It’s beyond my comprehension to figure out how five years can possibly fly by so quickly. It makes me acutely aware of the unlikelihood of the next five going any slower. Or the next five. Or the next. I’ve been teasing Ben about becoming five. I’ve told him that I am ok with him becoming five, but that is it. No more growing up! In return, Ben says, ‘Oh Gramma, after another year I will be six. I’m going to be all the numbers.’
The thing is, I do want him to become ‘all of the numbers’. The trouble is, I enjoy each of the numbers so much, I want them to last and last.
To celebrate this special number five, I picked Ben up after his morning school program, brought him home for lunch, and then Jim and I took him to see a movie. He was thrilled to be going. He’s been to a few movies previously, so I figured he knew the drill, and he did.
We bought our snacks before finding Theatre #7. Ben wanted his usual, a kid pack. This is one of those little square boxes that holds a kid size amount of popcorn, a small drink and a little treat (from the top row of treats). Since Jim and I each ordered some popcorn and a drink, I asked Ben if he was able to hold his own box of treats. He was quite confident he could. In the meantime, I was holding his coat, watching to make sure Ben was ok with his special snacks, and trying to hold my popcorn and drink, , so I asked Jim if he could manage both bags of popcorn. Somehow in the transfer from my hand to his, as he tried to grab onto my bag and hold it with his pinky finger, one of the popcorn bags slipped and fell to the floor. Despite it falling right side up, the impact with the floor still caused about one hundred beautiful popped kernels to land all over the floor.
Yes, there was a little line up watching this unfold. Yes, they were amused. Yes, we tried to be too.
I picked up the bag, told the cashier what had happened, apologized, and followed Ben, who was following Jim to the ‘straw and napkin’ counter. As Ben carefully walked along behind Jim, with his clear voice, he offered one of his little pearls of wisdom.
“Grampa. If you walk nice and slowly, like this, you won’t leave a trail of popcorn behind you.”
I wanted to laugh out loud, but he was really trying hard to help his Grampa out. And he was so proud to be holding his own treats so carefully. I held in the laughter, but the idea of a person walking through life, leaving a trail of popcorn, stuck with me.
We all walk on trails made by others and leave trails wherever we go. Often, we see a trail created by someone else, and finding ourselves intrigued and, hoping it will provide a good path for us, follow it. Our mentors create such trails for us. Sometimes so do our parents, our siblings, our friends, our leaders, and our colleagues. My hiking friends and I love to follow paths created by other hikers. It is especially easy for us to see these, and follow them in the winter, when the snow accentuates the footprints.
Many times, we follow these trails only until we find our own footing. We gain confidence as we watch and learn, as we step into footprints already laid down. With the path smoothed out, we have enough energy to begin to imagine laying some unique prints of our own. We might take a few test runs, stepping off the path, but keeping the old trail in sight. Eventually we step off the worn path altogether and begin to forge our own way.
Even if we don’t want, or ask, others to follow, our footsteps are visible to all who come behind. Even if we don’t mean to, we leave a trail of impact on the lives of those we encounter as we go. It’s almost impossible to walk forward, creating a new path, while erasing the steps we have made. Sometimes we leave purposeful steps, other times our trails are created with less care. We leave trails as we navigate our careers. We leave trails with our words. We leave trails of kindness and sometimes of hurt. We each leave trails as we travel giving others a snapshot of our lives and of our character.
I love the image of a nice, neat path of popcorn left behind me, each kernel meticulously placed, with thoughtful understanding of the effect it will have on others. Traveling this carefully laid trail, I would likely not leave much hurt, nor would I have much backtracking to repair my mistakes.
I also understand that often, the trail I leave is more like the one Jim and I left when the kernels of popcorn jumped out of the bag onto the floor in a mess. Sometimes in my preoccupation with my own life, I create a mess. I forget to lay my popcorn in a neat trail. I forget someone will be impacted. I forget these messes don’t clean up easily.
I’m granting myself some grace as I try to not obsess over every popcorn mess I make. The people lined up behind us at the theatre this week, witnessed both our embarrassing mess, and the gentle offer of advice given by Ben. I like to believe the former gave them a little chuckle they might not have had otherwise, and the latter gave them food for thought, and likely another chuckle.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What popcorn trail am I leaving?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups and has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to find out how leave the best trail of popcorn.