Conscious Leadership

Unlock Your Resources

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve thought a lot about the idea that we are all connected. I had this sense that we share something in common – that we are connected by some unseen force.  I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. When I was about three years old, I would go to my sandbox with my sky blue pail and shovel. I’d heard about a place called China, maybe from a story my mother told me or from TV or a magazine. I knew that it was very far away and that I could dig my way there if I tried. After a few days, I gave up; I never gave up on the idea of connecting the world.

As I got older, I was spellbound by the stories my parents told me about where their families came from and how they got to America. My grandfather, Pincus, was born in 1879 in what was then the Russian Empire. He came to America on a steamship – a week’s voyage in steerage, amid filth that gives me chills when I think about it.  In his pocket was $10, the equivalent of $300 in today’s money. He didn’t know any English. Whatever he knew about America came from the letters his brother wrote him.  

Immigrants from Eastern Europe who came from the same hometown often helped each other find jobs, apartments, and in some cases, spouses. Pincus opened a small grocery store in Brooklyn, and raised seven children. Six of them started a business wholesaling toys from their living room; the other one, my father, became a doctor. They helped each other find the courage and resilience they needed to survive. They introduced each other to new people, new ideas, and new worlds.

When I was in college, I worked in the family business and later with my father. I learned more about how they did what seemed impossible with only the resources they had; how their drive to escape the 500-square-foot tenement apartment that housed nine people fueled a ferocious work ethic.  As they became adults, they saw the world around them through an entrepreneurial lens. My Uncle Bill was a postman who saw the post-war baby boom up close. Children were everywhere on his route – children who would need toys. My uncles began as street peddlers, selling potbelly stoves and toy savings banks; as their business grew, they went to toy shows and developed relationships with other Jewish family-owned toy manufacturers. They understood the importance of these long-term reciprocal relationships, and of learning from the world around them. They began to see how they could reach beyond their neighborhood and connect with people they needed to meet who were a few degrees of separation away. They believed they could build a business that would improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of their customers and employees.

While today we have access to resources our ancestors couldn’t have dreamed of, many of us have lost our connection to our local communities. Furthermore, our inner resources can be submerged by the distractions of social media and the always-on culture we live in.

You might be interested to learn how your ancestors made it in the world. What adversity did they face? How did they overcome it? What lineage of resources do you have to draw on? Talk to your family – it’s a great way to get to know them and yourself better. If you want to take a deeper dive into your family history, ancestry.com is a great place to start. You might uncover many parts of your origin story that will provide clues to how you can harness some of the resilience, resourcefulness, and strength of the family that came before you.