It has been 25 years this month since my Uncle passed away, and I have asked myself about the impact he had on me many times. Unequivocally, my answer is always a positive one. Every time he visited, we would spend hours and hours playing chess (which he had encouraged me to take up) and talking into the wee hours of the morning, and sometimes right until morning. During those late night one on ones, we discussed so many things – dreams, opportunities, business, challenges and people. When I think back, reflect and meditate on those conversations that I had with my Uncle, some still fresh in my mind, I realize that he was my first, and my greatest mentor, 35 years my senior – but always supportive, yet challenging of ideas, assumptions and decisions.
So who was Uncle Vern?
My Uncle, Vern, was the fourth of seven children born in the 1930's. He was passionate, a dreamer, a teacher and an entrepreneur. He took up Judo in 1950 at 19 years of age, and with his passion and zeal put his heart and soul into being the best he could become. Within only a few years, he was winning championships, locally and internationally. By 1961 he had received his 3rd degree black belt, and by the mid 1960's had traveled and trained throughout Canada, England, Europe and Tokyo. Having returned to Canada, he had opened his own Judo Club with multiple branches in Ontario. Before retiring from Judo in 1970, he had successfully trained and instructed many of the next generation of black and brown belts, including for the Pan-American Games, and the World Championships (1967).
He later when on to teach at the High School and College level, before transitioning to a career with Metroland.
There are many lessons I learned from my uncle, both big and small, because I was smart enough to listen and to ask questions. One of the biggest though, is to never, ever, give up on your dreams – except on your own terms. Ironically though – this is a lesson learned as a result of him giving up on his own dream. You see, he allowed extreme challenges – interpersonal, business and even cultural to impact his dream. Earlier, I outlined his outstanding career in Judo – spanning 20 years, and abruptly ending in 1970. I will leave out the details, but suffice to say, many of our discussions were about not giving up on your dreams. One of the lessons he always wanted me to remember and take to heart, even telling me that that was his intention, was this: The world is full of many very Intelligent people; the world is also very much in need of "Smart" people. Those that have 'Street Smarts' as my Uncle described it. No, not from living on the street, but from being able to understand and evaluate, learn from, and put into practice learnings from the experiences of day to day living. In modern day terminology he was coaching me on developing Emotional Intelligence, which he had in abundance, and like any good mentor, passed on freely what he had learned through the school of hard knocks.
My Uncle had always encouraged me to pursue my passions and dreams, especially in regards to entrepreneurship and business. As a result of his encouragement I have successfully turned many hobbies and interests into paying gigs over the years. Consistent encouragement to take chances, to evaluate opportunities, but to always enjoy the journey, and if the journey is no longer providing the joy it once did, reevaluate and move on if the joy can't be rekindled. Life as a journey, much like a roller coaster, and is full of both ups and downs, the occasional sharp turn, and an occasional loop to make things really interesting. Being able to learn from these experiences requires self-reflection and awareness, a healthy dose of management and reflection of your emotions and feelings, and deep desire to understand your strengths, and especially your weaknesses. Can Emotional Intelligence be learned? Absolutely. Does it take hard work, persistence and perseverance? Most Definitely.
There are many lessons we learn at an early age in life, that we carry with us, quite literally forever. Those pivotal moments, special experiences and cross roads throughout our early life that shaped and molded who we are today. Looking back, we can identify them for ourselves. We can remember them, many times just as if they happened yesterday. So what is the advice, the pearl of wisdom that I would leave you with? Pass on what you have learned, as any good mentor would. Openly discuss your own pivotal moments, the 'ah ha' moments. Encourage, Build Up, Reprimand and offer Reproof when needed. Emotional Intelligence can be learned, it can be taught, and the world still needs more "Smart" people.
When my Uncle Vern died in 1996, it had been 26 years since he had given up his career in Judo along with one of his dreams, the Kyu Shin Judo Club. Yet, it was as Fagan Sensei that many remembered him all those years later. As a testament to that legacy he had left behind, he was recognized in the December 1996 Ontario Judo Newsletter alongside 2 of the pioneers of the sport in Canada. So, even in his death, he taught me another incredible lesson, without using any words at all. Show up in life. Do the very best at whatever you choose to do. Make a difference in peoples' lives. Be Remembered.