It is Thanksgiving day here in the US. The past couple of days I have been writing about being thankful for the little things in life and for the people who have been a blessing in our lives. Today, I am thinking about being thankful in a different way. I am thankful for humble beginnings.

Audio version:

In my childhood years, my family was poor. I didn’t know it at the time, but in retrospect the many, many meals of just rice or just potatoes is a clue. Or the times when there was nothing to eat. We were homeless several times, usually sleeping on the floor at a relative’s house. I received one pair of shoes per year, right before school started, with the hope they would hold together until summer, when I would do without until autumn.

I’m not seeking sympathy

It is true that this time period still has fingers in my present which try to keep me from becoming the person I want to be. It is also true, and I think it is safe to say more true, that I am grateful for those humble beginnings.

You see, Need can be a great teacher. I learned to appreciate the little things in life. I’m afraid this sounds nuts, but I have spent many, many hours absorbing sunsets, the collage of light reflected on water or the veins in a leaf, learning to cherish simple beauty. There were many lessons on enduring hardship, suffering and the ridicule of others. Because of them, I now stand on very solid ground built from the awareness that fear and failure, loss and opposition will not kill me. I have, and know that when trials come I will again, stand back up and live to fight another day.

There is a popular saying that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I think this is almost true. It really should say that whatever doesn’t kill me gives me the opportunity to be made stronger. It doesn’t make for as snappy of a sound bite, does it?

Don’t get me wrong. Doing without sucks. I don’t want to go back there. I like having a few luxuries and I intend to continue to grow my business far beyond where it is now. But to forget where I came from and the lessons I have learned would be a mistake.

One of the most valuable things a person can learn from humble beginnings: humility

I am thankful for humble beginnings because they have taught me the value of forgiveness, both giving and receiving. Knowing what it is to feel defeated, I have learned to have compassion. Having been weak, I try to give grace to those who struggle. Because I have been down, I am trying to learn to lift others up by strengthening and encouraging them.

Life’s most important lessons don’t come as a natural byproduct of the struggles we go through. We can choose which lessons we learn, which is a tremendous opportunity. It is human nature to become angry, bitter, defensive and protective of our own needs when people or circumstances try to tear us down. It is harder to resist those tendencies, which, let’s face it, can feel very good in the heat of the moment, and find ways to glean the lessons that will strengthen us and make us become something more.

I have gone way off the rails here

I didn’t intend to go into all of that, but since we are all friends here, I will let it stand. What I wanted was to draw a correlation between my personal humble beginnings and the humble beginnings most of us face when starting out in voice-over.

For instance, when I first started looking into creating a space to record in, I watched a YouTube video that explained ways to cut expenses by using anything soft you have on hand like blankets and pillows to dampen reverberations. So I draped blankets around the walls and stacked pillows on the top shelf of a closet in a spare bedroom. It wasn’t glamorous, but it worked. I’m still in that closet booth. I now use Producer’s Choice blankets and have added acoustic foam to the exposed surfaces, but the pillows… are still there.

Booths, microphones, whatever, I can get gear envy like anyone else, but I know those things will come in due time. I can look at my surroundings and moan about what I don’t have or I can count the blessings for the things I have. I don’t resent humble beginnings. Having done without, I can truly value the blessings I have.

Nothing else teaches a person to be thankful like humble beginnings.

I know I have been rambling here so, let me see if I can tie this together. Most of us don’t start out with a Neumann microphone or a StudioBricks booth. In the beginning we don’t often get national ad campaigns or AAA video games. Don’t be discouraged or ashamed of your humble beginnings. Having less offers opportunities. If you look for the lessons along the way, you will be stronger in the long run. You will gain perspective on what is important and what isn’t. You won’t be deterred when difficulties come. You will become truly thankful for the more bountiful times when they come. Maybe you will even be in a position to use your experience to lift others up.

Be thankful for humble beginnings.

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One response

  1. Jon, thank you for this blog. I was listening to a podcast where Preet Bharara was interviewing Scott Galloway, Prof at NYU Stern and founder of a number of e-commerce companies. Scott talked about his humble beginnings and how that forged his desire to break away but also taught him so many lessons about privilege. Glad you wrote thi.

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