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A Life Changing Phone Call
By Pepper de Callier
Not long ago I was reading through a collection of quotes that I have put together over
the years, which I often turn to for inspiration, insights, and a fresh perspective. My
collection spans quotes from classical philosophers to modern-day professional athletes,
business people, entertainers, and political leaders. This particular time, though. I came
across a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that reminded me of my youth, and I
wanted to share it with you in the hope that there might be someone out there who, like
me in my youth, needs a little discipline and direction in life.
Every time I read this quote it reminds me of the direction my life might have taken.
Here it is: “Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.”
As a youngster I was probably as undisciplined as they come. School was a problem
for me—too much work, too much effort. It was much easier for me to blame my
circumstances—my parents divorced, we didn’t have any money, and it was clear
that I wouldn’t be able to get any “breaks” in life from being part of a certain social
or economic class. My adolescence was descending into a state of torpor—I wanted
to be somebody, but I didn’t know who or what I wanted to be and, since I didn’t
have the connections that I felt all those people must have had to succeed in life, I
thought I would probably have to discover a fantastic treasure like Edmund Dantes
did in Alexandre Dumas’ classic, The Count of Monte Cristo, which was
understandably one of my favorite stories. Edmund found a fantastic treasure
beyond all imagination because a friar, with whom he was unjustly imprisoned, told
him of its secret location. What a great fantasy! However, after some time in the
farmland of the central United States and driving to my job every day at the barber
shop, finding a hidden treasure seemed like a real long-shot even to someone with
my imagination.
My grandfather, one of the real giants in my life and a man whose character and
integrity are still an inspiration for me today, worked in a barber shop as a young
man and that’s where the idea came from. He could see I had no direction in life
and felt if I had a “trade”, as he used to say, that it would bring focus to my life.
Everything was going pretty good for me—well, kind of. I did have a trade and I was
working, but my colleagues were not exactly the best examples. The man who worked
the barber chair on my left went to prison for illegal gambling and the man who worked
on my right went to prison for harboring a bank robber. Was this the “somebody” I was
about to become? I will never forget what happened next, which truly changed my life.
It was a Saturday morning and the phone rang in the barber shop. “It’s for you, Pepper.
Make it quick.” On the other end of the line was Mr. Edwin White, the principal of the
high school that I dropped out of to go to barber school. “Pepper, could you come see me
next week sometime? I would like to talk to you.”
I remember thinking, “What on earth could this guy want?” Well, for some reason I
agreed to see him on my day off. To make a very long story shorter I will tell you that
Mr. White convinced me that if I really wanted to do the things I wanted to do in life I
would have to finish my education—I would have to find the discipline to grow, to push
myself to achieve more. He said that he would get me admitted to university if I agreed
to finish my high school education. It wasn’t easy and it took many years because some
habits are hard to break, but I completed my high school and university education thanks
to Mr. White, and it opened many doors to me that would have remained forever closed if
he hadn’t made that call one Saturday morning and I hadn’t made the commitment to
There are two messages here: If you are in a position to make that call like Mr. White did,
please make it. Reach out to someone and change their life for the better. The other
message is this: The future is closer than you think it is. Two, three, five, ten years from
now the time will have passed anyway no matter what you choose to do. When you look
back, however, will you be proud of the “somebody” you chose to become? Make the
commitment today to grow. It’s never too late to become better.
Good luck on your way up!