That's My Story
I grew up in a middle class family in small town Nebraska. My father was a mechanical engineer and my mother stayed at home. My parents both worked hard to provide me with a solid education. They taught me that people matter. Not possessions, not power, not prestige.
One of my favorite people was my Grandpa Warren, my father’s father. He was brilliant. He could fix anything. People would bring him scraps of machinery and he’d tinker around with it and somehow the next day he’d have a lawn mower. He was constantly reading, and thus constantly teaching me something. He had a massive garden and I spent hours begrudgingly working in it each summer. Looking back, I am so thankful for each hour I spent with him. He is part of my story.
He was a giver; he gave quietly, all the time. He was not wealthy, but that did not stop him from being a giver. He gave to his neighbors, his family, and anyone he saw who had a need. His funeral was like no other funeral I have ever attended. Person after person, of all different races and backgrounds, many of whom none of us knew, stood up and said, “One time I needed xyz…and Warren showed up at my door step with it.” His entire family, including me, sat there crying. The way he lived his life humbled us all.
I went to college with an old car that seemed to break down every six months. I hated my car. It was old and ugly and none of my friends ever wanted to take it anywhere. I went to a private college with a lot of kids from wealthy families and my car embarrassed me. One time I was driving home for Christmas and my car broke down on the interstate.
100+ miles away, I tracked down my Grandpa who showed up with my dad. Boy was I angry with my dad. Somehow, being the 20 year-old hot head I was, I blamed him for all my car problems.
I know, I know.
Do you remember what you were like at age 20?
I was sitting in the back seat pouting while my dad kept trying to start conversations with me. I kept ignoring him, sulking and growing increasingly angry. My grandfather was in the front seat, staying mum.
All the sudden, after hours of silence, my Grandfather spoke up.
“Sarsh!” he yelled. Sarsh was his nickname for me - a cross between Sarge and Sash. (He swore I was in charge since I came out of the womb.)
“Yes Grandpa.” Sullen, sighing Sasha answers.
“I know what I’m getting you for Christmas!!!!” he says.
I did not want to speak to him. I wanted to keep sulking. But I was not disrespectful. “Really. What’s that?” I answered.
“A bicycle!!!!” He roared.
All the sudden, my dad burst into laughter. I looked forward to see my sweet Grandpa’s shoulders shaking with laughter.
Suddenly, my perspective changed. It all seemed so funny, and my pouting so childish.
We laughed about that story until the day he died.
The older I get, the more I appreciate driving rusty cars. I appreciate working in a grocery store in a small town and saving money for my first pair of designer jeans. I appreciate all the times I couldn’t go here or there, because I didn’t have any money, as it taught me whom my real friends were. I knew what real love was when I married my husband with $600 to our name and yet we were SO happy.
Why? Because this is my story. Those experiences, all the good and the bad, made me who I am. And they shaped me to hold this truth: I am not impressed with the amount of money someone has in their 401K. I am not impressed with fancy cars and expensive homes and luxury items or this person’s parent’s bank account or that person’s stock value. I am proud of my story; it has made me a better doctor. I don’t care if you are a VIP or street person; you matter to me. Because you matter to God.
My story led me to value people. And I hope I am teaching my kids to do the same.
If there is one thing I have learned, it is to NEVER be ashamed of your story. Probably one of the most meaningful lectures I’ve heard was given at a GWIMS (Group on Women in Medicine and Science) Conference I attended in Washington, D.C. years ago for junior faculty. I wish I could remember the name of the woman who spoke, but she said it over and over. Never be ashamed of your story. It stuck with me. Suddenly I was so proud to be from where I was, from the people who I called my own.
Don’t get me wrong. I value people who worked hard to attend Ivy League schools and who work at prestigious firms. But what do I really want to know about people? It’s not their college alma mater; it is their story.
As I speak on national platforms, I am often humbled to be the small town girl from Nebraska. There was a time where I was intimidated to stand with Ivy League professors and share panels with experts from esteemed institutions. But you know what?
I am proud of my story.
Embrace your story, no matter how many “rusty cars” it contains. Chances are, your story will inspire someone else’s.