Have you ever considered the many decisions you have made in the conduct of your life? When you decided to do "this" instead of "that," what difference did it make in your life?
Maybe a look at decisions in the life of a young man from Kentucky as he finds his way through a life of some 89 years will be of interest as you face your decisions. In such a long life, there have been thousands of "crossroads"--times when going one way instead of another have had an impact on the rest that follows.
The young man from Kentucky was me, and I've spent about a year thinking about and collecting those crossroads. Some have brought joy; others brought sorrow. Some pain, some pride, some shame and so on.
High school years tend to provide insights into the future direction of a youngster's life. Some clues in my life would include an early dressing down by the high school principal, which had a positive impact. President of the junior class; serving as President of the student body in my senior year; All-Southern football award; runner up in state debate; summer jobs each year to help family.
I have a sincere and deep belief in the importance of creating and fostering a close-knit family. My wife and I come from such families, we have created one and our children are doing the same. My family motto is "faith, family, friends," which inspires massive involvement in church and civic activities including leadership roles, financial support and work in the trenches.
World War II required young men to enter the military as soon as they finished high school, but the decision for which branch of service and what program were up to the student. In my case Annapolis and a navy career were top choice, but an appointment was not available. So, Navy V-12 it was. The results were interesting.
The presidential election of 1952 when Eisenhower and Taft battled it out caused much interest in Tennessee. It was a battle! Although I was only a politically inexperienced young executive, I played an important role and learned a lot.
Learning has always been something that is important to me. A solid and well-planned education that is targeted to a carefully considered career path makes a huge difference in a person's success in life. This is a key philosophy of my family.
Management in a corporate environment offers great opportunity but also many challenges. In my corporate career (executive with a major footwear company) I made strong progress over some 33 years, ultimately serving as executive vice president and a member of the executive committee. My responsibilities included the management of 46 factories, 1200 retail stores and their supporting infrastructures. At a point, the CEO demanded that I take some actions with which I did not agree, so I took early retirement.
Within a month, I became CEO of Footwear Industries of America (the trade association of the American footwear industry). Over the next five years, I organized and led a nationwide effort to achieve a fair international trading environment for our important but beleaguered industry. We won in Congress twice, but failed with a veto each time; both losses were by one vote. It was time for me to really retire and go back to the farm.
In June of 1995, I was cutting hay on my Tennessee farm. It's a boring job -- round and round and round the field. I decided to ease the boredom by thinking about some of our nation's problems. Soon I settled on one that I thought was a big problem -- the failure of too many of our financially disadvantaged young people to obtain sufficient education to permit them to prosper in our nation.
I kept asking myself what I was going to do about it. Soon after, I founded a college scholarship program. Over 250 volunteers and contributors have now made it possible to help 380+ financially challenged young people of my area obtain a college education.
Each of these crossroads had their own significance at the time they occurred--the decision to put the livelihood of family over personal pleasure, the disappointment of not being able to attend Annapolis, the choice to work in the unknown political world, and the leap of faith required to start the scholarship program--but I never could have imagined where I would end up!
As I always say, don't forget God, and He won't forget you.
George Quigley Langstaff Jr.
Author of "The Crossroads of a Wonderful Life: Treasured and Not So Treasured Memories."
Originally from Paducah, Ky., George Q. Langstaff Jr. now resides in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife of 67 years. In addition to his many accomplishments in the business world, he is founder and chairman emeritus of The Sponsors Scholarship Program, which has helped more than 300 financially disadvantaged students achieve their dreams of higher education since the program's inception in 1996.
"The Crossroads of a Wonderful Life"
by George Quigley Langstaff Jr.
Paperback: 166 pages
Published Dec. 27, 2013