"Perhaps you’ll recall how others have shaped your life and all the gas money you’ve been given – the angels and the achievements, the devils and derailments that possibly influenced your life choices."
No matter how bad an experience, we can always make it better when we choose to learn something from it. That’s what Troy Lewis, author of Gas Money did. I met Troy at a conference for pharma trainers. We happened to sit at the same breakfast table and he soon had me mesmerized with his stories. Troy Lewis is a brilliant storyteller and teacher.
I remember thinking, “This guy should write a book!” I soon learned that he just had! He had been inspired to write after a colleague told him, “Troy, you told me a story three years ago that I’ve never forgotten, and I’ll apply it to the rest of my life.” She continued, “If you write a story nearly as well as you tell it, then you should write a book.”
Gas Money is Troy’s recollection of his many experiences growing up in the south. I couldn’t put it down. And each time I had to, I found myself sharing one of Troy’s stories and lessons with my daughters.
When I was a little girl, I loved reading Little House in the Prairie. I learned so much from the stories of Laura Ingalls growing up in the midwest over a hundred years ago. I was just as intrigued and learned just as much from Gas Money – the stories and lessons of Troy Lewis growing up in the south over fifty years ago. Fascinating.
Troy courageously shares his journey and in so doing gives us all gas money to propel our own. He reflects on the characters in his life and how they molded and shaped the man he became. So many characters on our life’s stage offer us a nudge in one direction or another.
Derail or propel – it’s your choice
"Experience was what you got when you got what you didn’t want"
Troy’s Mumma is not surprisingly a main character in his story. She became the sole parent of her five siblings at the age of 15. An unplanned pregnancy, a niece moving in, then a second child brought her to 8 kids and an abusive husband by the time she was 18. What were you doing at 18? Did I mention she had no running water? This force of a woman didn’t have a vacation until she was 43 years old.
Troy figured her favorite part of the day was finding out who had misbehaved because she swung better than Willie Mays. Her lessons were harsh. But he chose to have those lessons serve him throughout his life. He often made the better choice because of her expectations of him.
By choosing to understand her struggles and realizing she did the best she could, he won. He benefitted from the lessons. He could have harbored anger and resentment for the delivery of her lessons but instead he took the best and left the rest.
What gas money were you given? Did you use it to propel you or did it derail you? Troy teaches us that it is up to us to choose. How can you turn those lessons into a positive force?
Our expectation creates our result
"Mumma once told me that life is a test every day, and she was certainly right about that."
Up to second grade, Troy attended a segregated school. Whites went to one school and blacks to another. But in grade two, he was part of the integration. He and his friends didn’t want to go to the white school. On the first day of integration, his new white teacher, who he expected would not be nice said “Troy Lewis, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. I’m glad you are in my class.” And then she walked away. Troy remembers thinking “She’s a nice lady!”
That simple interaction changed his perception on how to meet and greet people for the rest of his life. When we walk into a room, we should expect that everyone is simply a friend not yet known. Our expectation that others will be nice and kind and like us, combined with our effort to show that we like them, will lead to a great connection. It’s up to us to create a positive expectation and communicate that expectation. Troy decided to “always act like you belong”.
Random interactions can have a lasting effect
"I came to see that it was the random people in my life who provided me with gas money from the time I was a little boy…."
We all impact each other and we never know when or how. You often have no idea of the lasting impact you have on someone. Think back in your own life. What seemingly insignificant words or actions from characters in your life impacted you tremendously? What ones ahead of you will you allow to impact your life or the lives of others around you?
Troy worked as a ticket agent as a teenager. One customer, an older, grandmotherly-type lady named Evelyn took an interest in him. “Troy Lewis, I want to see where your life is going to take you. Would you like to become pen pals with me?” Troy followed through and wrote to her and they maintained contact for years.
Later, after losing touch with her, while driving through her hometown, he looked her up and called. The lady that answered the phone told him that Evelyn has passed. She was her daughter, Jane, and was shocked that “Troy Lewis” actually existed. “I can’t believe you are a real person!” she said. “Mother always spoke of you in the end. We always thought it was just part of her Alzheimer’s disease,” she lamented.
Troy and Jane maintained their connection with phone calls and a shared passion for football. At one point they finally exchanged photos. Eventually Jane admitted to him that she “used to not be too crazy about black people”. “What made you change,” he asked her? “When I got your picture,” she cried in response.
You just never know the impact you can have on someone. By embracing a random connection, Troy created meaningful relationships that had lasting and profound impact.
My big lesson from Troy was that despite what happens in life, you still have choice. The choice of how you will interpret those events and what direction you will choose. You can be angry and resentful for the seemingly unfairness you encountered or you can get over it, move on and learn something from it. Think about your own lessons. Can you change the way you look at them? Can they serve you? Can you make your gas money propel you to brighter horizons?