And then I realized that these former friends were not just friends.

They were road signs, pointing me in the direction I needed to go.

After entertaining that thought for a few minutes, I came to the following conclusions about road signs.

  1. They steer you away from danger. Charlie and Ed helped me think clearly during a difficult situation and encouraged me to move on. Maybe they saw something in me that would self destruct after a family tragedy. A year later, I moved on and pursued new adventures in my life.
  2. They point you in the direction you need to go. Before I met Steve, I was in a career that didn’t draw upon my strengths. One day, he introduced me to a book entitled “Please Understand Me” by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates. Later on, that book encouraged me to rethink my career, go back to school, and start a new career in the computer field as a writer. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I didn’t change careers. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Steve helped me avoid a dead-end career.
  3. Once you’re heading in the right direction, you don’t turn around and revisit the road signs. After I completed graduate school and started a new career, I couldn’t imagine returning to my former career. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “one’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension.” I thought and acted differently because of my education. I couldn’t imagine returning to my former self. Over time, that’s how I dealt with people who came and went from my life. If they didn’t stick around, I thanked God that He brought them into my life, and moved on.

This weekend, I have a new appreciation for the people in my life. I still have opportunities to meet new people in the future, and some of my current friends may move on and grow in other directions. And if those people move on, I’ll remember what I learned from them and apply it to my life so I can avoid problems in the future.