Besides being a husband and becoming a father, there is no doubt in my mind what the greatest accomplishment in my life has been. It has not been how many of my books have sold or how many countries around the world I have lived in or visited. It is not how many degrees I have earned or how many awards I have received. It has not been how many Twitter followers I have or how many Christmas cards I receive each year.
My greatest accomplishment has been founding the non-profit leadership development organization committed to building young people into heart-led leaders that love and serve others, National Leadership Academy (NLA). In the past fifteen years, thousands of high school students from all over the country have participated in our program. It is an amazing thing to witness year after year. There are all types of students – rich and poor, black, brown and white, Christians, Jews and Muslims, public and private school kids, inner-city and suburban kids. They all come together as strangers and in four days, they form a bond of friendship that is unspeakable. It is a bond of love, acceptance and hope that happens every Summer Academy. Fifteen to be exact.
As part of celebrating our 15th Summer Academy, I decided to honor fifteen people who helped start, build and support the National Leadership Academy since 2000. What an amazing exercise it was to pick fifteen out of the hundreds and hundreds of donors and volunteers that have supported us over the years. We called this award, “15 for 15” to honor fifteen people that made fifteen years of changing kid’s lives possible.
In two weeks, when we have our 15th Annual Summer Academy with nearly 300 students and volunteers staff from all over the country, we will invite all fifteen of these amazing individuals and honor each of them with our “15 for 15” Award.
I can hardly sleep. I’m so excited to honor these men and women, who not only changed the lives of thousands of high school students across our nation, but changed my life as well.
Changed my life as well………….
That got me thinking. That really got me thinking.
What if I did the same thing in my life? What if I handpicked fifteen people that literally changed my life? What if I selected the fifteen most influential people that helped shape me into the man I am today? And more importantly, what if I contacted all fifteen of these individuals and personally told them that they were on “my 15” list?
How would someone feel if you told them they were one of fifteen people on this planet that made a significant impact on your life? My guess – it would be one of the most meaningful things that ever happened to them!
My list would of course include my wife, Jill, my parents and my grandfather, Anthony D’Aquanni. But “my 15” would also include:
Mrs. Deanne Singer- the only school teacher I had growing up that saw past my learning disabilities and made me see my real talents.
Tom France- from Suffern Rotary Club, for handpicking me to participate in Rotary Youth Leadership Academy and mentoring me throughout my childhood.
Bob Veltidi- my high school varsity football coach, who gave me the chance to not only kick a game winning field goal, but to believe in myself on and off the field.
Jack Karns- my college professor who saw past my 2.0 grade point average and taught me more outside the classroom, than inside.
Jerry Middel- the man who taught me the valuable difference between faith and religion.
Ken Blanchard- my mentor who taught me what true servant leadership looks like.
Phyllis Hendry- the Godliest woman I know.
Scott Lynn- who taught me more about business than any text book, MBA degree or boss I’ve ever had.
Frank DeAngelis- retired principal of Columbine High School, who taught me the power of building a culture with love at its epicenter.
Nikki- our nanny of three years, who taught me what true unconditional love is.
Ethan Fisher- an ex-convict with vehicle homicide on his record, that taught me the power and the gift of forgiveness.
These amazing fifteen individuals have shaped my heart. They have been a game changer in my life. Just writing their names down and telling the world who they are, in a small way, is honoring them.
Now you do it.
Who are the fifteen most influential individuals in your life?
Who are the fifteen people that made a significant contribution to shape who you have become?
What a powerful exercise to take the time and do a relationship audit of your life.
And imagine the impact you will have when you tell them they are on “your 15” list.
Call them, post their story on-line, do a YouTube video, write them a letter, call their widow, track them down, do whatever you can to find these 15 people (or their family members) – tell their stories and give them the gift of these two words: My 15.