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Gary Horton: Not too late to give thanks

Posted: January 12, 2010 8:26 p.m.
Updated: January 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The season of good cheer has come and passed. Time to pull down the tree, pack up the ornaments and savor that last glass of eggnog cluttering the refrigerator.

Out with the old and in with the new.

It's time to focus and face down a challenging new decade, so let's forget the holidays and get down to work, goes the conventional wisdom.

Not so fast, friend.

There might be time yet to slow down and give a few more gifts. Let me share with you a trio of Christmas stories that might keep you and me giving all year long.

A week before Christmas, I visited with an old construction friend over breakfast at Newhall's venerable Way Station Coffee Shop.

So my friend and I shared news, stories and laughs over our long breakfast. Eventually we exchanged "See you laters" and I expected to perhaps set up another meeting in a few months.

So I was surprised the next morning when my phone rang at 6:30 a.m. The screen showed it was my friend calling.

"That's early for anyone," I thought. But during these recessions we contractors wake up extra early to grind our heads through buzz saws for as long as possible.

"How are you doing, Gary?" my perky friend asked. "Hey, I just wanted to call to let you know how much I enjoyed getting back together. It had been too long. I really enjoy talking with you. Why don't you come over during Christmas and we can hike the hills around my house?"

Even for crusty contractors, it's an awfully nice way to start your day with a friend just calling to say they appreciate you.

It was interesting later in the week when Carrie and I visited a couple we'd met at the Wharton program eight weeks earlier.

They took us to a nice dinner and we chatted about business and family. Back at his house during good-byes, the man opened up and said, "Gary, I really enjoyed our conversation tonight. I think we have the workings of a good friendship here. Let's stay in touch, OK?"

That's awfully nice, too. Men usually aren't so open about feelings and relationships, and I was surprised and pleased when my new friend just openly invited us into a closer friendship.

We had met in Philadelphia, so now it's fun that I'll have a friend from Wharton who actually lives within driving distance from our home.

It's nice to be nice. But someone has to take the nice step first.

That's as good a Christmas gift as any. Be bold and take the first step toward friendship. Look for the good, speak up and voice appreciation.

You can give these gifts all year long and there's no sales tax.

I took my own advice. Two days before Christmas I wrote a decades-long client a personal letter instead of sending just a card.

We haven't done much business together over the past few years because of the housing meltdown, but we've stayed loosely in touch.

I wrote him and his partner a letter expressing how his company's business had helped me establish my family and my company.

How the opportunities he gave me filtered down to helping get my kids educated, to making our family secure and to creating good careers for hundreds of workers.

I wrote that their professional examples motivated me and directed my company's course. I told him how much I appreciated him, and I said it with some detail so he'd know I truly meant what I wrote.

The man called me back last week. He said he and his partner had read the letter together and they were flabbergasted. In their 30 years of business, my letter was the most extraordinary business correspondence they had received. They said they almost never hear from past associates, and that this personal and sincere letter of gratitude truly touched them during hard and unappreciative times.

They appreciated being appreciated. Words are usually only sounds spoken or letters on a page. You breathe them out and they're gone like vapor. You write them, they're read and tossed aside.

Except for when your words come kindly from the heart and kindly to the heart - then your words are powerful, lasting agents for positive impact.

So now we're post-holidays and we may be thinking we're post-giving. But there's no need to be stingy. Stop to think about the good in your associations and don't be shy expressing your gratitude.

Have fun with the pleasant responses you receive when you speak your heart. Watch the smiles come in and be sure to smile widely back.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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