How much money do you think we spend in any given year searching for inspiration in the stories of others? How many biographies, films, seminars, speeches and so on do we seek out in order to learn from the life of someone we consider inspiring? It seems that we so often seek inspiration, as we do so many other things, at a distance, as though it isn't right next to us, as though our lives were so ordinary we would never be able to find it. Here's the funny part, often the people next to us can be the most inspiring, and their stories, that inspiration we are seeking, cost us only the moments needed to be present and listen.
Pedro Alcantara is truly inspiring. He's become a regular fixture at 1 Million Cups - Charleston and those of you who've had a moment with him know how genuinely welcoming and friendly he is. You have seen his smile, felt the warmth of his greeting, his genuine enthusiasm and presence for other people. What you may not know is his incredible story. A story I was lucky to hear on a sunny Friday afternoon in Mt Pleasant, just before a holiday weekend.
Pedro was born in the Dominican Republic, a country I have actually always wanted to visit, a place of beauty but also poverty. Hearing his story of his early life is incredible and a bit tragic, losing his father as a young child, and coming to the United States with his aunt, who to him is his mother, via New York. He tells me how he was 11 years old, weighing maybe 70 pounds and couldn't speak English. Pedro lived in the South Bronx and went to a bilingual program in the public schools that wasn't helping him learn English, so his mother got him a tutor. When he went to high school, they wanted him in the bilingual program again, and he removed himself from it. He struggled, but he learned English, he speaks very well.
Pedro got involved in a number of activities, including the Civil Air Patrol, he loves airplanes, where an old pastor and pilot taught him lessons about leadership that he credits with his success. He went on to take a remedial semester in college, just to get admitted, and then gained full admission and graduated. Pedro Alcantara was the first member of his family to graduate college. Let that sink in.
I asked him how that felt, to be the first person in his family to hit this milestone. Pedro didn't really think about that part at the time, all he knew was that he felt like he could do anything. His mother was very proud. In my head I can imagine that she probably lit up the night from a distance with her pride. He would go on to work on Wall St, a different planet from the Bronx, and then move on to a long and successful career in pharmaceuticals. His path would wind through several twists and turns, he would start a family and do some time in financial services, move around a bit, have highs and lows, but he kept moving forward. Now he lives here, in South Carolina, with his wife, his kids are building their own lives, and he is happy.
We talk about travelling the world, about the change in perception it brings. He tells me about his long career in sales, he was clearly very good at it, about the trials and tribulations and also the enjoyment. We talk about taking joy in the happiness of others, and we also talk about all of the things we both still have to learn. Pedro is a great guy. Talking to him is a lot of fun, and his story is so inspiring, he should write a book. He has heard this before, and has told his daughter she will need to write it for him. She is the writer in the family.
During our time, our sharing of stories, one theme emerges powerfully. The most impactful moments in your life can be written in one sentence. The critical decisions, the shatterpoints, of a life are all simple. Simple, and yet their impact is huge. These are the little moments that impact your life. They are not long philosophical treatises, they are as simple as talking to someone or not, as simple as one quick decision. Pedro and I have lives that have been formed of these powerful moments, all of us do. Just like we look for inspiration from far away, we often look to the more complicated things in our life for the decisive moments.
In reality it is the simple decisions.
In 40 days, I have gained so much knowledge, learned more than some may learn in years. I have heard stories and shared my own. I have found inspiration in my new friend Pedro Alcantara, in his trials and his triumphs. I didn't buy his biography in a store, I sat down for a coffee and was present.
Inspiration is right next to you. Right now.
Favorite Dinosaur: T-Rex
Why: They are tall, they see above the trees and they can defend themselves.