I like airplane travel mostly for one reason: it forces me to ignore the constant chatter about overwhelming issues like the federal fiscal cliff or health care reform or…you get the idea. Instead, I am able to focus on what is really important in life, like people. On a recent trip from Indianapolis to Tampa, I was reminded that almost everyone has a story about how caring people have shared their fire and transformed his or her life. The striking woman who sat next to me in first-class seemed by all outward appearances to be extremely successful and self- confident. She shared with me that she was a lawyer and owned three homes, two in the states and one in Europe. However, as we continued to talk during the two-hour flight and I explained to her that I was on my way to present the “Sharing Fire” concept with about 100 executives at theConference on Management, Executive and Professional Development Programs (CMED) Conference, her story became even more interesting and compelling. “Samantha” was born in a small town in the Midwest, one of eight children. Her father left the family when she was very young, and her impoverished mother raised her large family by herself. Two months before Samantha was to graduate from high school, her family was forced to move out of their house and she was homeless.
She stayed with various relatives and friends until she graduated, then moved to Indianapolis to live with her sister, who was planning to attend Purdue University. Not knowing what to do with her life, Samantha decided that she would also attend Purdue and major in veterinary science since she loved animals. Naively, she picked up the phone and made an appointment to meet with the Dean of the Veterinary School. Since I work at the University of Notre Dame, I know how difficult a task it is to get an appointment with the Dean, even if you are a director or a department chair. Dean’s are very busy people, so the fact that she secured an appointment with him was very impressive. She arrived for her appointment and met with the puzzled Dean, who asked who she was and wondered how she had secured an appointment with him. She said she just called up and insisted on an appointment, then she went on to explain her educational plans and shared her high school transcripts with him.
He told her, very frankly, that she did not have the academic background to be accepted into the veterinary science program. However, he was very impressed with her ambition and her drive and told her he believed she had something going for her. He was so impressed that he gave her the names of two people to contact at Indiana University in Indianapolis. He promised to call them to make an introduction, and she was to make appointments with them when she returned to Indianapolis. She followed through on his suggestion, attended college and completed her Bachelors degree, and today she holds a Law Degree. Near the end of our conversation, her eyes revealed an “ah-ha” moment, her mouth dropped open and she said, “Oh my gosh, everything that I am today, my entire life since high school, is the direct result of my 20 minute meeting with him and his belief in me. And I don’t even remember his name!”
I suggested that she try to locate him and send a letter telling him how her life turned out. Chances are he doesn’t remember her name either, and may not even remember the meeting from so many years ago. But he deserves to know that sharing his fire with Samantha had a positive ripple-effect on her life and on the world. He needs to know that his life and his efforts counted with this one, promising young lady who needed someone to believe in her more than she believed in herself. Stay tuned for part two, after I hear back from Samantha and the result of her expressing her gratitude to the stranger who took a moment to change her life forever.