12 Lessons From The End Of The Road

There comes a point in life where there is no tomorrow, only yesterdays.  A time where we remember the past knowing there is no future.  Sadly, that is where we are with my friend, Bill.

I met Bill Shearon around 15 years ago during my work with the City of Bradenton Beach.  I was the Chair of Planning and Zoning and Bill was to become the Mayor.  I knew Bill was different from the beginning.  Not only was Bill obviously not a politician, he was also blind.  

Bill was born in a Chicago suburb 73 years ago.  The son of a strong father, Bill learned the value of hard work early in life.  Pocket money was never given, it was earned.  His father believed strongly in the importance of getting an education.  Unfortunately, Bill did not like school and was not a good student.  It took Bill one year at the University of Tampa to flunk out.

Moving back to Illinois, Bill began to work on the family farm and at the grain elevator in which his father was a part owner.  He worked hard shoveling corn and moving grain.  Eventually, Bill realized that he really liked the grain business. He began to study accounting in the evening.  He learned about the commodity exchange and began to actively trade commodities, both for the elevator and speculatively.  After buying his father out, he grew the grain business eventually selling at a profit. 

Next Bill got into the oil business.  He began as a ‘jobber’ driving trucks and delivering oil.  Over time he grew to become the 8th largest distributor for lubricants in the USA.  His company had over 150 employees and controlled a significant portion of the lubricant distribution business in the Midwest.

Nearing his 50th birthday and in the process of losing his sight, Bill sold his business and ‘retired’.  After living on his yacht for 6 years, Bill and his life partner, Tjet, settled in Bradenton Beach where we met and eventually became friends.

Why to I tell you all this?  Because, we can all learn from those who have walked before us.  During my visit with Bill I asked him what he has learned.  What type of advice would he wish to pass forward to those who hope to build a successful life?  What would he do the same or differently?

  1. Get an Education.  Few things are more important than education.  Go to school, learn, be a sponge.  Also learn from those around you.  Ask questions and learn from other’s mistakes.  Decision making is improved when you are knowledgeable and informed.
  2. Keep Your Mouth Shut.  In today’s world everyone wants to tell what they know, share their opinion, be the center of attention.  You don’t learn anything by talking.  You learn by listening.  One important key to success is to listen more than you talk.
  3. Network – What you know is important, but equally important is who you know.  Learn how to network and proactively build relationships.  Access to the right people makes life so much simpler and will benefit you, your business and your family.
  4. Risk and Failure.  Take risks and never be afraid to fail!  This is critically important.  Failure is going to happen.  It is part of the journey.  You MUST fail in order to succeed.  When an opportunity presents itself, grab it.  Run with it and make the best of it.  Some opportunities will play out better than others, don’t worry about it, just keep going.
  5. Work Hard. You must have a strong work ethic.  If you are the kind of person who wants to sit on the sofa and have things handed to them, you will never achieve anything in life.  You must work harder than the other person.  Success is granted to those who earn it.
  6. Family.  Working hard is important but try to maintain some level of balance.  Take time with your family.  Work can be overwhelming sometimes.  Don’t work so hard that you lose a marriage like I did. 
  7. Parents.  Listen to your parents.  They are not as dumb as you think.  You would be amazed how smart my father became between my 18th and 25th birthday.  He went from being barely tolerable to the source of all knowledge.  I probably should have listened to him earlier.
  8. Be the best.   It does not matter what you do in life, be the best at it.  If you dig ditches, be the best ditch digger.  Be the best and opportunities will come your way.  Never be content with being average.
  9. Smart People.  Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.  Hire people who know more than you and let them shine.  Smart people will make you better.  This is the only way to grow both personally and professionally.
  10. Luck.   Luck is what you make of it.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.  When opportunity knocks you need to be ready to make the most of it.
  11. Control.   You cannot control everything.  You can only control your actions.  Understand that we live in a chaotic world and random things will happen.  Do the best with the cards that you are dealt and don’t worry too much about everything else.
  12. Say ‘Thank You’.  Gratitude is not something that I was good at early on.  It is a something I learned later in life.  Saying ‘Thank You’ is so important.  It not only makes the other person smile; it can make you smile.

At the end of the interview I asked Bill one last question – ‘Regrets.  What are your regrets?’  Bill thought for a while and said, “Well, I always wanted to own a helicopter, but I never did.  Other than that, my bucket list is complete, and I am ready for what is next.”  How wonderful!  Isn’t that what we all want to be able to say at the end of the road?