Nature or Nurture? Let Passion And Drive Lead The Way

Yesterday my wife and I flew back from Canada where we had spent two days visiting boarding schools with our son, Ryan. No, we are not looking to send him to boarding school because he has done something wrong as we were actually asked (jokingly) by the immigration officer. Instead, we believe that this investment in our son’s education will better position him for college admission, give him more sporting and academic options, and pay him huge dividends later in life through the networking and independence that the boarding school life provides.

Life is a journey, not a race.

Life is a journey, not a race.

On our way back to Grand Cayman from Ottawa we changed aircraft in Charlotte, NC. My family had some breakfast in a typical airport restaurant. You really never know what you are going to experience in terms of service, and having been up since 3:30 am we probably just wanted to have no-one speak to us.

An enthusiastic gentleman with a heavy accent served us. He proceeded to make us feel like he had waited for us all morning (while serving with equal gusto several other tables in our section). As someone who has worked in sales I can tell you he hit all the marks effortlessly, suggesting beverages, anticipating requests, up-selling my wife on a salad that he guaranteed would be better than the one she originally asked for, or he would get her the original one she wanted for free. All the while he did this without seeming to follow a script or being pushy or otherwise coming on too strong. He delivered, in short, outstanding service.

As we were leaving I complemented our server and said that in my opinion he was one of the best servers I had ever had. I went on to say that I thought his talents were probably under-utilised at the restaurant and that he could get a job in whatever area of sales he wished and would have enormous success.

He replied with an appreciative thanks, and an apology for his accent as he explained that he was still learning english, the most recent of his 5 working languages, and had to think about his words as he said them. I asked him where he was from, finding out that he was in USA on a student visa from Togo and that he was in his junior year at UNC as he worked to put himself through college. When he graduates next year he was planning to return home.

What an inspiration! At the same time, what an immediate contrast between our context of preparing to spend a serious sum of money to put our son, and probably eventually our daughter, through boarding high school in Canada, and our server’s story of working to put himself through college in America. In my mind it really sharpened the focus on how fortunate we are to be able to even consider this as an option for my son at this time. There are so many near and far who can only dream of a similar chance in the formative years of life, a chance that can change your future.

My hope is that my son (who subscribes to this blog) reads this and gets the moral of the story told between these lines. To make it perfectly clear, it is that financial ability and connections are undeniably of great help in getting a leg up in the world. However, nothing can replace passion and drive to succeed.

I’m glad we had the chance to meet the gentleman from Togo yesterday. He had passion and drive in abundance. He inspired and humbled me. I hope his story and my observation and note of it here inspires you also.

I live in the Cayman Islands and I'm married to Christina. We have two incredible children, Ryan, attending Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and Taylor, attending Trinity College School, in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada. I own several businesses in Cayman. My list of 'pasts' include past chairman of the Cayman Islands Special Economic Zone Authority, past president of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman, and past president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.

Please note: I moderate comments and reserve the right to delete or edit those that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Nature or Nurture? Let Passion And Drive Lead The Way

  1. This is indeed a very inspiring story. My generation had to work for everything – we were not given it as our parents in general were not able to financially assist.

    The generations that followed the so called baby boomers are more fortunate in many ways but a lot of parents in an effort to give their children what they did not have – forgot to instill the lesson in this muse.

  2. Regret that you are making such a terrible decision. Hope it does not come back to haunt you. There is NO place like home!

    • Thanks for your comment, Herbie. The message of the post was not on the pros and cons of boarding school vs local education. At no time did I infer that a boarding life is a replacement for home life. I agree, there really is no place like home.

      Having said that, your opinion may be correct for you and for your context. However, in being so definite in your statements (we are making a ‘terrible decision’ that will ‘come back to haunt’ us) you set aside the evidence of a great number of kids in, or alumni of, boarding schools who would argue that the experience was the best decision for them in their context. Perhaps they would also make that argument with a sensitivity to the merits of a non-boarding experience that you have not shown.

      For us, the driver has been our son, Ryan. He wants to go. He has wanted to go for several years now. He worked with us on the shortlist that met his goals and passions in computing and athletics as well as school reputation and culture. He visited each with us and then spent the day shadowing a student. After all that he made the decision and we will work to support it.

      Ryan will grow tremendously from this opportunity. We are confident that he knows exactly where home is, and that there is nothing else like it.


      We are proud that we have a confident, decisive, and ambitious son who knows that there is a wonderful world outside the doors of home that has the potential to give him more in the areas he wants to push and develop.


  3. Awesome post David. Yes at the end of the day I have met so many who have all the connections and hand-ups fall flat, and many who have to struggle financially to meet their dreams but soar – it really is about the passion, drive and ability to “pay it (the gifts) forward”. Nanny

  4. Nice post. Hope Ryan doesn’t feel the pressure too much ;)

    Resonates with me.

    When I was 11, I took the Eleven Plus. Essex, where I lived in the UK, is one of the only counties in England that still has government funded selective (by academic ability) Grammar Schools. Plenty of politics involved in saying that they should go, but leave that to one side. I passed.

    This meant that I could go to a school which was equivalent in academic excellence to any private school, but my father was a self employed builder and I wouldn’t have been able to go to a private school. That exam that I took when I was 11 meant that I was able to go to Durham University, got a job in the City and ended up in Cayman 8 years ago as a lawyer. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

    Of course some may say I got some luck along the way but a bit of passion and plenty of hard work don’t go amiss!!!