Saturday, September 24, 2011

Humble beginnings are a launch pad into greatness

This morning I was washing the dishes at home and was thinking about Ottawa. What came to mind was a gift I gave my wife in our early twenties when we were just best friends. It was a frame with three slots for pictures. I filled the first two slots with pictures of my wife and I when we were children and teenagers and left the third slot open for a picture of us when we became adults.

It reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year where I said that in Ottawa's childhood we were a small lumber town, in our adolescence we're a political capital, and I asked what Ottawa would be in its adulthood. Like with the frame I gave my wife, the third slot is a mystery.

Another key part of that gift was a biblical passage I got my sister to write in calligraphy just inside the frame. "Though your beginning was small, your latter end shall be great." (Job 8:7) We've embraced this as the story of our lives and it has inspired us to persevere through life's disappointments.

I thought about how true this statement was for so many great people in the Bible. It seemed the more humble their beginning the greater they became in their end. Their humble beginnings became a spring board into greatness and national and international leadership. A outcast shepherd boy who became King of Israel. A persecuted shepherd boy who became the Prime Minister of Egypt. A son of slaves who became a prince of Egypt. A poor girl that became the Queen of Babylon. Hey, even a baby born in a manager that became a deity. A lot of these people were the youngest in their respective families. Though their beginnings were small, their latter ends were definitely great!

My thoughts went back to Ottawa's humble beginnings as Bytown, a rough and underdeveloped lumber town. It didn't have glorious or successful beginnings like Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Kingston. Even worse, if Canada was a family with its cities being siblings, Ottawa would be one of the younger ones.

Like the men and women above, Ottawa was the least likely leadership candidate due to its humble beginnings and age. In fact if Twitter were around when Ottawa was named the capital we would've seen a lot of tweets like, "#Ottawa? WTF? #fail".

The stories above have some themes. People who have humble beginnings are often ridiculed, but in the end they may end up leading and becoming a resource to those who once ridiculed them.

I have many friends and loved ones who love to insult Ottawa. But when it comes to individuals, companies, cities, and countries, don't mistake humble beginnings for a lack of greatness or leadership potential because humbling times are actually a launch pad into, and preparation for, greatness and leadership.

In the global economy we are seeing countries who had glorious beginnings, colonizers like Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, being humbled and countries that had humble beginnings, the colonized, rising to greatness like China, Brazil, South Africa, Latin America, and even Canada. If you look into commerce, cities and other sectors you will see the same reversals under way.

I'm excited about Ottawa's humble beginnings and youth because they provide the best launch pad into greatness and national, even international, leadership.

Bytown, though your beginning was small, your latter end shall be great!


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