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I was a pretty annoying kid…

My parents would always tell me stories of the tough times they had to go through living in The Republic of Georgia and my response would always be “ya, ya, I get it.”

Until finally I got older and had the opportunity to visit where my parents came from and how they lived.

My mom lived in a toolshed with 4 other members of her family.

My dad lived with his family in a tiny studio apartment with a slanted floor and I don’t meant a slight tilt, I mean slanted, like one of those mystery houses.

By all accounts, they lived in poverty.

Eventually, facing persecution my parents migrated from Georgia to Italy, which is actually where they met. My mom left with her whole family but my dad had to leave his whole family behind, knowing he would likely never see them again.

To make money my mom’s family sold tchotchke’s on the street.

(There are far more dramatic stories and situations my family had to overcome, perhaps I will share them another time.)

From Italy, they went to Australia which is where I was born, and then they finally ended up in the United States. My parents didn’t speak a word of English and had no money.

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My dad used to tell me this story of how he learned to speak English by watching the Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin shows with an English to Russian translation dictionary so that he could learn the words. He would then spend hours a day in front of a mirror trying to mouth out the words and sounds.

I actually share this story in many of my keynotes on leadership.

I always asked my dad where this dictionary was and on a recent trip to LA to visit my family, he brought it back from his office. It turns out he still uses it when he needs to look up something!

It was falling apart, yellow, and covered in tape.

My dad first came to America while the rest of us stayed in Australia. The plan was for him to get settled, get a job, and find a place to live, and then the rest of us would join him.

He ended up living in low-income housing in New Jersey, but he didn’t want to live around any other Russians.

I asked him why and he said he wanted to get out of his comfort zone. He was never going to learn how to speak English and assimilate into American society if he just surrounded himself with people who were just like him…people he was comfortable with.

Long-story short my dad became a successful aerospace engineer and my mom a therapist. They have built a very comfortable life for themselves (and for all of us!) in Los Angeles and I owe them everything.

The story of how my parents came from The Republic of Georgia to the United States and built a life for themselves with no money and without speaking a word of English is my favorite leadership story ever because it teaches me a few things:

  1. I should never be scared to put myself outside of my comfort zone.
  2. Sometimes to achieve my dreams and goals I am going to have to make very tough sacrifices.
  3. I can’t rely on anyone or anything to make me successful, I have to rely on myself above all else.
  4. I must have a growth mindset and always be prepared to learn new things and apply the things I learn.
  5. I should never let anyone or anything stop me from achieving what I want to achieve, there is always a way.
  6. The problems I experience and the challenges I face today are NOTHING compared to what my family had to go through. It makes me think twice before complaining about something and helps me realize how truly lucky I am.

I’ve learned a lot from my parents over the years, these are 6 of the many lessons!

I’m going to frame this dictionary so that my kids and their kids and their kids will be able to appreciate and understand where they came from and the sacrifices that had to be made so that can have the life they have.

What’s your favorite leadership lesson or story ever?

. . .

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