Advice on how to live life - from my Great Grandfather at age 95

This past week I had a reel to reel audio tape converted to digital.  It was an interview with Will Holder - my great grandfather.  It was made just after his 95th birthday - he had retired from his business at age 90 and lived to the age of 99.   

Will Holder, like his father was a sailmaker.   In the interview he was asked his philosophy towards life….

His advice on living was simple….“you need to understand one time you’re down,  another time you’re up,  and you're down again, and you come up again.”   


Will Holder


He felt it was important to understand that this cycle that this cycle of ups and downs is a natural way.  It’s the cycle of life - it can’t be stopped.  When we are down, we do something different - it sends us back up again - we reach our peak then competition or another change sends us back down again - the only answer is to change, pivot, adapt to send things up again.  

“one time you’re down,  another time you’re up,  and you're down again, and you come up again.”   

He understood the need to invest in new training and technology.   As a young man he and his dad competed with 5 sail lofts along the Saint John New Brunswick Canada waterfront.    On a trip to NYC, to deliver sails, he learned about a type of sewing machine that could be used to make sails.  It took some work but soon he talked his dad into buying one machine. 

Initially the idea of using a sewing machine to make sails was not well received.  Young Will was dubbed “the petticoat sailmaker.”  The union of sailmakers were against their use - feeling they could never deliver the quality of hand sewing.  

He found George Sutton, a worker who was not part of the union.  He taught him how to use the machine and had him use it to respond to a quick order for a jib.    At the end of the week he put $5.00 more in his pay envelope than the union workers were being paid. On saturday night at 6:00 when the men were paid George told Will that he had overpaid him.  Will said, “Any man who works on the machine will be paid $5.00 extra each week.”

The union soon changed it’s rules - soon the Holder sail loft had more sewing machines.   They blended hand sewing with machine sewing.  Quickly three sail lofts went out of business, and before long there was only one sail loft left on the waterfront - George E Holder and Son - the son being my Great Grandfather. 

“one time you’re down,  another time you’re up,  and you're down again, and you come up again.”   

My great grandfather lived many of these ups anddowns - from the Saint John Fire that destroyed everything, to the decline of sailing and the need to change the business.  In Will’s father’s day sailmakers were considered superior to other makers of canvas good.  But, when the marketplace changed, young Will moved to making rope sleeves, awnings, tents and other products from canvas.  The stories go on an on of how he pivoted and changed.  And today, thought not in the family any more, Holder Canvas remains in business in Saint John. 

“one time you’re down,  another time you’re up,  and you're down again, and you come up again.”   

So this week - stop complaining about the being down - and celebrating when you are up.   The ups and downs are all just part of the natural cycle of life.   

You can’t stop the cycles.  You can however change how you react to the cycles.  

  • Instead of hanging on to the negative feelings when you GO DOWN…shift your mindset to where you are going next. 
  • Instead of basking in glory at your genius when you GO UP… shift your mindset to preparing for the next change - trying to execute the next change before you GO DOWN again. 

Note:  Fortunately I got to spend quality time with my great grandfather.   He was a great inspiration to me.  His picture hangs in the Eureka! Ranch Pub. My sailboat is named the Winnijean - the name of his last sailboat.  This fall we will be introducing an innovative whiskey named in honor of Will Holder.


Me and My Great Grand Father - Will Holder