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First, I want to make it clear this is not a COVID-era commentary on hair color! Instead, we’re looking at different roots – and these are also key to your identity. In fact, they are even more a part of who you are, more than hair color, eye color, or skin tone. Why? Because these roots are embedded deeply in our brain. These roots are the inescapable reality of how we view ourselves, no matter what our age or level of accomplishment.

This has been a fascinating topic for me and may seem obvious to some, but I can’t seem to get it out of my head, so I hope sharing it with you might help me process it. It started with this thought: no matter my age or the journey I’ve followed over the decades or any other measuring stick you might consider, I am still, first and foremost, a bricklayer’s son from rural Wisconsin. People may say or think something else when I come to mind, things like husband, dad, uncle, businessperson, author, whatever, but in my head, there is really only one answer. Bricklayer’s son.

Now I haven’t been on a job site with my Dad, who passed away 20 years ago, since I was maybe 18-years-old. Most people wouldn’t even know anything about my roots – and probably wouldn’t consider them all that important now that I’ve reached an – ahem – advanced age. But, what I’ve learned is I’m not the only one who has his roots showing. They show up inside our head and profoundly impact our self-image, no matter how much we’ve actually moved past whatever lot in life we may have been handed way back when.

Having met Presidents and leaders and noteworthy individuals of all kinds in my life I recognized this trait no matter someone’s station. I think you can see it in a person’s eyes. They are who they were – even if events and life have taken them someplace else.

Perhaps the most memorable group of people where this characteristic stood out was among Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. By receiving the highest distinction awarded by the U.S. armed services you might think they saw themselves as different, special and somehow set apart. To a person, the exact opposite is true in my experience and I’ve had the privilege to meet more than a dozen of them. They are humble and somewhat embarrassed by the distinction. They think of themselves as farm boys or blue-collar folks or people who just happened to demonstrate selfless bravery at one point in their lives. Many view it almost as an accident, because they feel others would have done what they did in the same situation.

What about when you meet someone on the other end of the honorable scale? Let’s say it’s someone who demonstrates a selfishness or pettiness that is visible and annoying to nearly everyone they meet. Their roots are showing, too. More often than not, inside they are still that little kid who didn’t get the attention or support they needed for whatever reason. It doesn’t make the behavior okay, but you’ve probably seen it more than once.

So my question for you is, does that same thought process go through your head when you think of yourself? Despite your title or place in the world, are you still who you were, deep down inside? I’m happy to be a bricklayer’s son so I view it as a plus. To me, this is a fundamental key to understanding each other and so, in most conversations, I want to know about your beginnings.

Perhaps now you’ll think of that conversation in a different light.