It's one of those questions that's easy to ask but hard to answer: Who influenced you and your career and what did you learn from them? Why is it so hard to answer? Try doing it and see. If you give it serious thought, it doesn't turn out the way you'd expect.
At least for me, it wasn't easy. Maybe that's because I've been around a long time. Or because life has lots of twists and turns with loads of fascinating people along the way. I don't know exactly why, but it was hard to figure out who really inspired me or said something that changed my career trajectory.
I know it sounds like a frivolous exercise, but it's really not. It's actually an important question for a number of reasons:
- First, thinking back to the people, events, and ideals that inspired and changed you has an uncanny way of reinforcing what you learned. I found it to be introspective, rejuvenating, and surprisingly motivating.
- Second, every successful business person who shares these unique experiences provides insight for thousands of young up-and-comers. It teaches them to listen to and engage a diverse group of potential mentors.
- Third, it encourages parents, teachers, friends, managers, and anyone with important life lessons to share, to play a role in the personal growth and success of tomorrow's leaders.
Now that I look at it, the list has more than a few surprises. There were more teachers than I expected. Also an ex-girlfriend's father. An author. Three small business owners. And not a single CEO, board director, or VC in the bunch, although I've worked with tons of them. Hmm .... wonder if that means anything?
10 People Who Influenced Me and My Career (in chronological order):
- My Dad. When I was young, he fed a thirst for knowledge. Later, he taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. Not by saying it, but by living it. Those remain key strengths, to this day.
- High school physics teacher. An amazingly creative and energetic teacher, as the coach of our state champion baseball team and a very funny guy, he taught me the importance of being well-rounded.
- University physics department chairman. I know it sounds crazy, but this guy showed me the beauty underlying the entire physical world and sparked a passion I never knew existed. He also referred me to my grad school mentor.
- College girlfriend's father. On that fateful day in 1977, he took me for a ride in a Porsche to his Long Island startup company and told me that semiconductor chips were going to be big. Thank God I listened to him.
- First manager at Texas Instruments. Taught me the power of positive thinking and changed my whole way of looking at work. What I once saw as a job became endless opportunity. Amazing stuff.
- Author Ayn Rand. Her belief that individuals can do great things has always inspired me. Although I've learned from experience that we're all just men and women, as it turns out, we can indeed do great things, if only for a brief time.
- Head of manufacturer's rep company. First person to notice I might make a good salesman. Many years later, referred a startup CEO to me. That turned out to be a great opportunity.
- President of UK distributor. Told me something I very much needed to hear at the time, "The only true success is happiness." That one phrase changed my priorities.
- My Wife. Had my back when taking some pretty crazy career risks. Her rock-solid support was huge; I couldn't have done any of this without her.
- President of PR agency. Taught me the foundational elements of great PR and corporate positioning, both of which played prominently in my career as a marketing exec. Probably doesn't know it, but he's always been a sort of role model for me, as well.
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Image: amishsteve via Flickr
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