Lesson #5—Learned from Uncle Mike

Whenever I talk about or teach sales, I try to reshape the often-negative perception people have of our profession. I may share stories that link selling to something purposeful. Usually, I start a discussion by saying Selling is to Serve—a virtue I learned from my upbringing.

I talked with my great-uncle Mike recently—a loyal husband, devoted father and proud veteran—and I was reminded of what it truly means to serve others. I hope you enjoy his story.

Lesson #5—Learned from Uncle Mike

Holding his older brother Dennis’s hand, Michael Sheils boarded a ship in England bound for the United States. It was 1936—Dennis was 13 and Mike only 11 years old. A few months earlier their mother and father had passed away in Ireland—Mom after birth to her sixth child and Dad from complications of pneumonia. An uncle, a man they’d never met before, was waiting in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania to take them in.

“Were you scared?” I asked.

“Well, my family was around me in one way or another,” he replied.

“Why you and not your other siblings?” I wondered.

“I was the 2nd oldest. I was just doing my part.”

Just seven years later, in the midst of World War II, the draft swept across the country. Although he and his older brother Dennis were not obligated to enlist—they were not yet U.S. citizens—upon graduating from West Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Uncle Mike willingly joined the Army Air Force.

“Everybody signed up, that’s just what you did,” he explained.

“Did you have second thoughts?” I asked.

Uncle Mike took a long, silent pause, as if he was put off by my question. Then he stated, “I wouldn’t have thought about doing anything else.”

The idea that his best buddy from 5th grade, Ernest James Weemer, would have to fight but he didn’t, went against every bone in his value system. Uncle Mike and Ernest were deployed on the same day from Keesler Field in Mississippi.

“Ernest was #33782563 and I was #33782562,” he recalled.

What a difference a number can make. Uncle Mike recounted that he was sent to the Sudan in East Africa while Ernest headed to Southern France. He wouldn’t see his grade-school pal ever again. Ernest died on the very first day of the Battle of Bulge in 1944.

“I’m sorry this happened,” I said.

With a deep sadness in his voice, Uncle Mike responded simply by saying, “Yes, me too. I am grateful for my years of service.”

Uncle Mike had cared for his country. After the war, now it was time to take care of his family. He devoted his life to Betty, his wife of 68 years, and to his six children—Kathleen, Kevin, Michael, Nancy, Dennis, and Mary.

Uncle Mike has buried two of his daughters now—an unthinkable act for any parent. Most recently his daughter Kathleen passed away, after having suffered from a rare form of epilepsy throughout her life. Holding back tears, he revisiting the memory of my cousin Kathleen as we talked.

Uncle Mike didn’t make millions of dollars or leave a mark on the business world. He didn’t cure any diseases. He does, however, continue to lead a more purposeful life serving others—God, family and his country. Uncle Mike is a reminder for anyone in every profession to keep service to others at the core what we do.

Uncle Mike, you’ve set an example for others to follow. Thank you for your service.