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Be Open To What Might Change Your Life For The Better

Updated: May 1

Part 1 of 5: A 1993 call-in radio show in the great white north

Some experiences have positive effects—unclear in the moment—which resonate through our lives, adding so much; and these experiences would have never happened if we weren’t open to them.


Birthdays are a very reflective time for me; and this year I considered how and why I was blessed enough to be living the life I designed about 27 years ago. I recently watched an interview with Harvard Professor and author Arthur Brooks that reminded me of how much the exposure to and application of Gallup’s StrengthsFinders Leadership Assessment in 2002 changed my life.

In that interview on the Podcast: Leading with Strengths, Brooks extols the role which learning about your natural talents and applying them can amplify your personal and professional impact.


This reminded me about the other tools, experiences, and endeavors which most shaped the person I am now. This is a running list, not one that I just conjured up on my recent birthday. There are many people who have influenced and impacted my life, but these are more about the experiences and actions which have played an extraordinary role in curating the me of now.


The top 5 five, in chronological order are: National Public Radio, Gallup’s StrengthsFinders, Rollins College’s Master of Liberal Studies degree, a vacation to Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach, Florida, and drinking hot water with apple cider vinegar and honey every day.


None of these endeavors were part of any plan, but when each opportunity surfaced, I went with my gut, jumped in, didn’t experience immediate gratification, but sustained the efforts—for reasons unknown to me. Sometime later, the impact and reward became glaringly apparent.

Let’s unpack these one at a time, starting with NPR.


The first of these experiences was being asked to be interviewed on a call-in show on North Country Public Radio, an affiliate of National Public Radio. In 1992 I relocated to a stunningly beautiful area in northernmost New York State, above the Adirondack Mountain region, bordered by the St. Lawrence River and Canada.


The people are amazing, albeit cautious.


The population is sparse, overwhelmingly white, and in a slow decline. It is considered an economically distressed region with a high unemployment rate and consequently heavy use of state and federal public-assistance programs.


It used to be prosperous because of the abundance of dairy farms, robust marble mines and a strong industrial base thanks to the inexpensive electricity from the river. As with a great swath of rural America, the North Country began a sustained decline in the early 1970s.


Corning Inc (formerly Corning Glass Works NYSE: GLW) built a manufacturing facility in Canton, NY in the 1960s, to produce specialty glass and ceramics products for various arms of the US Government or their direct defense contractors.


I was promoted to become the Plant Human Resources Manager— leaving the beauty and exhilarating growth of Corning’s Fiber Optics plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, and a residence in nearby Wrightsville Beach—for the frozen fields of northern New York, where—in the heart of winter—you had to keep the engine of your vehicle heated if you wanted it to start in the morning.


This was 1992. Two key economic factors affected our success in the plant. The first was the “Peace Dividend.” This was the term used to define the expected savings in government defense spending because of the demise of the Soviet Union a few years earlier. Since most sales at Corning’s Canton Plant were to defense contractors through cost-plus contracts, we had to make significant changes to the way we worked to remain in operation.


The other factor was increasing globalization spurred on by a combination of geopolitical peace and more liberalized trade.

At about the same time, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created a tariff-free flow of goods between the Canada, Mexico and United States. There was significant and well-founded concern about the flow of jobs south of the border to Mexico, where wages, benefits and working conditions were more cost effective. Independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot that year called it a “giant sucking sound” to describe the departure of good paying manufacturing jobs to Mexico from rural America.


The local NPR affiliate was housed out of Saint Lawrence University, a small, liberal-arts college that catered to mainly students from the New York metro area and New England. It was most notable for their stellar collegiate hockey program. For the community it was great having a big-time sports program and a haven for cultural events.


North Country Public Radio began in 1968 and had a strong reputation for lifting-up local issues and bringing the world to the North Country. Martha Foley who rose to become News Director and ultimately a Canton Town Councilperson hosted a call-in show, and they were interested in discussing the impact of the global economy on the North Country.


