Most people who work in the center of downtown Calgary know Pat Dardano. Maybe they just know him as Pat, or know his business Pat’s Place, or just recognize him as the shoeshine guy who has been in the same place serving customers for over 25 years. Pat is a fixture in Calgary.
A few years back we found out just what kind of fixture he is. Pat was diagnosed with with a kidney disorder that required a transplant and an extensive amount of time off work. Pat’s customers (truly his friends) rallied around him and put on a fundraiser for him at the Calgary Petroleum Club, which is a haven for the “who’s who” of the city. That doesn’t happen for just anybody, and speaks to the nature of the man of honor. Pat’s special gift is his ability to connect with people, listen easily and speak a special warm and uplifting language to those with a lot of weight on their shoulders. I leave Pat’s stand with a smile on my face and a lighter step each time.
I’ve learned a lot from Pat, and I continue to do so every time I see him. Here are three things that pop to the top of the list:
The value of joy, gratitude and presence.
When you meet Pat everything starts with his smile. He greets you like a long-lost friend each time. His inner energy is infectious, and I’m sure it is that joy of life that fueled him as he tackled his medical challenges. Pat expresses gratitude for life and sees the bright side of everything. It allows him to be totally present with every experience of the day, and as a result he doesn’t miss an opportunity to connect with someone.
The job doesn’t define the person.
I’m sure there may be some who walk by Pat’s stand and make judgments about him because of what he does for a living. They may or may not stop for a shine. I hope they do because they at least then have a chance to know the man. What I learned from the man is this: any job is a good job if you love it.
I think Pat is luckier than some others who may be stuck in the ruts of a job they dislike and can’t find their way out of it. That could be for many reasons, but one reason might be what others would think of them if they left a job that others view as a “good job” to do something “less important”. It can be a difficult thing for us to define what success is for us. Instead, we are often more likely to allow others to impose a definition that we try to live up to.
You can learn something, anytime, anywhere.
I realize that over the course of my life there were times that learning wasn’t front of mind for me. I might even have been guilty of thinking that I knew all I needed to know and stopped listening and learning. Then a new job would come along and I’d realize that I didn’t know everything I needed, and I might have been a bit ill-prepared to slip back into learning mode. So learning became more difficult, partly because I wasn’t open to it, and partly because that resistance lessened the willingness of my “teacher” to help me acquire the knowledge I needed.
Pat has help me understand that learning is continuous. There is something new for me in every moment of every day if I am looking for and open to it. The trick is in being ready!
What opportunities to learn pass us by each day? What would it take to shift into a mode of looking for chances to learn? I think it might be as simple as combining Pat’s three lessons from above. We could start by putting on a positive outlook and being present in our surroundings. Then we try to set aside any pre-defined biases as to who is has something to teach us and engage with curiosity. Lastly we can try to “cast a wide net” meaning that we are aware that we have no control over what wisdom might be coming our way so we remain open to whatever is possible. It is important to step outside our comfort zone if we are truly interested in learning.
How would we find such new opportunities? Here’s a possible exercise. As you are walking through a mall or down a street, put a smile on your face and keep your head up so you can “see” everyone. Pick out someone who looks interesting to you, and create a positive view of them with respect to the wisdom they possess. Now tell yourself a story about what you see and what you might learn from this person. If you were to do this once a day for an extended period, my guess is that you will build a new capacity for connection with others and with it a new capacity for learning.