Unexpected Connections

"The universe will keep trying to teach you the same lesson over and over again until you learn it."

I am reading a book for my upcoming leadership seminar. It’s #4 in the list of five I am required to read for the first session. The others, which I have written about, have been interesting but nothing too earth shattering. This one I have set aside several times in order to read something else. I finally picked it up last week because, well, it has to be read. I read 20 pages of it, then had to set it aside.

I never thought a book on leadership would force me to set it aside so I could process it. I never thought a book on leadership would hit me personally in a way that has left me both in awe and in conflict.

"The universe will keep trying to teach you the same lesson over and over again until you learn it."

I am a reader. I read something that speaks to me, and I find myself devouring whatever the person has read. I have do this with both fiction and non-fiction writers. I have over the last five years read people like Brene Brown who is big on vulnerability and owning your own story. I have read most recently a book by Mark Manson about not giving a fuck – defining life by values instead of destinations. I have found their stuff to be enlightening and good.

But it took a leadership book aimed at business people to get me to, uhm, get it.

Have I mentioned that thing about the universe yet?

This book talks about owning your own story – "you can be a victim of it or you can let it guide you as a leader" was one of the lines. I’ve heard this before. I get it. Or I thought it did until it told a story about a leader of Starbucks. He told the story of his life – growing up in the projects in New York City. Growing up poor – growing up seeing his parents fight about money – growing up seeing the struggles with things like health insurance – growing up seeing no real opportunities for his parents to grow. Then he talk about what he did at Starbucks and why. The health insurance. The college tuition. The creating a place where people can learn and grow. All of the things he has put into the company during his leadership time there were a direct relationship to his past – his life growing up. And he openly talks about that time – openly talks about why he is doing it.

A number of other things were written about this subject, then it had some questions at the end. "Is there anything you do in your time as leader that is tied to your story?"

And it hit me.

Like a ton of bricks.

I do.

I tend to hire, when appropriate, a person who isn’t necessarily technical but has the desire to be, who works hard, who is a team player, who is a good communicator, who is eager to learn – eager for a chance. And nine times out of ten, they come from a warehouse job – receiving, fork lift driver, production worker. I have done this many times throughout my career.

In short, I realized I am continually hiring my dad out of his shitty warehouse job into something he is totally capable of doing – he just needed a chance to do it.

Yeah, that’s when I closed the book for a while.

While I don’t deny my story, I don’t talk about it either. I don’t talk about the fact my parents weren’t poor enough to qualify for anything more than free government cheese and reduced school lunches for us, but couldn’t afford to pay all of their bills each week. I don’t talk about the day my mom was really happy was the day she paid off the medical bills they had incurred when I was 3 or 4 years old with chronic ear infections – I was 19 when that happened. I don’t talk about how I had so many ear aches and surgeries on my ears to fix the problem and restore more of my hearing. I don’t talk about what that did to my parents who couldn’t afford anything unexpected expense wise. I talk about my dad being a hunter and fisherman – but I don’t about the reason he did it wasn’t entirely because he was a sportsman. He enjoyed it – but he also knew he could put food on the table during the winter when our heating bills would go up to the point where we needed to spend less on food so we could be warm. I don’t talk about the fact I started working some job or another when I was 11 and grew a babysitting business to the point where I could start paying for my own things. Or that when I got my first (and second job), that I worked all the hours I could – foregoing parties and other teenage things because if I had money for my own school supplies and running shoes and things that it would help my parents. And when it was my dad’s birthday, I could surprise him with new shoes or jeans. That man would go without more than anyone in the house.

I don’t talk about the frustration I felt at the fact because my dad was "not college educated" he was only deemed good enough to work in a warehouse. And even though my mom had bookkeeping and admin experience, it wasn’t really enough to get her an office job. Two intelligent people who took a different path in life were punished for the path they took regardless of their true abilities. That frustrated the fuck out of me.

I don’t talk about it because in my hometown, my parents were seen as unworthy of support as were their kids. Kids who got chances were the kids whose parents cared enough to have good jobs and buy them the best clothes. Those ‘have-not’ kids were not seen as the worthy investment – no matter how smart they were or how good they were in sports and all. All of the things that could help them most were given first to those who had it already.

So, why don’t I talk about it? To talk about it was to have it used against you. That was the lesson I felt over and over and over again. And people wonder why I don’t live in my hometown now or want to visit? Why the fuck would I? Fuck, last time I was there, everyone I encountered wanted to treat me not as I am, but as I was. And while some of that is expected, the degree it happened left me shaking my head. I won’t raise kids there.

Looking it how I treat employees – how I am as a manager and a leader……it’s not a surprise that I give people chances. I have hired at least 5 people out of warehouse type jobs – and all of them are in network engineering roles today w/ a couple of them being well-paid consultants. One guy I hired out of a shitty job and into a development role in which he still thrives today. This is why I couldn’t help but realizing that each time I’ve done that – it is like me hiring my dad out of the warehouse and into a better position. All had the potential and desire to be more and learn more, they just needed the chance.

I know too many non-college educated people who are smarter than people who have gone to college. I have never looked at not having a degree as being a limiting factor. Why? Because of my story.

And this is just one of the connections I made – between "my story" and my now.

In the first 20 pages of that book.

Ok, universe – I got it! I get what you are trying to tell me. Message received!

And the message I’m getting is more than just what I’ve shared here. I’m 150 pages into the book – and there are sections I have to go process before I can keep going.

I guess, the 2×4 the universe needed to get my attention was in the form of a management book.


What do you think?