On May 4, I was in Florence, South Carolina doing a seminar at their Civic Center. Afterwards, I was looking for a place to buy a small stapler. After driving around for several minutes I saw an Office Depot and pulled into the parking lot.
I went in and was directed to the aisle, which had staplers. I had just started looking through the assortment when a young man approached me. He was wearing an Office Depot uniform and very politely asked me if he could ask me a question.
“You obviously look like a very successful person, like you went to college and stuff. Last year, I dropped out of college over a failed relationship with a girl. I was pretty devastated. I didn’t withdraw from my classes, so I got seven F’s. I’m now back in school at Tech and I have a 3.7 GPA. I know I messed up. Can I recover from this or do you think that I’ve totally goofed up my life”?
I had to smile at the earnestness that he showed. He was really sweating his mistake and was looking for some answers in his life.
“What’s your name”?
“Well Brandon, I don’t think you have totally messed up. You only fail when you quit trying. And you haven’t. There are two ways that you can respond to failure – you can let it define you, or you can let it refine you. Do you know what the difference is?”
He gave me a good guess at the answer, but didn’t quite get it.
“If you let it define you, you don’t take responsibility for your life. You let the event define who you are. On the other hand, if you use the event to refine you, you learn from it and you grow. Brandon, the most successful people in the world have failed more than most. They just continue to learn from their failures and grow from the experience. They don’t quit . . .”
“So you think I’ll be okay?”
“Brandon, I think you’ll be just fine.”
As he walked away, I began to look through the staplers. As I was looking, I had the nagging feeling that I had not gone as far as I could. He was seeking advice. He had obviously given me the authority to speak to him. In this instance, I had influence over him. When we have this, we need to use it.
I began looking for him. Walking around the store a couple of times, I didn’t see him, and decided to checkout at the register. As I left, I felt a sense of incompletion. Sometimes you just know . . .
As I drove away, it continued to nag me. I wanted to tell him who to really put his trust in. Would he think I was strange? Would he even understand? Was I undoing the good I had already done? Sometimes you just have to pull the trigger. I dug out the receipt from my pocket. Sure enough, there was a phone number on it.
“Hi, I was just up there and was taken care of by a young man named Brandon. Could I speak to him please?”
A couple of minutes later, Brandon got on the line.
“Brandon, my name is Robert. We just spoke a few minutes ago. You obviously are looking for some answers in your life. Do you mind if I give you just a little more advice? Your question interested me and I’d like to share just a little more if that would be okay.”
“Yes sir!” He sounded happy to hear my voice.
“Brandon, I wish someone had told me this when I was your age. By the way, how old are you?”
“I’m 20 years old, sir”.
“Well son, I have three sons who are all a little older than you. Brandon, three things will change your life—the people that you meet, the books that you read, and your relationship with God.”
“So much of life is about the relationships you develop. Brandon, learn to build great relationships with people. Watch who you spend time with. You will become the average of the five people you spend the most time with in life. Pick carefully.”
“You can learn the thoughts of some of the sharpest people in the world by picking up a great book each month. Brandon, leaders are readers… You can change your life by changing the way that you think. And the best way to do that is to expose yourself to great minds –either alive or dead.”
“And lastly, your relationship with God is all important. I don’t know where you stand on this Brandon, but you need to explore it. God created you for a purpose. You need to learn to let him guide your steps. Nothing is more important than this.”
Brandon told me that he was a Christian and that he did have a very good relationship with God. We talked a few minutes more and then I said good-bye to my friend. He thanked me for the call.
What impact did I have on him? I don’t know, nor will I probably ever know. But that’s not the point. God directed me through the little voice that He put in all Christians. It’s in our hearts and in our heads. I knew that I was supposed to do something. I obeyed. This little conversation may have changed the course of his life. I pray that it did. But come to think of it, in a small way, it changed mine, and I’m the better for it…