Chapter 4: A Fulfilling Life
You Have Chosen to Remember: A Journey of Self-Awareness, Peace of Mind and Joy by James Blanchard Cisneros.
Many of us, myself included, were brought up to be like someone in the family. Many of us were brought up without the freedom to be who, in our hearts, we wanted to be. Some of us were told what we would be at an early age, and so we never truly searched our hearts for an answer as to what our highest purpose is in life. Some of us went to college simply because it was the step that society taught us would lead to success. We had no clue why we were going to college other than because it was the thing to do. It was what our parents wanted us to do; it was what our friends were doing. Society and our families told us that if we went to college and worked hard, we would be successful, and if we didn’t choose college, we would not. Our families would be proud of us if we went to college; we would disappoint them if we didn’t. For many of us, it was implied that we had no chance at happiness if we didn’t go to college.
As far back as I can remember, I was told that I would be president of our family’s company in Venezuela. My grandfather started the company in 1945. By 1997, it had an 87 percent share of the market. I remember when I was very young, my uncle, who was the president, coming to the house, and my family asking me, on cue, what I wanted to be. Like a great actor, I would say my line: “I am going to be the president of the company.” Over and over, I would repeat the line and my family would smile and clap in acceptance. And God forbid, if my mother should ever see me with the competitor’s product!
I spent summers working in the company, learning the business and building relationships. After graduating from college, I immediately started working in the finance department. I worked there for more than a year and was then promoted to a charge with more responsibilities in one of its subsidiaries. After having worked for the company full time for three years, I applied and was accepted to the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the University of Notre Dame. Everything was going exactly as planned, my family was very pleased and I could foresee achieving the presidency in the not too distant future.
But God works in mysterious and beautiful ways, for in the middle of my MBA program, our company was not only sold, but sold to our arch-rival, our main competitor. In secret negotiations, my uncle sold our company to our lifelong enemies, and worst of all, I had no idea until a couple days after the deal was completed. My grandmother called and woke me up with the news. So what I had prepared for all my life had, in a moment, disappeared. There I was, in the middle of my MBA program, and for the first time in my life, I had nowhere to go. My lifelong goal had been completely erased from the map.
My younger cousin, who is about seven years my junior, was basically in the same boat except that he was in the middle of his college program at Babson University (the university from which my uncle graduated). Like me, he was also in a state of shock. Yet even more interesting was the exact day his mother called him to tell him the news, during that same phone call, she also wished him a happy birthday! Coincidence? I think not. I could recall his mother teaching him from the time he was born the same family phrase that I had learned. At four years of age, he already knew the answer to the family question: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” He would answer to our family’s smiles, “I’m going to be the president of the company.” I would smile because I knew that this poor, delusional child was just kidding himself; he could only grow up to be vice-president, for in my mind the president’s job was already mine.
I graduated with an MBA from The University of Notre Dame, and asked myself, “What’s next?” I had studied enough spiritual material to understand, and more importantly, believe in my heart, that there is no such thing as a coincidence. I knew that a company that had been in my family for over 50 years could not be sold without my knowledge, in the middle of my MBA program, by coincidence. I laughed for a while, and told God that this definitely was one of His best jokes and that He really got me on this one.
In a deeper manner, I understood, and was grateful that He had freed me. He was offering me a respectable way out. He understood that I probably did not have the strength to deny my Latino mother and grandmother the joy of knowing that I was working in the family business. It would have hurt my mother and grandmother deeply if I did not pursue that line of work, and for that reason only, I would have stayed in the business regardless of any real sense of belonging there. God had taken the pressure off me. And for that, I was grateful.
Still, after my MBA, I went back to Venezuela and worked in another family business. However, the family had started this business only seven years prior, thus the responsibility to continue working there was in no way as strong. I worked there as a consultant for nine months, completing a couple of big and interesting projects, but the desire to continue working for the company simply was not there. At the end of the ninth month, I resigned. I then went back to the States, hired my cousin and began a new business. I had my cousin traveling to and from San Paolo, Brazil. There he met the sister of my business partner. This incredible woman became his wife two years later. Coincidence? I think not.
As you can tell, I understand something about the pressures that come with working for a family business and living other people’s dreams. As you would not want others telling you what you should do with your life, so too will you save yourself years of questioning, judgments, disappointment, anger and regret if you just allow others the freedom to follow their aspirations and dreams in the best way they know how.
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