work life balance

Given what it takes for most of us to juggle our own work, family and personal lives, it is nothing short of inspiring to hear the stories of graduates of our community colleges across this country, many of whom had to work two jobs and support a family while getting their associate degrees.  These are young (and sometimes not-so-young) people who didn't have time for beer pong and sun bathing on the quad.  They drove rusted out cars, ate boxed macaroni and cheese, slept four hours a night, never had a weekend off, and watched their checkbooks dwindle down below fifty bucks in those months when tuition came due.

I wrote about a graduation last week and had no plans to do so again.  But I just couldn't ignore the lump in my throat that lingered for an hour after sitting in an audience of very proud parents and friends, listening to stories that were at once ordinary and extraordinary.

The student commencement speaker (graduating with something like a 3.87 GPA) had taken a wrong turn after high school, been incarcerated for a year, and decided he deserved something better out of life.  Following his release from prison, with a GED that he said was meaningless, he went ahead and enrolled at the college, and found some supportive faculty who got him going in the right direction. The best thing from his experience? "I got my confidence back," he said. He was awarded a tuition waiver to finish at a state university, and plans on attending law school after that.  You should have seen the smile on the college president's face, and the tears streaming down countless cheeks during the standing O.

There were more stories.  My other favorite was the guy who served six years in Iraq, and came back to get a degree from the college's BMW school.  A married father of (I think) two, he supported the family while managing to earn a perfect 4.0.   His ambition, he said, is to run a shop. At that point my husband leaned over and whispered, "Forget that... he should OWN the place."  If it had been up to the crowd of onlookers dressed in everything from shorts and flip flops to Sunday best, he would have walked out with a diploma AND the keys to the BMW dealership of his choice.

What makes this country great is what has always made it great...we fundamentally believe in self-reliance and personal determination.  Is it a legitimate concern that we seem to be collectively drifting toward an entitlement society? Maybe. But when you hear stories like these, it does restore your faith.  A significant percentage of us aren't waiting around for somebody to hand over the American dream.

If you find people like this you need to hire them to come to work for you, and you need to promote them and hang onto them with everything you've got.  They are the ones who will come in and help you build a company, while building their lives.

How do you recognize them?

-Their stories make it obvious that they know what it means to work hard, really hard.
-They have the kind of confidence that doesn't ever come off as empty bravado because they won it the hard way, overcoming life's challenges.
-They talk a lot about being grateful for family, friends, teachers and bosses who believed in them.
-They never blame other people for their troubles or mistakes.
-No matter what it takes, they never stop.

I hope you have a chance to go to a commencement like that sometime.  I will remember this one, especially those two guys.  Given what it takes, they deserve every good thing that comes their way.

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