Now and then life has a way of giving you a… well, reality check. I received mine one night in the form of a simple enough question from one of my graduate students. “What makes you so passionate about business?”
I’m almost ashamed to say it, but I gave one of those common responses; “I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and wanted to give back.”
But the question stayed with me. In fact, it was one of those boomerang questions. It teamed up with both a conversation I had last week about building relationships – see Keith Ferrazzi’s writings – and a blog post ‘5 Little-Known Factors Could Affect Your Personal Brand’ by Heather Husman that I had read earlier that day to hit me like a sledgehammer while I was waiting for the 9:51 train. Why was this?
Because the student wanted to know what was my backstory. Everyone has a backstory – where do I draw my inspiration from, why I’m passionate about business strategy and finance, my education, etc.. Well here’s mine.
One of my most memorable impressions growing up was sitting on the stoop of my grandfather’s North Philadelphia house eating peanuts while listening to baseball games. It wasn’t the warmth of the fresh roasted peanuts that we had just purchased from a small store on Girard Avenue or the game, but the stories he told about leaving the South or working on the railroad.
These were great stories of adventure and triumph full of colorful characters and plot twists. They were the trails faced by a seventeen-year-old raising up from the hot sandy South Carolina farm fields and coming North led solely by faith in himself. A belief that he was bound, despite any current circumstances, to deliver greatness to the world. It was this undeterred belief that allowed him to endure hard labor, the Great Depression, 3 jobs… 5 kids, and not a penny left to rub at the end of any week. Or, having to forgo playing in the Negro Leagues, his lifelong dream.
This is starting to sound like a recipe for disaster. Trials, setbacks, and denials that could easily make one bitter. But not Pop-Pop, there at the front of an 1890’s vintage 2-bedroom row house he did his magic. Magic produced 7 college degrees, 6 advanced degrees, graduates of institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, University of Virginia, and Duke University. These weren’t stories of remorse or self-pity but confidence and a sense of greatness beyond self.
So there you have the story that shaped my core, one that took root four decades before I existed and will continue long after I’m gone.
Unfortunately, Pop-Pop didn’t live long enough to see over half of those accomplishments, but I feel that on his last day, he knew he had achieved greatness.
What is your backstory?