Answering the Call

June 1, 2015
When facing life’s challenges, what type of leader will you be?

I will always remember the day I met Sal Harrison. With the aid of a walker, he slowly made his way across the parking lot. Seeing him, I ran over to the office door and held it open for him. 

 “No need to hold the door; I’m fine,” he said.

Sal was in his 70s at the time; a small man, but you could sense there was something special about him.

I introduced myself, entered his information into the computer and then ran around the service counter to help him to a chair. Again, he said, “Please, no need to help; I’m fine.” He sat quietly reading his newspaper as his car
was serviced.  

About an hour later his car was done. I reviewed the invoice and asked if he had any questions. He said, “No questions, but I do appreciate you accommodating me in your waiting room. I don’t like to infringe on anyone’s time to help drop the
car off.” 

I simply replied, “My pleasure, Mr. Harrison.”

He got his newspaper from the chair and began his slow trek to the door. Again, I ran to the door to hold it open for him, and again he replied, “Please Joe, trust me. I’m OK. I got it.”  

He took two steps, stopped, and looked back at me. “Joe, I appreciate you trying to help me, but let me tell you my story. I grew up during those tough times of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, I enlisted in the Army. I fought my way through North Africa, landed on the beaches of Normandy during the invasion of France.  I fought my way through many battles in Europe during World War II. I survived all that without even getting a scratch. Two years after getting out of the Army in 1947, life threw me a curveball: I contracted polio. That’s why I use a walker today. I have accepted it, and never let it defeat me. So, Joe, when I tell you I don’t need any help, that’s the reason why.” 

I stood there stunned, not knowing what to say. 

Over the years, Sal became more than a customer—he became a friend. When he brought his car in for service, we would talk about the war, about business and about life. As he aged, his polio progressed. Eventually, he was confined to a motorized wheelchair. But that never stopped him. He purchased a conversion van with a special seat and ramp that allowed him to get in and out of the van by himself, using the motorized wheelchair. He never used his ailment as an excuse not to push forward. And, he never complained or let it affect his spirit.

We can learn a lot from people like Sal Harrison. Even when faced with polio, he lived life to the fullest, always looking for what he could do, rather than what he couldn’t do. Just like Sal, none of us are strangers to life’s challenges and obstacles. And it’s easy to blame those challenges and obstacles for our shortcomings. We can blame the weather, the president, the economy, and just about anything in our pathway. But the truth is, we have only one person to answer to for not achieving our goals, and that’s the person we see in the mirror each day.

Perhaps, more importantly, we should ask, “What type of leader are you in tough times?” Leaders accept that some things are out of their control, but still find ways to push forward. Leaders do not look for excuses, but rather for solutions. Will there be setbacks? Absolutely. But you cannot let setbacks prevent you from losing hope and your passion. The people around you will feed off your energy to push forward. On the other hand, if you have a doomsday attitude during tough times, others around you will too.

Sal died recently. He was 94 years old. Some would say that he lived a tough life. Not me. Sal was a true leader. He may not have known it, but I bet I wasn’t the only one he inspired. His determination not to let polio stop him from living life to the fullest is an inspiration for us all.

This past winter was tough for a lot shop owners. Many of us lost money.  No one would blame us if we used that as an excuse for not pushing forward this year. No one, that is, but Sal Harrison. 

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at [email protected].

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