My father was a baker. He was a guy who woke up before dawn, pulled on his baker’s whites, and proceeded to work harder and longer than most people would ever be willing to. He paid for everything in cash and was always looking to help. 

My mother cleaned offices and bathrooms, and never spent the money she earned on herself. It was never about jewelry, never about vacations. Every dime went into an account so that her kids could go to college. Everything my parents did was to give their kids the best lives possible. They possessed this beautiful blue-collar mentality, always pushing them to ask: How can I help? How can I create a better situation for the next generation? And even though my parents, immigrants from Greece, couldn’t read or write English, they had made their way to Appleton, Wisconsin, where almost everyone welcomed them into the community. 

I had a great upbringing, and the biggest things I learned were how to tap into my resources and to not be afraid to ask for help. My parents had to do that all the time, requiring vast amounts of energy and thought. Imagine if questions like these swirled in your head every day:

“How am I going to get this bank account open?”

“How am I going to figure out this life insurance policy?

“How am I going to understand what the doctor’s saying?

But my parents were resourceful, and they would ask for help. My mother would say things like, “Can you read this paper for me and tell me what it says?” She couldn’t drive, so she would ask for rides from a few ladies who lived on our street. And when I was old enough, I translated and interpreted for my parents and the doctors we saw. 

My parents’ approach to life, of using their resources and asking for help, eventually filtered down to me. I was dyslexic and had ADHD, so I struggled in school. I didn’t know I was dyslexic until my junior year in college. But my parents had taught me to use my resources and to speak up when I needed help. I hand-wrote my college papers -–which took me hours – and then paid someone to type them for me. Years later, I saw a correlation between that and surrounding myself as Medix CEO with different types of people who offset me from a leadership perspective. Tapping into them as resources and seeking their help make me a better CEO.  

My parents taught me the value of work. My mother told me over and over in Greek that no one should ever be ashamed of their work, no matter how humble. My parents sometimes held multiple jobs, and there was nothing strange about it when I was working at age 15. I don’t necessarily expect my kids to be working, but I do give them choices, such as work or be involved in multiple extracurricular activities and do well in school. I think you find out a lot about yourself through work and through working with other people.

What I do try to drive home to my kids is that they should ask for help, including from the leaders in their lives, such as teachers and coaches. I tell them they should never give up, never doubt that they’re smart, and that they should shoot for the stars. I remind them that if they can control their effort and their attitude, they can win.

My parents never made a lot of money, but my dad would say, “I have three million,” and then he would tick off my sister’s name, my brother’s name, and mine. We were each worth a million to him because that was how he measured things. 

My dad showered others with his baked goods. He gave them away to people who still talk about them 30 years later. Recently, I was in Delaware for my son’s football game and met up with some individuals from the neighborhood where I grew up. The first thing they said was, “Oh my God, your dad and his baking, his gifts!” That was just my dad, a man of few words and generous to his core. He was always thinking how he could put himself in a position to help and he was always willing to share what he had. The same was true of my mom, and I am a better CEO, a better spouse, a better father, and a better person because of them. 

This morning I was at a four-way stop. There was one other car at the stop. It was driven by an older man whose hat led me to think he might be a Korean War veteran. It was my turn, but I smiled, tapped my horn, and waved him through. Then I gave him a thumbs-up. He knew I had acted out of respect for him as an older man and possible veteran. I’m sure he knew because he signaled me to roll down my window and when I did, he said, “Your mom and dad would be proud.”

I hope they are.