The Shadow of Giants

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When asked why he moved away from his family in Elm Creek, my grandfather gave the response: “I got tired of having fuel lines changed with pliers”. I being the type of person that forgets to put oil in my car, was unable to appreciate the meaning of this statement until my father explained it to me.

Fuel lines connect with a nut (I am simplifying this so that readers like me can understand it) that needs to be loosened in order to remove the fuel line from a piece of farm equipment. Ideally, this should be done with a wrench of appropriate size to ensure no damage is done to the nut. To my grandfather’s aggravation however, his family elected to use pliers instead of searching for the correct wrench, damaging the nut and eventually degrading it to the point where a wrench no longer fit.

My grandfather was a man committed to high quality work. From carving benches by hand for the local curling rink that remained until the rink was torn down to taking apart a car engine and rebuilding it inside a small grain shed during frigid conditions; he was a man of immense dedication and technical aptitude. Furthermore, he believed in the importance of producing quality work and found himself unable to cope living with individuals that did prioritize quality.

My grandfather’s technical aptitude and dedication to his work led my father to once muse that he wished he had the technical skills of my grandfather to apply to his own projects. This surprised me, as I always considered my father to be the most technically adept person I know, with his job history reflecting this. In his life, my father worked as a:

  • Farmer
  • Agricultural Scientist
  • Chemist and owner of a chemical business
  • Computer Programmer
  • Teacher
  • Military Reservist
  • Long-haul trucker
  • Nature Photographer
  • Rail line worker
  • Rock band singer and Guitarist
  • Satellite programmer

The list keeps going…but suffice to say my father has never been someone I consider to be lacking in technical aptitude. My father has been someone that can learn technical skills phenomenally quickly and as a recent example, took to reading a carpentry book and then promptly built his own shed and fence; both to immaculate specifications. He then picked up a vocational guide to residential electrical and then wired the shed himself.

Hence my surprise to learn that my father, the most technically apt person I have met, would have any sense of deficiency.

The biggest shock to me is that if anyone should have any sense of their inadequacy in the shadow of their father, it should be me. My aforementioned failure to notice that a car need oil is the best example I can give of my general level of technical prowess and always considered my technical skills to pale in comparison to many others; most notably that of my father.

After hearing about his own sense of longing however, I came to the conclusion that we all live in the shadows of giants. No matter how skillful you are, there is always a sense that someone else exists that is better; someone else that could surpass the shortcomings in our work and create better quality products.

This sense of inadequacy applies to all areas of life, from writing and running to car repairs and carpentry. No matter where we look, there will always be a potential giant that dwarfs us a particular skill set. There are two important things to realize about these giants however.

  1. These giants rarely have any real impact on our own lives. My aptitude and understanding of physics is in no way reduced or devalued by the aptitude of Stephen Hawking
  2. The sense inadequacy and self-consciousness that we experience in the shadow of giants is what pushes us to improve and create to the best of our ability. The omnipresence of giants in our lives is what keeps the desire to grow alive.

To conclude, accept that there will always be giants in your lives; but they are not obstacles to your success. On the contrary, they are a source of motivation to improve and in the case of my father and grandfather, sources of support to their families and communities; willing to assist anyone looking to grow! Do not languish in the shadows, but learn and adopt the best elements of the giants you look up to and grow into your own person; for in life that is all that we can do.


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