Which lens are you viewing the world through?

By Stephen Kellett
13 September, 2023

This was written a few years ago, but only posted 13 September 2023.

A few years ago I attended the funeral of a 96 year old man. Mr Jim Terry.

I did not know Jim very well. I had met him on a couple of occasions doing some work to help my partner Jan with the maintenance of his garden. The task of creosoting your fence is not something most 96 year olds can do, and Jim was no exception.

Although I normally write software, I do spend some time each year doing physically labourious work. I do this partly to keep fit and partly because it’s easy to lose touch with what it’s like doing hard physical work when you spend each day typing and playing mental gymnastics in your head. I don’t want to lay tarmac every day, but I’m not going to look down on someone for whom that is their career. As such, I didn’t mind spending a few odd mornings doing his fence. It took me away from the software for a few hours. Time to think big picture rather than software internals.

I had heard quite a few tales about Jim and his escapades into town on his electric buggy. Jan and Jim got on quite well, although occasionally he would manage to upset Jan and I’d have to pick up the pieces. Over the years Jan turned into a virtual lifeline. If things went wrong he’d call her and ask her if she could help with this or that as well as the garden related things she normally dealt with. And this is how my mental picture of Jim was created – the various things Jan did for him and the few occasions I got roped in as well.

He was healthy right up until the end. Out and about, always doing stuff. No long slow decline for him. That’s a great way to go.

Jan and I attended his funeral this week. The Salvation Army managed the funeral service. The service included a talk about the things Jim had got up to in his life. He had joined the Royal Air Force without telling his family and was posted to India servicing biplanes (start of World War II), then he spent time in Baghdad, Basra and Babylon. Then on his return to the UK his transport ship was sunk (I presume by a U-boat), and he spent some time in New York. Finally returning to the UK, he worked on Halifax bombers. He met his wife during this period.

He became a keen sailor, competing into his 70s (and beating people 50 years his junior). He always had three sailing dingies. One for sailing, one for renovation, and one for sale.

When he had to give sailing up due to a neck problem he returned to his previous hobby, cycling, and competed into his 80s (again beating people many years his junior). He always had three bicycles. One for cycling, one for renovation, and one for sale. 

Even when he had to use an electric buggy he had two of them. One for using and one for renovation. He had one upgraded from the standard 4mph to 9mph.

Jim always seemed to be looking forward and driven. I suspect the driven part is why he would occasionally upset people – not realising he was pushing too hard without understanding the other person’s point of view. But all the same, looking forward, no looking back and dwelling on what was, just let’s see what we can do with what we’ve got. That is an inspiring way to be.

All the time I was listening to this speech I was thinking about the fact that I had no idea about this side of this man I’d known, albeit briefly. I had only known the frail Jim whom Jan had done some work for over the years.

Every time something happened where Jim couldn’t continue, he didn’t give up, look back on life and grumble. He found a new direction and went with that. For those of you building startups, you can take a lot from that. You can either feel sorry for yourself that the current attempt failed, or you can climb back on a new idea and start building that. You have a choice in how you react to setbacks. Use that choice wisely.

You view people and situations through a rather narrow lens, even if you don’t realise it. And I wonder how much we also do this with our customers and our marketing. Something to think about.

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