Inspiration From a Letter: Potential

February 15, 2010

Inspiration from a Letter.

I read this and was inspired to reproduce it because of the message that it brings about potential. I have omitted the name of the person who wrote it and anything that would reveal too much about where it was written because I don’t know him that well to ask for his permission to post it here but I think knowing that his letter was an inspiration to me and that I want to share it with others would hopefully allow him to consent to me posting it if he does find out:

A Message from _________.

Long before I had the privilege of working at ________, my career at _____ began in 1979 as a warehouse supervisor. I was the warehouse guy, the shipping guy, and dealt with the long haul truckers who delivered product to the building. I always liked those men and women who spent the vast majority of their time driving goods across the country.

Recently I was on my own long drive (in my car) and on the radio comes an old song with these lyrics “18 wheels and a dozen roses, 10 more miles on his four day run. One more song on the all night radio and he’ll spend the rest of his life with the ones that he loves.” All I could think of was, that’s me? As most of you know, I am retiring at the end of the year. It is just a sliver of time when I think about a wonderful 30 year career at this company.

Since this is my last _______ message, please forgive me if I digress and reflect just a little. I grew up in a working class, small town near Seattle. In fact, I just attended my high school reunion. It was my 40th, ouch! At my high school, the dream was to graduate without getting into too much trouble and to go work for boeing or for the city. Very few ever considered college and most did not feel it would be all that beneficial. Most of us back then simply took life as it came at us. Some of you will not relate to this, but using a baseball analogy, I got thrown a curve ball. It was 1968 (many of you were not born yet) and the height of the Vietnam War. As an 18 year old male, I had to not only register for the draft, but also would be assigned a draft number. The lower the number—the higher the probability of actually getting drafted into the military. I got a very low draft number and my short term fate was pretty much assured. The Army or Marines wanted me? My dad promptly took me down to the Navy recruiting office and the next thing I knew I was wearing a small little white hat and trying desperately to shine my shoes as good as the guys next to me at inspection. Never did by the way.

I was apprehensive going in, but had an incredibly positive experience in the Navy. At the end of my obligation, I was once again faced with that question we all go through, about what we want to be when we grow up. Would I simply slide into the next available job, or should I think this through and start down a defined path? The good news is I had options.

My dad wanted me to take over his small painting business and I think I broke his heart when I said, “No thanks dad.” I had a great job as a salesman at Sears, but couldn’t see doing that for the rest of my life. The next option to consider was college. The incentive to go to school in part was the GI billwould pay me more than enough to cover my tuition and living expenses, and I could still work part-time at Sears. I had no idea what I wanted to take or be, but I signed up for a few classes at a local community college. Chemistry lasted about 30 minutes before I dropped that class and any thought of being a scientist.

Next up accounting… I didn’t drop out like I did with Chemistry, but I did not really study all that much and proceeded to flunk the class. I managed to get the courage to go to the professor and ask, “Should I drop out?” She gave me one of those life changing conversations that was all about me not living up to my potential. She was brutal, she challenged me to take her class again and this time to dedicate myself to doing it right. I did, and received an A, and was ultimately on my way to the University of Washington. I had the opportunity to address the students of that community college and retell that story last year. Something I would have never thought possible way back then.

So, what’s the point? My last message to all of you is to live up to your potential, never think you are not good enough, and never only give what it takes to get by. Never tell your kids that their dreams are too big. Last and perhaps the most important lesson I  learned from my father is to be positive and treat everyone, at every level, whether custodian or president with dignity and respect. This company and others as well, will always reward those who live up to their potential. There will always be bumps, hurdles, and maybe a little heartache along the road, but take it from a guy who started with virtually nothing…You could end up with one of the best jobs on the planet.

Love and only the best to all.

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