The Rule of 150

I learned in a leadership class one time about Dunbar’s Number or the Rule of 150. An anthropologist named Robin Dunbar discovered that human brains can manage to maintain only about 150 meaningful relationships at a time. The idea is that when a person meets new people the brain pushes old acquaintances out, keeping that total number of people one can remember to 150.

Years 2008 and 2009 were hard for me. I was pretty confused on who I was. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life and honestly, I had forgotten that I could want anything.   

I was recently divorced and looking for a place to land. I was working a job in a place that was no longer somewhere I wanted to be. I was drinking too much and playing hard. For the first time in my life, I had no one to answer to and no one I was expected to be.

It is an era of my life that I look back on as one of the best. I learned who I could count on and made friends who are now family. I experienced what it really felt like to be lonely. I became a person outside of someone’s daughter, wife or employee. I got to dream about what kind of person I wanted to be and turned that dream into a plan.

During this time, I developed a friendship that turned out to be one of the most profound of my life. We hit it off by talking about current affairs and the things happening around us in Mobile, Alabama. Part of my job had always been to talk to him, but around this time something shifted in our relationship and we became friends instead of work associates.

As we learned more about each other, he became a voice of reason and a sounding board for me. He pushed me to really think about what I wanted and showed me that regardless of the path I chose, I could succeed. He taught me that with hard work, intelligence, integrity and a little bit luck I would always land on my feet – even if it wasn’t exactly in the same spot as I had planned it.  

He told me to trust myself and that my instincts were good. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He gave me, a young know-nothing, a seat at the table which gave me the confidence to ask for what I was due.

At the end of 2009, he and I had lunch to discuss a job opportunity I had been offered in Arkansas.

“Go try it. What do you have to lose? If you don’t do it now, you will regret it and will never know what it is like to move someplace all alone and start from scratch. It will be a gift,” he told me.

“You will forge your own path and make a name for yourself; I am sure of it. But, if you get out there and decide you don’t like it, you can always move home. Commit to three years, give it your all and if you hate it, we will always be here to welcome you back.”

When I left town, he gave me a lovely gift and wrote a going-away piece about me that ran in the Mobile Press Register. We kept in touch, visited when I would go back to Mobile for vacations and were connected on social media, but as it usually goes, we hadn’t really spoken in about five years.    

His going-away gift that used to hang in my office at work and now hangs in my kitchen window.

This weekend, I learned that he passed away and I am so very sad.

The world needs him, especially now. We need his encouragement, kindness, humor and his ability to connect us all through his art. We need his glass half full outlook and curiosity. He cared so deeply for so many and was honest and fair. He was a good one who would help you find the right answer.

Without him, I would not be sitting on my front porch in Arkansas right now while my husband and three kids read inside. I wouldn’t have found this life – my life – which is everything I ever wanted. I never told him how much he meant to me and I should have.

To this day, I still use his advice. When I am scared to do something that I know in my heart I should do, I hear him say to give it my all and if I still don’t like it, I can always go back. It is good advice and if I follow it, it always leads me to make a good decision.

Rest in peace, Thomas Harrison. Even though it has been a long time, you were always one of my 150.  You are a bright star. Smiles, pizza and a fond farewell.

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