Illegitimi non carborundum

“Illegitimi non carborundum” (Latin) translates as “don’t let the bastards wear you down”.  It was a sign my dad affixed to his office door at Parker Products, Inc, the snack food/health food manufacturer that he founded and managed for some 35 years, retiring in his early seventies after a much larger snack food producer acquired his firm.  His first name was Parker, and thus, Parker Products.

He was also the chief chemist and food inventor.  He started the firm popping popcorn and selling it in large poly bags for a nickel or a dime, and over the years created numerous new snacks: multi-colored in-the-shell pistachio nuts for the holiday season to a fiddle faddle-like caramel and peanut popcorn bars, to fava beans roasted and salted and bagged for the fancy food trade, three different flavored croutons, sunflower seeds, soy beans etc, etc. produced under his name or private labels like S.S. Pierce, Howard Johnson and Pennsylvania Dutch.

He was a small business entrepreneur who persevered, day after day, year after year, constantly re-inventing his product line, adapting or forging new distribution channels, sales techniques, adapting and adopting new snack ideas and packaging to take advantage of changing food tastes and trends.  As a small businesman he was nimble and quick.  He was also a workaholic who persevered in the face of competitive pressures, administrative and personnel issues, insurance matters, regulatory compliance issues, and all the things that any chief executive is faced with.

Perseverance was a constant theme in our household too, and not just for my father’s work.  I learned that an individual could – and should – be challenged in his pursuits.  Overcoming adversity by rising to the occasion, by being resilient was common.  My mother’s favorite slash was “if there’s a will there’s a way”.

My mother too embodied perseverance and set the expectations for my older brother and me.   When I didn’t pass my senior lifesavers test as a teenager the first time, she wouldn’t let me off the hook. I had to re-set the goal, and practice and try again next summer. I did practice though I didn’t want to, and the next time I did pass.  It became a life lesson for me.  (Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.)

To me, this same Latin phrase meant that the individual had an inherent ability to “move mountains” and even change the world.  In my family of origin we were encouraged to be creative and expressive and to believe in the power of the individual to influence and invent.  Don’t let the bastards grind you down. So eat well, sleep well, exercise, study, and learn how to prosper.  I was first exposed to the business world through my father’s busines.  As children and teenagers we weren’t one of those families which had no idea what their father did for a living.  We heard about his trials and challenges, his victories and defeats.

My older brother Skip followed in my father’s footsteps — as an entrepreneur and successful executive. He was a lawyer who co-founded and served as president of an independent fiduciary services firm which after a few decades was acquired by a larger NYSE-listed insurance firm.

While I had a small independent information research services firm for a few years (“what you need, when you need it”), it became my passion and served as the means re-invent myself in my 50s when direct marketing (which had been my concentration) was eclipsed by Internet and social media.  (The principles and practices of direct marketing still apply to digital marketing.)  Originally an award-winning direct marketing copywriter, decades later I morphed into providing prospect research and opportunity assessments (individual, company, industry-specific) for my last employer, an engineering services firm.

Today prospect research services is sometimes known as “Sales enablement”.  A  friend called it ” the act of implementing strategies, tools and processes that continually increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales ecosystem (sales force)”.   Research is part of sales enablement and the sales support function.

One of my favorite sayings is “you never know what you can’t do until you don’t try”.  I wrote that on a big sheet of poster board and scotch taped it to the kitchen wall so my son could see it on a regular basis, and remember to try new things when he was a toddler and I was recently divorced. On reflection, it was probably there for me as much as for him.  We are sometimes our own worst enemies and it’s important to recognize that, and have the courage to try new things and follow one’s dreams, rather than holding back or letting the bastards grind you down.

In the September 10 2018 issue of Sports Illustrated, there’s a profile of the National Football League’s first and only MD, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He’s 27 and some 320 lbs and 6’5″.  He’s a former Canadian football player (where they have 12 players on a team) who wanted to play in the NFL (entirely different football sport with 11 players) under Kansas City Chief’s Coach Andy Reid — and be a medical doctor.  Duveensy-Tardif was taught by his parents that “dreams don’t mean anything if you don’t act on them”.  He organized himself to realize his dreams, to make the sacrifices necessary to persevere and to achieve his mission in life of playing professional football and being a MD at the same time.  What a story!

While perseverance is an important virtue as his creative expression and being inventive, I’ve learned that that alone is not sufficient to embody well being.  Life need not be a struggle if we open our hearts and mind to the joys of life just as it is, or seek out the joys, the beauties of living.

(More on creativity and self-expression and courage in subsequent posts.)







Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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