Martha called the Corning Canton Plant Manager—as one of the area’s largest employers and one owned and operated by a global, publicly traded organization—to provide a representative to speak to this question. Corning was Fortune 500 at that time with revenues nearing $4B. The Plant Manager passed the request on to me, probably because of the workforce implications of the changes we were in the throes of implementing.


I was 26 years old at the time, only three years out of graduating from Cornell University with a Master of Industrial and Labor Relations (today would be like an MBA in HR) and not terribly worldly, at least in my own eyes. Apparently, this interpretation is relative.


Our family had visited India 5 or 6 times by then and a few other countries along the way (Germany, Kuwait, Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica) but looking back I felt relatively provincial. However, I had already begun my interest and passion in geopolitics as I came of age during the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin War, and the explosion of the invasion of Japanese business success.


In High School my favorite class was Social Studies (a combination of History and Civics). At one of my class reunions, a favorite teacher from that era recalled the “vitriolic anti-communist essays” that I used to write.


Here’s where the openness to new experiences comes in.


At that time I had never listened to NPR. At this time of my life, I was drawn into the world of country music as new artists such as Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, Colin Raye, Travis Tritt, and Trisha Yearwood had burst onto the scene.


This was an evolution from the rock music I grew up with. Even though I grew up playing both the violin and viola, I didn’t listen to classical music, which is what I assumed the NPR format was, with a little bit of news sprinkled in. As is the case most times with human beings, my assumptions were incomplete.


The internet may have existed at this time but was not widely accessible in 1993, so there were limited options for research on the requested topic. I created a set of key points to deliver during the interview; but most of my research was to listen to NPR for a few days prior to the interview to know more about what my experience would be like.


The interview and subsequent discussion went well, with me responding to about a half dozen calls from the public. Martha complimented my knowledge and responsiveness. The prep however, opened an entire new world of knowledge and information to me that heretofore I had never seen or heard in one place. It quickly became the only regular radio station that I listened to.


And that is still the case.


What hooked me to NPR was its providing a singular source of diverse and balanced information that included geopolitics, business, the arts, music, sports, personal stories, science. There wasn’t a topic missing.


I could not discern any semblance of partisanship even though I was center-right at that point in my own socio-political journey. The reporters, analysts and subject matter experts had perfect radio voices, were great storytellers, and delivered their reports with an alluring cadence.


The NPR model is to have local affiliates which may subscribe to the national NPR network in what could be compared to a franchise model. These affiliates provide relevant local news and programming. Then in turn they license these programs to other affiliates and national. Examples of these included The Garrison Keillor Show (Minnesota Public Radio), On Point (Boston Public Radio), and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (WBEZ in Chicago).


One of my closest friends, Andrea “Starosta” Reyes, has jokingly told me (or perhaps it was intended to be inspirational) that I should try out for the game show Jeopardy, because of my deep knowledge about a vast array of topics. I believe she called me a walking encyclopedia, even though she may be too young to actually have been exposed to the wonderful world of Encyclopedia Britannica and The New World Encyclopedia. I am in high demand as a team member for Trivia Night at the local bars.


I attribute my vast and deep knowledge about so many things to religiously listening to NPR for over 30 years. It plays in the background almost all day, every day.


In addition to the specific knowledge I have gained from years of consistently tuning into NPR, it also activated my insatiable curiosity, or as one client turned friend denoted, morbid curiosity, to learn more, know more, and get to the core of “the why.”


This life-changing event, being interviewed on a call-in radio show about “The impact of the global economy on the North Country,” was serendipitous. I accepted it without hesitation or fear of failure to try something new, about a topic I was not an expert in. I conducted some research and discovered a gold mine, National Public Radio, that changed my life because it opened up the world to me and ignited curiosity to know more.


I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed reflecting and writing it, and that it may spur you on to reflect on what has most impacted your life the most.


More importantly: please reflect on the opportunity to try things whose benefit may not be as immediately apparent or that were not part of your plan.


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