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 grow.

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!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

"The Leadership Series: In-depth Discussions with the Leaders Who are Defining the Future". Moderated by newspaper columnist, author, lecturer, and one of Europe's most respected authorities on leadership, Pepper de Callier 4th of June 2013!

Gender Balance: What is it? Is it More Than Just a Social Movement?”  Join us as Pepper de Callier interviews a distinguished and highly respected panel of leaders on what is one of the most important business topics of the 21st century: Gender Balance.  Pepper will be joined by Door Plantenga, MD Heineken SK/CZRenata Mrazova, CEO ING Insurance and Peter Virsik, MD Adidas SK/CZ, all proven leaders with a depth of experience and insights to share in what is sure to be a thought-provoking evening and rare opportunity.”

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