Have you ever stopped to think about where some of the most successful people started out their life? Sure, you have probably heard that Steve Jobs started Apple in his garage, but what about people you come into contact with that you don’t know well enough to know their life story? Are you looking at them and the success they’ve had in life and wishing it could be that easy for you?
I recently received a reminder that if you don’t know somebody, you don’t know where they’ve come from. Even if you think you know, they might not have told you the entire story.
The company I work for is serious about our mission and about improving the lives of others and before COVID hosted pretty consistent volunteer opportunities. I joined the company just a couple of months before COVID shutdown life as we knew it and work remotely from across the country so I didn’t get to participate in the volunteering they did. When COVID hit, I didn’t think about the lack of volunteering the company has done, at least in the traditional way you think about volunteering. As a company, we’ve worked with other large companies to give back to our target market, but that is not what I’m talking about today.
During one of our biweekly company-wide team meetings, the team brought up an opportunity to volunteer with a local organization that the company has supported through the years. This opportunity is to donate food or personal care items to a local non-profit for those in need. Us remote employees have the option of donating locally to participate or providing money (or not participating, but that’s not the option I chose). When one of our leaders started talking about how near and dear this is to his heart, he told a story I didn’t know. Now, the story is entirely his to share and I’m not going to go into detail, but the part that stood out to me the most was something that I related to.
As a child, he was able to eat because his family received food stamps. Me too. I cannot remember a time as a child that my parents didn’t buy food on their EBT card. It was shit food, but that’s another story for another time. This admission from one of our leaders who I haven’t gotten to know very well because of being remote and COVID, slapped me in the face as a reminder not to assume anything about anybody. This leader has been super successful from what I know of him. Like REALLY successful. But I never considered where he came from. What did he overcome to reach the level of success that he has?
When you look at these successful people that have started companies and sold them for millions or billions or who are models or Instagram influencers or whatever, do you ever consider what their story might be?
I haven’t. In fact, it feels like every time I hear a story like this or like Robert Herjavec’s story, my heart drops, I feel so much empathy for them and then I get inspired. If you don’t know who Robert Herjavec is, he is the founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group and is one of the Shark’s on Shark Tank. Or there is Sarah Jessica Parker or Charlize Theron or Ursula Burns or Geisha Williams.
Remember that quote, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, don’t judge any person that you see as successful before you learn their story. They might be living pretty damn cushy right now, but they might not have started that way. Not every successful person is born into a family with what seems like unlimited funds or perfect parents or even a roof over their head. If you find yourself thinking it was or is easy for somebody, do some research and don’t assume.
That vice president in your company that you think has it all or the CEO who works a shitload of hours and demands (rudely or not) dedication or the actress or influencer or whoever you are assuming had it easy to get where they are, they probably didn’t. I have learned in the past few years that there are more and more successful people who started out with rough childhoods that most of us don’t know about. It doesn’t matter what level of success you are thinking about. It could be the teacher down the road with a beautiful house or that person that drives a spiffy new car all of the time or the doctor at the local clinic.
As I sit here and meditate on the new fact I learned about this leader in my company, the more my empathic emotion wants to just hug him and tell him it’s okay. There are so many people who start life with little to no food, no shelter, abusive parents, being bullied, immigrating from a warzone or drug cartel area, or so much more. Let’s stop judging these books by their cover and start learning their stories. We might be surprised by the person behind the cover.
Remember my Imperfect Warriors, you already have what it takes, believe in yourself, and crush every failure on your way to your dreams. Let’s be imperfect together.