You Have The Power of Change, The Power To Do Something Meaningful!

What would you say if someone asked you this:

“Tell me about the first experience in your life when you realized that you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful.”  

Family photo, young kids with trophy showing prideAccording to FirstSun Consulting, that’s a question asked by Simon Anderson, CEO of DreamHost, a web hosting provider and domain name registrar, to determine what motivates a candidate. He says this one question tells you everything about a candidate.

What is it that is so powerful about that first experience? Did you learn something that led you to become who you are today, or to be successful as an expat?

How would you answer that question, if I asked you now?

For me, I know what I would say…

My “moment” happened one night when I was 7 and my sister was 5, while my mother was in the hospital after having surgery.

My father was supposed to take care of us kids (my two older brothers and us girls.) But instead he decided to do something reckless – and it turned out to be an experience that I look back on as having changed the course of my young life.

I have mentioned before that my father was an alcoholic– functioning, yes, but an alcoholic nonetheless. I was aware that he wasn’t like other dads and that his temper kept us all on edge.

On this particular night, after dinner (and a 6-pack of beer), he “decided” that we (he) should go see my mother in the hospital over in the next county.

I guess my brothers who were about 11 and 12 stayed home alone, I don’t really know. My little sister and I were along for the ride. You can imagine what kind of ride it was. He drank another beer along the way.

I remember helping to steer whenever the car veered out of our lane, which it did with some regularity. Fortunately we arrived at the hospital in one piece and no one else got hurt. I didn’t dare cry.

My father parked and went into the hospital, leaving us outside waiting in the car. Trouble was, he parked across the driveway of the house across the street. The owners called the police to come remove the car, not knowing we were inside.

Seeing the familiar blue lights, I realized if the police saw all the beer cans (the floor was littered with cans) my sister and I could be taken away… at least that’s the way I saw it in my mind. It may have been too much early television drama, or it could have been all the talk of divorce floating in and out of my brain.

Either way, I clearly remember knowing we needed to fix this. I told my little sister to push as many beer cans under the seats as she could and I would clean up the front seat. I told here, “Sit down and be quiet, don’t say a word!”

When the officer approached the vehicle, he realized we were inside and came to the window. I rolled it down (this being back in the days when you actually could roll a window down if the keys were gone!) and the officer asked what we were doing out there by ourselves.

I suppose the car would have reeked of beer to a trained nose like his, but as there was no drunk driver- and no beer cans in sight- I hoped nothing would be done at that moment.

I remember having an animated conversation about where my parents were, answering in great detail about my mother, her surgery, my “daddy being a sailor” in the Navy, just back from being gone for a really long time… anything I could think of to show that my parents were hard-working people and we were not orphans. I remember telling the officer that we were too young to go into the hospital so we begged our daddy to go tell our mommy for us that we missed her.

Why that officer left us there I don’t know to this day- maybe people were more trusting in those days. But he gave me a message for my father, “Move the car immediately and don’t block these folks’ driveway again.”  Then he went to the house and spoke with the people there, then just left, giving us a nod as he went.

I prayed that my father would stay away long enough for the cop to leave but not so long that the people would get mad again.

Prayers of little children must have a special grace, because no one got arrested that night. We got back home safely- with a bit less “steering help” needed by then.

That experience showed me that I could “protect” my mother and our family, even as young as I was. It wasn’t really so, but I believed it was. It gave me confidence to be the caretaker of my sister.

I took on more and more responsibility to help my mother who was both working full-time and going to college at night.

By the time I was 12, my parents had divorced for good. I had stepped up by then from cooking our nightly dinner to doing all the grocery shopping for our family every other Saturday as well.

My 16-year-old brother had a license and a car, so he took me to the Commissary at the nearby Air Force Base and would wait for me. I was given $150 each two weeks for food for our family of 5. I made out the menus and figured out the costs for all the ingredients. This taught me to do inventories and basic accounting- which serves me well to this day.

Family photo of two teenagers, capable and responsible, given challenges and recognitionThe deal was, I could give my brother gas money, plus a tip if I wanted, but whatever I had leftover was mine to keep for doing the job well.  It was a great incentive. And my brother liked having a full tank of gas a couple of times a month ($5 would just about fill his old 1956 Cadillac’s tank in those days [really, what 16-year-old drives an old Cadillac anyway?])

Additionally, at home, while my mother did the washing, I did the ironing. I also had a job cleaning a neighbor’s house every Saturday for $5 a week and I had lots of babysitting jobs around the neighborhood as well. I grew up capable.

With my father gone, life was relatively peaceful; money was tight, of course, but I managed to earn enough that I could buy fabric and sew plenty of new clothes for school. For me, life was ok.

Did that night give me all these skills? Maybe, maybe not.

But, I do believe that it changed me. It did give me the confidence to see that I could make a meaningful difference for our fractured family.

I think I grew up faster than I should have, but the chances I got because I did have earned me opportunities my sister didn’t have. I took on challenges and calculated my way through obstacles.

So what does this experience tell my employers and those I work with? What would they say motivates me, as a candidate, as a colleague? Does this one question tell everything about me?

I think so. It tells enough anyway.

  • It tells my team that if I am tasked with taking care of a project, I will.
    Loyalty is important; family/team is important.
  • It makes it clear that I am passionate about making a difference.
    I went to Baku because I was passionate about making a difference for the young people who needed business skills to support their families.
  • It explains why I live like there is no problem I cannot figure out.
    (Whether or not this is actually true may be debatable, but I believe it is true for me and that’s what matters.) I get results and that’s what my employer and my teams want.

Given what happened in the first 5 years that I was in Baku- keeping my business together during the Russian meltdown, protecting my teachers, going through a divorce via long-distance, dealing with the passing of my mother…

I do believe these events were survivable because of that life experience when I first realized that I had the power of change, the power to do something meaningful.

That’s a good thing to know about me. It’s also a good thing to know about you.

What was your most meaningful experience?  When did you realize you could make change or do something that made a difference?  Do you believe that you can create change today?

Can you tell how this has helped you make powerful choices in life now?

I’d love to hear about what has made you unique! Go ahead and leave a comment below and share your insights with us.





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