“When I was in my mid-forties, my father died. His death stopped me in my tracks and changed my life. Before he died, I was a hot-shot professor at the London Business School – teaching ambitious young men and women, publishing well-received articles, writing best-selling business books, jetting around the world, lecturing at major universities, consulting for big-name companies. I was on the edge of the big time. And, I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with myself.
My father, on the other hand, had been a quiet and modest man. He had lived most of his life in the Irish countryside, where he’d been the minister of a small church. Secretly I had always been disappointed by his lack of ambition. It was difficult for me to understand his reluctance to move on or up in life.
When he died, I rushed back to Ireland for the funeral. Held in the little church where he had spent most of his life, it was supposed to be a quiet family affair. But it turned out to be neither quiet nor restricted to the family. I was astounded by the hundreds of people who came, on such short notice, from all corners of the British Isles. Almost every single person there came up to me and told me how much my father had meant to them — and how deeply he had touched their lives.
That day, I stood by his grave and wondered, Who would come to my funeral? How many lives have I touched? Who knows me as well as all of these people who knew this quiet man?
When I returned to London, I was a deeply changed man. Later that year, I resigned my tenured professorship. More important, I dropped my pretence of being someone other than who I was. I stopped trying to be a hot shot. I decided to do what I could to make a genuine difference in other people’s lives. Whether I have succeeded, only my own funeral will tell.
I only wish that I could have told my father that he was my greatest teacher.”
– Charles Handy