Question: I am in my 20s and just starting out in my career. I took just enough economics in college to be dangerous. But everything I read about the world financial situation, with debt levels and sluggish economies, has me very worried. Do you think we will be the first American generation to be worse off than our parents?
Answer: I wish you could meet Frank.
He was born just in time for the Great Depression. His father died when he was three, leaving his mother a young widow with limited skills but a big heart to raise him. She scraped by working as a secretary. They lived in rented rooms until he was in high school, when they were finally able to rent an entire house.
When war broke out he joined the Navy (at 17). After the war, he paid for a graduate engineering degree from LSU by leading a dance band and taking in laundry. His workout buddy introduced him to his sister (daughter of a high society Baton Rouge doctor) and somehow Frank convinced Jerry it would be a good idea if they got married.
After working farther from parents than either he or Jerry cared to be, Frank took a pay cut (from $125 a week to $100!) to return home and work for a local firm. He took the pay cut on the promise he would be able to buy into the business. He couldn’t resist.
Two years later when the actual offer to buy the company became a reality, he surveyed the opportunity, “Several recent years had been unprofitable. About forty people were employed in a ten-year old, junky looking plant. I counted 29 manufacturers (our competitors). As far as I could tell, we were the smallest.”
When he sold the company 25 years later, it was the leading manufacturer of its kind in the world.
Though raised by a single parent in poverty (nobody told him he was poor, but…) and in the shadow of war, Frank seems to have surveyed his circumstances and said, “Well, I guess there’s nowhere to go but up!”
Frank has taught me more lessons than I could recount here, but there are four I think especially applicable to your question:
Choose faith over fear. Frank could have settled for safe, but that’s not what he wanted. He had a dream to build something of lasting value and do it the right way. He wanted to build a family, a business and then a lasting contribution to his community. He was able to do all those things not because he never had any fears, but because he refused to let his fears have the last word. Frank would tell you to not focus on your fear, but to have faith in your future.
When failure happens, learn from it and try again. Too many of us take failure personally, as if we are the only poor fool to experience it. The truth is we all fail at different times, but only a few have the courage to revisit the crash site and learn from the carnage of failure. But failure can be the most effective teacher you’ll ever have.
Frank would tell you to try your best to succeed. But when (not if) you fail, get up and try again. The only real disaster is when you allow failure to be final.
When one season ends, look for the next contribution or calling. Frank is known by many as a successful businessman. Great. But that was only one season in his life. He has also made many other quieter, nearly unknown contributions, whether producing a video biography of someone’s life just so their great-grandchildren can hear the stories, or serving on a hospital board to facilitate healing in his community.
Frank would tell you the issue is not being important, but having impact.
Finish well, no matter what you do. Whether you are preparing for a presentation, raising a child, building a facility, solving a problem, getting in shape, editing a video, growing spiritually, being a friend or loving your wife.
Frank will tell you it’s not enough to start well. You’ve got to finish it well.
I think that’s some of what Frank might tell you.
But you can ask him yourself if you like. Meet him tomorrow at sunrise. You’ll find him out walking directly towards the future, with a look of pleasant determination on his face. He’s got things to do today.
And then the day after that, he’ll turn 90. So happy birthday, Dad. I love you.
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