The following piece was contributed as part of Business News Daily's byline series:
I have had a very successful and rewarding career as an executive and as a CEO. People often assumed that part of the reason I have had success is because I had the support of a stereotypical family and upbringing. They presume I grew up in a wealthy — or, at least, upper middle class — family, maybe even complete with a home surrounded by that proverbial white picket fence. I likely went to elite private schools before attending a private college or even an Ivy League school.
I don't fault people for making these assumptions— we all know that people who have stable and affluent families have more opportunities and a higher likelihood of an education that will give them a distinct advantage in corporate America. But the reality of my personal journey could not be any more different.
Overcoming my obstacles
I was born in a very small town in Texas to a single mother who struggled with drug addiction her entire adult life. She was not capable of caring for herself, let alone for me. I was shuffled among distant family members — and even strangers — until the age of five.
At that point, I was adopted into a family in the Midwest, and although this should have been the beginning of a new and better life, I immediately began a struggle for my very survival. For more than a decade, I was deprived of many basic necessities, as well as physically and mentally abused on an almost daily basis.
After my junior year of high school, I threw the few personal belongings I owned into a garbage bag and hopped on a Greyhound bus. Eventually, I found my way to California, where, with very few professional skills and even fewer social skills, I bounced around from job to job, couch to couch, and even park bench to park bench.
From introspection to change
After a seemingly never-ending parade of personal and professional failures, I gradually became tired of struggling and failing. I became more introspective, which had the effect of a subtle and gradual awakening.
It dawned on me one day that no one else would care for me and look out for me. No one was going to recognize the errors of their ways and seek to make amends. No one was going to swoop in and save the day. In short, I realized I was my best and only advocate.
This mindset caused me to reflect on all the decisions I was making. Better decisions led to better outcomes. Flash forward a few years, and I actually found myself with a reputation for being a critical thinker and for making good decisions.
The next step in my personal evolution was when I started thinking about, and seriously considering, the wellbeing of others, including my employees. That's when I started making even more meaningful and impactful decisions.
The business units I was in charge of started to flourish, and I was continuously singled out, relied upon and promoted. This led to personal and professional growth, including a beautiful family, leadership positons with one of the largest insurance companies in North America and one of the largest newspapers in the world, and, eventually, CEO positons within various industries.
With these gradual awakenings, or understandings, came an incredible amount of commitment and hard work on my part, as well as the inevitable setbacks, embarrassments and disappointments.
In short, my gradual climb to an eventful, fruitful and, yes, successful life came about by acknowledging that the life I was living and the decisions I was making were not benefiting me. Being introspective allowed me to look back, whether a moment later or weeks later, and determine what I could have done differently in any particular situation. I would then resolve to make better decisions next time. I proved to myself and to others that I was capable of making the right decisions for others as well as business units, departments, divisions and, eventually, entire companies.
Every budding leader has his or her own personal journey and lessons to learn, and my story may or may not lead to your own corner office. However, I do know that the habits I have developed can be immensely beneficial, and personally and professionally rewarding.
Edited for length and clarity by Shannon Gausepohl. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Shannon at email@example.com to learn more about our contributed content program.