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What’s Your Origin Story?

Posted on August 30, 2023 by James Harold Webb

Every couple of months there seems to be a new comic book movie out in the theaters. While the insects, superpowers, etc. are all a bit different, there tend to be the same hard-hitting themes. Where we are headed doesn’t have to be determined by where we’ve come from or been; however, those experiences and relationships can definitely create lasting impressions and motivations that propel us in any number of directions. Look at any individual and they are the sum of many complicated parts and influenced by a unique history. The path to success for each person is different, as is their ‘origin story’ – it’s what makes you uniquely you.

When I give myself time to ponder on my origin story, I am nothing but grateful to those individuals who played a significant role in helping plant a seed for reaching my potential. My parents are at the top of that list of those who influenced who I would become.

My parents didn’t have much to give me other than love. My dad worked for a local electrician company, as an apprentice, for fifty cents an hour, sixty hours a week. We lived in a little white house next to the shop, which I think the owner, Mr. Blackledge, rented to my folks on the cheap because he felt for a couple of teenagers trying to start their lives as a family. I spent a lot of time with my mom, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of a drawing she made of an octopus and a swan, which hung over the bathtub. She did it for me, to take care of me. Mom was always taking care of people when I was a kid. She still does to this day.

We were far from a perfect family, but we made it through, and I have always admired my parents for what they did to provide for my brothers and me. It might not have been a picturesque situation, but there was a lot to be proud of, particularly how my parents demonstrated resilience in their lives. When I was bumbling my way through high school, my mom, who had always been a caregiver, decided to go back to school. She picked up a student loan for $525 per quarter and studied nursing at the local junior college for the first two years, then finished her degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. I had never thought too much about college, but seeing Mom do it made me think it was possible.

My dad never went to college, but it was important to him that I go. I remember him telling me, “I want you to go to college so you don’t have to work for a living.” I didn’t understand what he meant and was kind of disappointed because I wanted to work for him in the electrical business. Then one day in 2001, it finally made sense to me. I was driving in Dallas through a brutal winter storm, and while stuck on an overpass, I looked up to see a lineman working on a power line in the freezing dark. Boom—I got it. That’s what Dad meant by working for a living. He wanted more for my brothers and me and for himself too. But wanting more doesn’t always mean achieving it. When I was a senior in high school, my dad started an HVAC company. For the first time in his life, he was working for himself and finding success.

But then, one day, the IRS showed up at the door and took just about everything he had. His accountant had been skimming and not paying the bills, and in the blink of an eye, everything my dad had built was gone and he was saddled with debt. He could have quit right there. God knows there were people in our neighborhood who would have done just that, but if Chris got Dad’s throwing arm, I was blessed with his resilience. He rebounded and paid off every last cent, which nearly killed him, but it is one of the things he did in life that impressed me the most. He was responsible and he was resilient.

When I think back to my youth in Laurel – my origin story – I can see the building blocks of the person I eventually became. I don’t remember learning that much in school, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn in my youth. I inherited nothing monetary from my relatives and friends, but I absolutely got some of their traits. I got my grandparents’ entrepreneurial spirit and my mom’s instinct to take care of people. I got my dad’s work ethic and resilience in the face of failure. I got my sense of community from church. Family and outside influences start at an early age. Embrace them. Learn from them. Challenge yourself. Use your origin story as a source of pride and motivation that helps you reach your greatest potential.