The flood and strength of emotions I experienced giving away the first ever Empowergizing Leadership Scholarship caught me a little off guard. 

One question I always ask potential employees in interviews is, “When you look back at your life, when was a time when you felt totally fulfilled, when you stopped, looked around and said, “yeah, this is awesome, life is good?”. If someone asked me this very question, that moment, this experience, would most certainly be toward the top of the list, but maybe not why you would initially think.

In the irony of ironies, the realization that I wasn’t actually creating a new virtuous cycle of positive leadership role models to help high-performing individuals who may not have a lot of high-performance sight lines…but it was just the culmination of someone else’s loop I was closing that started 22 years earlier really, shook me to the core.

We all have those moments in our lives – those small handful of moments along our journey that stand heads and shoulders above the rest in shaping the person we are today. When I reflect upon my moments, they come in all shapes, sizes, and color: a tough decision made (or not made), a stroke of luck at just the right time, an accomplishment of a team, choosing to get back up off the floor (literally and metaphorically) when the stress and pressure was just too unbearable, or the right words and right opportunity at the right time.

22 years earlier, the trajectory and direction of my life was changed forever by the right words and the right opportunity at the right time, during an impromptu conversation that I’m likely the only one who even remembers it happening.

I was 15 years old, my sophomore year of high school, just finishing basketball practice. My mom was picking me up and we were starting to walk out the hallway from the gym, when the head principal, Mrs. Betty Schrader, stopped us…making me quickly and immediately run through my actions of the last few days trying to brace myself for what this conversation might be about.

Mrs. Schrader instead gave me the right words and the right opportunity at the right time, creating the moment all educators aspire to create for their students, tapping into undiscovered potential, inspiring the desire to be greater than they ever thought possible.

She told me and my mom how impressed she was with my energy and service to the school, and she was selecting me along with two other sophomores to attend the Hugh O’Brien Leadership Academy (HOBY). This alone was profound for me, since I had only been in Student Council for a few months, and in a school of 2,300+ kids, getting individually recognized was pretty cool, but the words she gave me next, were the spark that really lit the fire. 

She went on to say that I reminded her a lot of another leader who came through the district a few years earlier. Our passion, personality, and drive all very similar. As this was a person I really looked up to and had a lot of respect for as a local business owner and pillar of our community, the comparison was a powerful and aspirational one for me.

22 years after that conversation, as I tallied up the votes for the scholarship winner from the judges (a group of international entrepreneurs from 4 different continents), a huge smile and surge of emotions came over me, as they unanimously selected Audrey May as the first ever winner of the Empowergizing Leadership Scholarship (you should read her inspiring story and if interested, watch her receiving the award).

Audrey May, who is a leader who inspired and motivated her school to help a lot of families in need, who is heading to Saint Louis University in the fall to to live out their mission of becoming men and women for and with others and become a speech pathologist.

Audrey May…who is the daughter of Brian May, the local business owner and community pillar Mrs. Schrader inspired me with her comparison of two decades earlier. 

That moment, that one little conversation after basketball practice, set off a series of events, of leadership positions, more leadership conferences, more leadership positions, going to college, starting/growing a business, starting/growing a family, and creating a scholarship in hopes I may provide that same moment to other high potential leaders…culminating in it being given to the daughter of the source of that first seminal moment.

Mind blown? Yeah, mine too. 

What if the universe is in fact conspiring for us? Sure seems like that was the case here. As they say, no person is an island, and this was a great reminder of that…as well as showing me no virtuous cycles are ever created, only perpetuated.

What moments, what people perpetuated virtuous cycles in your life?

What can you do to ensure that cycle continues beyond you in some small way? We owe it to the people that came before us to make sure their moments weren’t given to us in vain.

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