What Inspires Me: The Kaleidoscope of Moments That Have Shaped Me

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I take a kaleidoscope of indelible memories with me wherever I go, and I look into it for inspiration during life’s critical moments. These recollections don’t take up any room in my briefcase, but they shape my judgments more than any spreadsheet or consultant’s report ever could.

When big, unsettling problems show up, I rarely know what to do right away. To gain perspective, it helps me to reflect on those times in my life when people have shown great compassion, courage, generosity and perseverance. These are the images that rotate through my mind’s eye, pushing away the doubts, and allowing the way forward to come into focus.

Michigan, 1959. Dad: to quit or not to quit. My little league baseball team was getting trounced game after game, and I was sick of the bitter taste of losing. After one midseason drubbing, I’d had enough. When I told my dad I was going to quit, he nodded, saying simply, “I know you’ll make the right call.” He didn’t say what he thought I should do, but his belief in me was an expectation I wanted to live up to. I stayed, and though our record didn’t improve much, I kept swinging until the last out.

California, 1992. My wife’s courage when things got dark. After my career’s most disastrous episode, which included looking down the barrel of serious litigation, I worried I could lose everything I’d worked for during the prior two decades. One night, my wife found me sitting in the living room, head in hands. She threw her arms around me and said, “If we have to start over, we’ll all be just fine.” It was my sweetest midlife moment: her love and strength calmed my fears like nothing else could have.

Utah, 1997. Support during my daughter’s rough patch. After years as a well-behaved kid, my daughter found herself in a storm of teacher disapproval so pervasive that I was suddenly worried about her future. My wife and I were at a loss until one junior-high teacher pulled me aside. Despite the turmoil, she assured me, our daughter had a good heart and great potential, and she would work with her for as long as it took to get her back on track to excellence. That promise has since been realized, I’m happy to say – but it may have stayed hidden if not for this vital support at a tender moment.

Utah, 2011. A grandchild’s passing. Going through the funeral of an infant allowed me to see more clearly than I would ever have wished that each moment with loved ones is a blessing.

France, 1975. Discovering Churchill. Newly graduated and far from home, I watched as a credit crisis slammed worldwide real estate markets. As a young professional who’d chosen to work in real estate, I worried for my family’s future. Holed up with a biography of Winston Churchill, I soon found I was repeating many of his phrases to myself. (“Never, never, never, never give in.” “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”) Since then, I’ve leaned on Churchill in moments of distress – for me, he’s the archetype of the fearless leader in a fearful time.

Kenya, 1992. From a deep valley to Kilimanjaro’s peak. At a time when business conflicts had pushed away many I’d considered friends, I was once again isolated. Out of nowhere, I got a phone call from an investor I knew, asking me to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with him. Strikingly, his business connections were such that he had more to lose by inviting me than he had to gain. But he didn’t seem to care about that, and we went on the ten-day trek. Among the gifts I brought down from the mountain was an appreciation of how powerful it can be to reach out to someone who has lost his footing. It helped me do more than get back on my feet; it was my first step toward new heights.

Dallas, 1986. A mentor’s refusal to allow disrespect. When my first business mentor, Trammell Crow, observed an important wholesale buyer verbally abuse a woman checking entry passes at the Dallas Market Center, he jumped into action. Without blinking, Trammell ushered the buyer out of the building, telling him, “We appreciate your business, but not if it means disrespecting those who work here.”

Oklahoma, 1979. The virtue of action. When a woman who worked at our firm was killed, my partner took a plane to the family’s side, helped to arrange funeral services, and set up a scholarship for her son’s education. He did it all quietly and without fanfare. I sent condolences and expressed concern, but my words paled in comparison with his actions. I said; he did.

These images are always with me, there to guide me away from fearful and selfish instincts. Like all memories, they began as ordinary moments on ordinary days. But time and reflection has burnished them into something deeper: a chorus of wisdom, care and conviction that inspires me when I need it most.

Photo credit: marikond / Shutterstock.com

This post was written as part of a series in conjunction with LinkedIn’s 10th anniversary.