It was 2001.
I was 24 years old, made half-a-million dollars the year before and business was getting better and better.
Most people would say that I was a success by some standard.
Although I’d tried to stay in school, it wasn’t for me. I just wasn’t a student even though I’d tried mightily, spending 1995 through 2000 in school. I was working while I was a student, of course, and working hard at both.
I remember getting a call from my Grandmother, “Hey honey, how are things?”
“Pretty good,” I replied. “Super busy with everything and trying to keep up.”
“Your Grandfather and I would like to take you out to dinner next week,” she said. “How is Monday night?”
I was plenty busy with work and class, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time with my grandparents lately and thought it would be good to see them.
So, we met at this Italian restaurant. We sat down, talked a bit, and had a drink together.
I shared with them what I had been doing, what I had been working on, and that things were going pretty well. I told my grandparents that I was going to buy a house the next year and was setting money aside to do that while still continuing to build my firm.
My Grandmother then asked something she had never asked before, “Jeremy, why do you work so hard?”
“You really don’t know, Grandma?”
She shook her head no and looked on.
“To make you both proud of me,” I said.
“Well, I am very proud of you,” she responded warmly.
I then looked at my Grandfather and asked, “What about you, Grandpa? What do you think?”
He looked me square in the eyes and said, “I cannot answer that. I can’t say that I am proud of you or that I am not proud.”
Did I hear him right? Blood rushed to my face. The room seemed to close in.
“What do you mean?!” I remember starting to cry.
I also remember my Grandmother yelling at my Grandfather, “Joe, tell him that you’re proud of him!”
But he would not say it. Or he could not say it.
I began to wipe away my tears and then looked him in the eyes.
“Well, I may not be able to make you proud of me, but you know what? There is something that I can do.”
He looked at me, bewildered.
I got up from the table and walked away.
I walked out of the restaurant, to my car, and drove home.
I don’t remember speaking to them much after that, but I’ll never forget how that made me feel. And that one short but powerful interaction changed my whole perspective in life.
Since that day many years ago, I’ve tried never to depend on anyone else to fill my glass, up or down. Only I am responsible for how I feel every day, and I try my damndest not to let anyone change that.
No matter what you’re going through and how people treat you, never let anyone make you feel less than you are. Never give someone permission to diminish you. That power lies with you.
We are all successful at this game called life in one way or another – and we all are still vastly imperfect and have a lot of work to do.
So, if anyone tries to take that away from you… just get up from the table and walk away.