I remember as if it were yesterday. Young, college punk Tyler was out walking around Portland on a Saturday night with some students. I didn’t know everyone; I was tagging along with a new friend and his group.
As we walked, I pulled a stick of gum from my pocket, popped it in my mouth, and threw the wrapper down on the sidewalk. That’s right, the guy who used to run an environmental blog littered.
Why did I do it? I don’t know. I think I was just trying to act like a badass or something. Why does any 19-year-old do the stupid things they do?
As soon as the trash hits the sidewalk I hear a petite voice from the back of the group speak up, “Oh no you didn’t! Tyler, is that your name? You just littered in my city. That’s not okay. You go pick that up!”
I can’t tell you what shade of red my face turned. I’d been called out. Rightly so, but what teenage boy wants to be called on his BS by some girl he doesn’t even know in front of a bunch of strangers?
Embarrassing for me, but this was no problem for Jessi, the new girl from the back of the group who’d just laid down the law. She saw something she didn’t like, and she spoke up.
And you know what? I went and picked up my wrapper! That was one of the more embarrassing moments of my life but, today, I’m glad Jessi decided to call me out. Later that night, we ended up talking and—turns out—we had a lot in common. We’ve been friends ever since.
I learned an important lesson from Jessi that night about life and standing up for what you believe in.
There’s a well-known axiom that says, “You can say what you think, or you can have people like you.”
I never liked the saying. What’s it supposed to mean? That you should be happy to have friends and keep your mouth shut? Or that you should say what you want and forget your friends?
Whatever the moral is supposed to be, Jessi proved it wrong. You don’t have to choose between one or the other. There is no dichotomy. Jessi always said what she really thought, and I still liked her. I’m hardly the only one; she made lots of friends everywhere she went without ever compromising her values.
And today, I’d like to think a bit of Jessi rubbed off on me. Last year, a friend of mine was going through a rough patch. Everyone was going easy on him and giving him the benefit of the doubt, but it wasn’t getting better. Finally, I decided, “This isn’t okay. We’re all adults; we should be able to act like it.”
So, I sat my friend down one day and told him, “I know you’re having a hard time, but the way you’re behaving is bullshit. You need to clean up your act or go find some new friends.”
I was ready to risk years of friendship over this, but it turns out I didn’t have to. Being called out was exactly what he needed. I can hardly take credit for his turnaround, but he’s repaired a number of relationships since we had that talk.
And I’m happy to know I didn’t have to give anything up to say what I really thought. I spoke my mind, and my friend still liked me.
Turns out, good people appreciate honesty! What a concept!
After college, Jessi moved back home to Alaska to be with her family and study journalism in Anchorage—a good field for the habitually honest. But we kept in touch regularly, and I’d see her once a year or so when she’d visit Portland. There’d always be a large gathering of friends—no one missed the chance to catch up when she was in town.
About two weeks ago, I got a message from Jessi on Facebook; she was coming to town and wanted to hang out. How exciting—I could tell her all about this important life lesson I learned from her!
Then, earlier this week, Jessi died in a plane crash in Anchorage. 27 years old. Far too young.
As much as it hurts to know my friend is gone, she left behind an important lesson for risk-takers like you and me that we should try to remember every day.
The world has lost a genuine, honest, and very Smart Riskologist who knew that you never have to pick between telling it like it is and having friends. In fact, as I see pictures pour in from impromptu memorials being held in Alaska, she proved the opposite.
So, friends, we have a hole to fill. If you’ve ever held your tongue when you had something important to say because you feared what someone would think, today—and every day after—is the day to say it.
Jessi, thanks for lesson. I’ll never forget it.
Yours in telling it like it is,