profiles

Last week I had a birthday. It wasn’t one that ends with a zero but it to me, still felt like a milestone as I turned 36 and officially hit the backside of 30.

This song doesn’t really fit because I’m still happily married and I don’t drink, but I think it is very telling because the years in a man’s life between 35 and 45 can be the toughest he will face.

All of my life I’ve done things early. My mother tells me I rolled over on my first day home from the hospital. That I walked at seven months and haven’t slowed down since.

I left college early to take a job as Sales Manager at the ripe age of 23. By the time I was 25, I had won sales awards and was working as a hotshot Sales Trainer, one of the youngest in the country.

When I was 28, I became the youngest United Way Executive in the State of Ohio and at 32, I was the youngest person ever elected to serve on our community’s City Council.

I’ve always been hungry and ambitious and at a young age, I was rewarded with a lot of power and influence and then one day it stopped.

The Mayor that I had faithfully served lost his bid for reelection and my influence over city affairs began to shrink.

My power as a nonprofit executive started to slip when the board that I report to had a change in leadership and my performance for the first time in my career was called into question. Suddenly, at the age of 35, I had a hit a wall and found myself stuck in one place and in a period of life that Churchill referred to as his lost years in the wilderness.

My time in the wilderness is particularly hard for me. I’ve suffered personal setbacks; my wife and I lost our first child, I gained way too much weight and we have had some financial difficulty here and there but this is the first time that I have ever experienced a crisis of confidence at work.

It was during a dark day when I was reading a Winston Churchill biography that I began to relate to what he was going through, albeit on a much smaller scale. His trials made me think of some of the other men that I had read about and an extremely interested trend started to emerge. A lot of history’s fast starters suffered setbacks at about the same age that almost knocked them out of public life.

There are plenty of good reasons for this. At this age, you’re no longer the youngest person in the room. The novelty has worn off and you’re too old to be the new kid on the block but too young to be an experienced pro. You’re just there.

The good news, however, is that for those that persist, that hang around and keep coming back, there’s a possibility of not only getting back up after the fall, but to actually stand taller.

My intention with this post is to introduce a series of mini-biographies of great men that stumbled during this time in their lives but through perseverance, will and grit rose to great heights. One of my favorite books has always been John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage and in tribute to that great book, I will be calling this series, Profiles in Persistence and posting a new one every Sunday.

Many great men have been in the exact position that many of us find ourselves in now. The clues that they’ve left us are our keys to overcoming our own obstacles to reach our own potential. I hope you find their stories as inspiring as I do.

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