It was one of my biggest lessons about success. And it came in the most unlikely of places.
I was just 16, picking tomatoes in a dusty field under a scorching summer sun in California. It was my second year of high school and my third year working to earn my own money. My dad was an Air Force sergeant, and summer work was my allowance.
I hunched forward in a back-breaking stoop as I picked tomatoes from rows in a field so big I couldn’t see the far edge. There must have been about 12 of us working down the rows.
A bandana around my neck kept the sun from burning blisters as it soaked up the sweat. When the wind blew the dust, I pulled the bandana around to cover my mouth and nose.
Another worker passed me, stooping as he reached into the plants, his hands covered with the sticky tar from tomato plants. He was picking and moving faster than I could ever hope to master. Attempting to compliment him, I said, “At that speed, you must make good money.”
He paused for just a moment straightening from the back-breaking stoop.
He stared straight into my eyes...,
“I’m 22 years old. I have a wife and two kids, and I don’t see how I can get out of this work.” I could see the dust had turned to mud at the corners of his eyes.
“Get an education. Do something with yourself, and don’t come back to the fields.”
He stooped, his hands regained their pace, and he left me standing. He didn’t know he had changed my life.
At the time I thought he meant schooling. It was only much later I learned his deeper meaning.
I focused on getting that education, not knowing there were more secrets to follow. The pursuit of learning drove me: military jet pilot, two master’s degrees, authoring four internationally best-selling books, failing at a SaaS startup, but succeeding with two consulting businesses.
I have thought of him often, how hard and fast he worked through the heat and dust, and I have thanked him in my mind, hoping he and his family were doing better than he expected.
It was four years later when a small incident changed my life, and 20 and 25 years later when I learned the third and fourth secrets. Each was from someone who was often a stranger, but someone who steered me in a better direction with just a few words at just the right time.
Those were important secrets, but those stories are for another day and another post.
What Small Experience Changed Your Life in a Big Way?
Did someone or some event give you an insight that changed your life for the better?
Have you thought about how you could help or mentor someone? Have you acted on it?
I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
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