They say that we are born alone and that we die alone. Though there may be many gathered around us at these two seminal events, we are the ones being born and who are doing the dying, the rest are spectators. And between these two bookends of life lie the many people whom we encounter along the journey, people who motivate, inspire, discourage and disparage—heroes and villains. Your life is like a novel and the people in it are characters. I’ve tried to categorize these people:

 Motivators: Children, spouses, extended family – those you have to struggle to give life to, to protect, inspire and discipline, to teach and mentor until some are ready to take their places in the world and others to regain their lost places in it. They give you a reason to get up in the morning, for their lives depend on you – they give you purpose. Many of them remain with you throughout your life and grow old with you, some leaving this plane before your own exit bell sounds.

Inspirers: Teachers, friends, bosses (good ones), colleagues (good ones), parents (good ones), writers, philosophers. They acknowledge your efforts but keep the bar raised that much higher so that you continue to stretch and grow. Many of these people come into your life for short but intense periods during which their lessons are vivid, and register.

Discouragers: Those with whom you form non-productive relationships, those who make you lesser then you are or are capable of becoming. And yet, they too teach you the lesson about whom to associate with and whom to avoid. Their passage through your life teaches you what not to become. They sharpen your disassociation skills. They last for as long as you tolerate their company.

Disparagers: These are the ones who fear you, your enemies, and those who see in you the person they have failed to become. They criticize and censure, diminish and deride your achievements. And yet they give you a taste for the negative side of success and teach you about what happens when one person’s star casts a shadow over everyone else. Disparagers do not leave until they are satiated with venting their venom on you. They are hard to shake off and multiply the more successful you become.

So there you have it. In many instances, these characters are like the hands you are dealt with in a game of chance. As the Holiday Season visits us again, and it comes the time for that annual stock taking of our lives, I thought I would revisit my life’s scrapbook, my personal novel, and take stock of the characters still in play, some newly arrived, some enduring for ages, others desired but not yet in sight. I’m sure you will be able to identify a whole bunch of people who came into your life as well at some point or other, who fall into these four camps. Though there may be good guys and bad guys in this cast, they all have one thing in common: they are teachers, and they make your life what it is.

And so we embrace them all, thanking them for their presence, and settle down to playing our game of chance, and to writing our personal novel of life.

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