What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community, you can make the impossible possible.
A Legacy from Central Europe
It remains astonishing to me that my grandparents on my mother's side, immigrated from Czechoslovakia as young children with their families to embark on a journey to seek a better life, settling as sharecroppers in rural, central Texas. It makes me wonder how bad it must have been in Czechoslovakia that coming to the United States to become sharecroppers was better.
Pictured above, my Grandpa Rychlik plowed cotton fields and he and my grandmother had a determination fueled by dreams of a better life for their children, despite language barriers, prejudice, and social inequities.
The struggle echoes in my mother's tales of being born at the tail-end of the Great Depression and growing up during World War II and the post-war years. Born into hardship, she began picking cotton as a kindergartner, along with her brothers and sisters pitching in to make ends meet. Amid scorching Texas summers, sleeping on the porch of their modest homestead was a communal necessity.
By the time I was a boy and our family visited Grandpa and Grandma, the farm had gained electricity, but they never had running water on the farm. Dropping that bucket down into the deep well on the back porch on a hot, summer day to pull up a cool drink after running through the fields and chasing chickens around the barnyard was both marvelous and astonishing at the same time.
This seemingly mundane act of getting a drink of water from the well epitomized the marvels born from resilience. As a suburbanite, the contrast between our lives and theirs became more profound. As I grew and developed, our farm visits transformed from adventurous fun into utter awe and admiration at the grit, courage, strength, character, and commitment to purpose both my grandparents and parents had.
A Legacy Born from Slavery
John Lewis, referenced in our opening quote, shared a different yet resonant struggle with sharecropping. Growing up in segregated Alabama, John's heritage shaped by the legacies of slavery and subsequent sharecropping, shared a parallel resilience with my family.
But unlike my family, he grew up facing the stark reality of racial inequality, even being denied access to the local library due to his skin color. John is quoted as saying, "I remember in 1956, when I was 16 years old, with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, going down to the public library, trying to get a library card, and we were told the library was for whites only and not for coloreds."
John later went on to be a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and served in the US House of Representatives until his death in 2020. He has been described as a leader of conviction, courage, and commitment. Like any great leader, he was devoted to a cause much greater than himself. As pointed out in David Gergen's book, Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders are Made, John (and other examples) had to sort out and embrace core values, finding a true north, summoning inner courage, and living a life giving back to and serving others. He died a national hero.
Our stories, seemingly worlds apart, find a common ground in the crucible of adversity. The shared hardships, whether plowing fields in Texas or battling segregation in the American South, reveal a universal truth about leadership emerging from the forge of challenges. These connections become the fabric from which purpose-driven leaders are woven.
As I explore these intergenerational narratives, it becomes evident that the challenges faced by my family resonate with those encountered by leaders like John Lewis. Their shared experiences of childhood labor and navigating systemic inequalities forged a sense of purpose and an unyielding commitment to creating positive change.
The images from my grandparent's farm juxtaposed with John Lewis's memories of being denied access to a library speaks volumes about the struggles each generation faced. Yet, it is precisely these struggles that cultivated the seeds of leadership, rooted in a deep understanding of the value of education, equality, grit, and purpose.
Leadership Development & Core Vaues
Just as John Lewis's leadership journey was marked by the need to define and embrace core values, my family's experiences underscore the importance of staying true to one's principles. Leaders, whether on a farm or in the hallowed halls of Congress, must navigate challenges with conviction, courage, and unwavering commitment to a cause larger than themselves.
Gergen's insights into great leaders resonate powerfully here—the journey towards leadership involves not just overcoming obstacles but also aligning one's compass with true north. It's a process that both Lewis and my grandparents undertook, guiding their families through tough times with a deep-rooted sense of purpose and an unshakable commitment to shared values.
The Purpose-Driven Leadership Program
These reflections on shared struggles and triumphs pave the way for a crucial discussion about purpose-driven leadership. In my own life, the lessons handed down through generations have fueled my commitment to creating a space for leaders to discover their true north and develop the skills necessary to lead with purpose.
In the face of challenges, whether in the fields of rural Texas or the battlefields of civil rights activism, the common denominator is commitment to purpose. The Purpose-Driven Leadership Program aims to channel the spirit of resilience and purpose seen in my family's history and leaders like John Lewis.
By intertwining personal narratives, core values, and a commitment to a greater cause, this program is designed to empower leaders who not only navigate adversity but transform it into a catalyst for positive change.
Have an amazing journey today!
Alan Mikolaj is a seasoned coach and leadership development consultant nearly 20 years of experience. He is passionate about helping leaders transform their leadership, their teams, and their organizations. He has an impactful, professional approach driven by a passion for meaning and purpose, a growth mindset, and a commitment to excellence and service in order to drive change and results.
Alan holds his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology and Associate Certified Coach credential with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and maintains their ethics and standards of behavior, including the standards regarding confidentiality. You can learn more about them on the ICF website.
Transformational change starts with a conversation!
Alan is on a mission to partner with like-minded leaders who want to make a positive difference in the world. Schedule your free, one-hour session by clicking here: Discovery Conversation with Alan
Or call or email: Contact Page
Alan Mikolaj is a a professional, experienced, positive, and passionate speaker, leadership and organizational development consultant, change agent, author, and coach. He holds his Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. He is a certified graduate coach from Coaching Out of the Box and holds his ACC and membership with the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
Free Discovery Conversation!
Impactful change starts with a conversation! Schedule your free, one-hour session by clicking here: Discovery Conversation with Alan
Or call or email: Contact Page
In his third book, A Travel Guide to Leadership, Alan offers you simple, fundamental, and powerful lessons that have the power to transform you, your relationships, and your career.