My parents’ first home together was in Newnan, Georgia, only 45 minutes from Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games won by the USA. By the time those games came to Atlanta in ‘96, however, my parents had been in Barcelona, Spain for over seven years, had three kids, and started a small church on a street corner next to a public playground. One of five siblings, I was the youngest of the three born in Barcelona. We were all registered United States citizens, and three months after my first birthday, my family returned to the US, to north Alabama, where we spent the next 17 years. There, my dad started another Spanish-speaking congregation that has flourished since the day it began.
Growing up in a religious household—and attending a Hispanic church in particular—shaped me in a very powerful way. Except for a friend of ours and her kids, our family was the only white family in the whole congregation. Many of the members spoke only Spanish. It was a difficult environment in which to adapt, but in a short time I learned to be best friends with people who lived a very different lifestyle than I lived. My dad, mom, and older siblings spoke fluent Spanish. I was only able to speak broken Spanish, at best, for a long time and was the last of my family to really master the language, doing so after 5 years of Spanish classes.
The most powerful aspect of my childhood was that it opened my eyes to an opportunity I would never have decided to take on my own. It showed me all the things I would have missed had I stayed in my comfort zone. I am now able to meet people with whom I may have almost nothing in common, but I will be able to connect with them and develop their acquaintance because I want to meet them. I want to get out of my social bubble due to my experiences with people who changed my entire perspective. Because I was willing to accept differences and overcome barriers by setting all prejudice aside, I want to branch out into the unknown.
Being successful demands the respect of others. The more respect one is given, the more successful one is. I began this success story with my parents because they are the ones that taught me everything I needed to know to have a foundation of success. There were almost 14 years between my oldest sibling and me, so my parents had sorted all of the “kinks” out of child-rearing by the time I came along. I was taught a strong sense of morality because of the continual study of the Word of God and because of the discipline from the leather that held up my dad’s pants.
As a child, I knew when to work and when to play, and I spent a lot of time doing both. When I wasn’t playing outside or working with my hands, I was learning. I read every book I could. I loved to learn, and I loved to read. I loved school. I learned all I could about everything. My love of knowledge pushed me to excel in everything I did. This passion to learn more and to be better followed me all through life and drove me to take harder classes, stay longer at practice, work harder on the job, and never settle for average. To be successful, one has to truly want it.
Most of the time, when someone is successful, he or she is not in a majority. My “group” as a bilingual, hard-working, top-of-the-class student is a very lonely one. I never settled into one “friend group” and my hobbies and interests were almost always different from the people in my school. But that was okay. It made me who I am today. If I had been ashamed of who I am, then I would simply be like everyone else who followed the crowd. I would have no identity and no purpose except to continue with the status quo. Being different has made me a success. Accepting one’s own uniqueness is imperative if one wants the courage to succeed. Self-esteem and pride give the drive to trek through the accusations of failure, the occasional lack of ambition, and the seemingly overwhelming responsibilities. As Dave Ramsey put it, “Live like no one else, so later on you can live like no one else.” When you do the outstanding things that no one else is doing, you can write your own success story.
As the youngest of five, I was greatly influenced by my siblings. I had the best brothers anyone could ask for. They helped me find my identity and stay true to it because they had experienced the same situations I faced. Both my parents only went to college for a year, so my brothers were a source on which I could rely when it came to making plans after high school. They were my mentors. They told me which way to turn when I reached forks in the road because they had been there. Those with a desire for success need someone to hold them accountable. They need someone who will remind them that success is within reach as long as they keep striving to reach the next step…to remind them that mistakes will be made, but the only way to continue being successful is to learn from those mistakes…to remind them that they have the ability to reach their full potential. That’s what my brothers did for me.
Sometimes successful people hold themselves accountable. But success is much easier to obtain when someone has your back. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. It may be an inspirational movie director, a self-made millionaire who published his success story as an autobiography, a close friend, or a family member who is willing to extend a helping hand. The ability to identify and enlist a mentor is a catalyst for success. Aristotle had Plato, Plato had Socrates, and anyone looking to be successful should have a mentor as well.
I graduated in the top of my class, receiving a full tuition scholarship to Auburn University. I started college with enough credit to exempt me from almost all of my core classes. I speak a foreign language fluently. I have a resume full of extracurricular activities. I realize, however, that I have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. Success, much like learning, is a lifelong pursuit. Being open to new ideas, having a passion to persevere, staying true to myself, and listening to those around me are principles I must maintain every day if I want to continue being successful. The race of success is never-ending, and only those who are truly passionate about it will end up in museums, in history books, or in the hearts of those touched by the inspiring actions that make those people successful.