Lessons From a Hero
You may have heard of the book Tuesday’s with Morrie. It could have been any day of the week, but I had a similar experience with my friend Marcos Diaz-Lanz. When I met Marcos he was not a young man but he was full of life. Let’s just say Marcos may not have been dealt the best hand in life, particularly when he was on the last few holes of the back nine (sorry but I couldn’t resist the sports analogy, it just means he was moving towards his dying days). He kept chipping away at life regardless of his circumstances. What was an acquaintance that became a dependent situation to somewhat of a burden, morphed into a friendship and bond.
I learned some life lessons from Marcos that I will apply until the day I die. Interestingly, these lessons are good advice for business as well. Here are some of them.
Marcos was a brave man and a hero to many, literally. He was a high-ranking officer during the Fidel Castro coup in 1959. When Castro showed his true colors, Marcos became an overt opponent of the regime. He was pursued and eventually had to defect to the U.S. He fled not for his life, but because he felt that he could do more against Castro communism from abroad. In 1960 he and his brother, Pedro Luis, commandeered an unarmed B-26 aircraft and dropped leaflets over Havana. The airplane was battered by anti-aircraft fire, of which he had several “souvenirs” but they were able to get back safely. The event was later billed “The Freedom Flight.” Lesson: Courage is not just standing up for what you believe, it’s also doing something about it.
I think perhaps my favorite quote from Marcos, which he admitted having learned it from a very powerful businessman, was: “Is the money listening to this conversation.” Its origins are from countless business meetings during which participants were presenting all kinds of big, groundbreaking ideas and projects but nobody at the table was able or willing to fund it. Lesson: Make sure the money is sitting at the table during a business meeting – there has to be a budget going in and somebody to fund that budget.
Marcos was loyal to a fault. While she was alive, his life was all about his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife. Her care always came first and he refused to institutionalize her, regardless of how difficult the situation became. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He had two grandchildren who were heroin addicts. When their mother, his oldest daughter, couldn’t handle them anymore, Marcos took them in without hesitation. I knew them quite well and they were a handful. Lesson: Loyalty is one of those things that may or may not be reciprocated. Customers, regardless of how they are treated, may or may not be loyal to you/your business. Be loyal anyway. Someday it will pay off.
Marcos had a great sense of humor and would find the funny in many circumstances. He and I had a lot of good laughs and he would at least try to inject humor into situations. At one point he was institutionalized. I used to visit him at the nursing home to which he was assigned and it definitely was not the best place for him to be. The other patients were in much worse shape than him both mentally and physically. He used to call me and when I asked how he was doing his response was usually: “Here I am surrounded by cadavers.” It made me chuckle every time. He also created some humorous situations, for me anyway. I went to see Marcos one day and saw that he was in a different room without a roommate. I was told that the 80-year-old Marcos had to be separated as they almost came to blows during a heated discussion about Cuban politics – how’s that for feistiness! Lesson: Humor is a powerful stress diffuser.
This is perhaps Marcos’ most redeeming quality. He was a fighter. Marcos never gave up – it really bordered on miraculous. He always kept at it to improve his and/or his family’s situation. He would wake up and start working the phones, calling contacts to see if there was someway they could help. But his most impressive act of perseverance was “breaking out” of the nursing home. He would always tell the other patients and staff that he was going to get out; they would laugh out loud at him. To this day I don’t know how he did it, but he got out and moved in with his daughter who previously wanted nothing to do with him. Lesson: Have faith and never give up.
The Sky May Really Be Falling
Marcos cried wolf a lot. Sometimes it got so bad that I wouldn’t take his calls. Towards the end of his life, he called me and told me that he had some sort of liver issue. I didn’t take it seriously. Marcos ended up in the hospital and never left.
When I went to see him I was horrified. I learned what the word “jaundice” meant – Marcos could not have been more yellow. The saddest thing is that Marcos was alone for much of this short time until one of his daughters came and stayed with him, towards the end, until his last breath. Lesson: Discernment in these and other situations is critical.
Marcos passed away about five years ago and I still miss my friend. I hope that you have learned a little something from Marcos too.