The Mentor Who Shaped Me

My Grandparents - Luis & Bertha Balog

My Grandparents – Luis & Bertha Balog

Reposted from LinkedIn Profile:

Undeniably the mentor that shaped me the most was my grandparents. I had the good fortune to grow up in a traditionally European style home, where the norm is to have your grandparents and even possibly the rest of your extended family live in the same house as you, your siblings, and your parents.

Both my parents worked and as such I spent much of my developing years with my Grandparents. My Father worked in the US Army, at first as an active soldier and later as a civilian, and my Mother worked as a nurse’s aide. This meant at many times they worked opposite shifts with many long hours. Therefore when I was not in school I was under the care of my Grandparents.

My Grandfather was alive until I was 8 years old and my Grandmother was alive until I was 18 years old. This meant that all of my childhood, as well as, my teenage years were spent under the care and parenting of my Grandmother so arguably I got to know her better than most grandchildren would. We spent a lot time talking and doing chores around the house. As the oldest child in Western European family it was traditional for the oldest child to pull the most weight when it came to chores. My Grandmother was a meticulous housekeeper. She was big on small details and making sure the job was done right.

My Grandparents were both first generation Americans; children of immigrant parents straight from the old country. They both grew up in Northern Eastern New Jersey just a few miles from New York City. They would both spend their early lives growing up in this area of New Jersey and eventually move into New York City itself as married adults. It was another time back then. My Grandfather, Luis, was born in 1904 and my Grandmother, Bertha, was born in 1914. The 1920s and 1930s were a tough time to grow up in. Laws and standards of living were nowhere near to where they are today.

Luis was brought up in a typical Hungarian household. He worked hard and long taking on two, sometimes three jobs at a time. He was able to work himself up to owning his own bread delivery route and took pride in his work though by many standards it was neither glamorous nor would it make him famous. The job was enough to put food on the table, buy his own car when many people did not have one, and to support himself at a time when many others where looking for work. My Grandfather had a basic Elementary education, which meant he had to learn how to do things himself. He would become a master plumber, electrician, painter, and carpenter not through apprenticeship, but through trial and error. He liked to invent things. He would make tools for jobs where there was no tool yet; often cobbling two items together to make one tool for a specific task. He was always up to something and working on a project or two in his workshop.

Luis taught me to take pride in everything you do no matter how small or unimportant it may seem. He taught me to keep calm when others were flustered. He taught me to add levity to situation and “roll with the punches” when others could not. I remember getting lost many a time during a family trip and him calmly telling us “No worries, all roads lead to somewhere and eventually intersect. We’re not lost. We’re merely learning a new way.” It is that attitude that helps me to navigate the everyday challenges and overcome work obstacles when others are ready to give up.

My Grandmother grew up in a very poor Polish household. Bertha was forced into the workforce at 8 years old by her mother. She barely had an Elementary School level education. She learned to read and write in English on her own. Bertha would save change to buy newspapers. She would lay them out and toil over them until she could read and speak English. She learned to count money and do simple Maths on her own as well. In effect, she was completely self educated. What she needed to learn, she read about in books or newspapers. Bertha was a fighter. As a female growing up in the 1920s and 1930s she had to constantly fight for equality where ever she went. Sexism and sexual harassment was the daily norm for a young girl during those times. She took none of it. Give her the business and she would give it right back. She was not rolling over for anyone and if she put her mind to it– she was doing it. Bertha spent her tween and early teen years doing manual labor such as cleaning houses for a weekly salary of five cents and a piece of rotten fruit. She would later learn to sew and at the age of 11 years old she was working as a self taught seamstress in a sweatshop clothing factory. She did not let humble beginnings keep her down. After meeting my Grandfather she would go on to manage the day to day operations of a large apartment building. My Grandfather was the superintendent of that large building in Brooklyn, NY. Luis would work his day job and while he was away it was up to my Grandmother to raise my mother, do the housekeeping, oversee every aspect of the building and keep the tenants happy. She would supervise repair work and act as a the real estate person for every tenant who came through that building. She collected rents and cleaned the public spaces. She was a one man buildings and grounds operations crew at the same time as being a full time mother and housewife.

Bertha taught me to stand my ground and not be afraid of going against the grain. She taught me to lead when others were too scared to take ownership. She taught me to blaze paths when others were too scared to go there. She taught me the value of self discipline and taught me that “can’t do” was as only true as you accepted it to be. Anything was possible if you put your mind to it, kept focused on your goals, and stayed true to yourself.

I was very fortunate to have my Grandparents in my life. I do not take a moment I had with them for granted. Everything I know as a leader and as a entrepreneur is because of their teachings. They are the very cornerstone upon which I built everything I believe in, as well as, everything I aspire to one day be.

Mentors do not have to have important big shot jobs. They do not have to be wealthy. They do not have to be someone with an important title. The best mentors are those who are humble, grounded, and are visionary. Those who blaze paths and are as strong of heart as they are compassionate.

I was fortunate to have two great mentors so early on in my life. Others are lucky if they find one great mentor and here I had two just appear in my life without having to search for them at all. I was truly blessed by the time I had with them. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be nowhere close to where I am in my personal and professional development if it were not for my Grandparents– for that I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Grandma and Grandpa. I love you and miss you.




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