I grew up in rural northeast Louisiana where blue collar jobs, farming, and small business drove the economy. Most people in professional jobs traveled out of our hometown airport in Monroe, LA, the birthplace of Delta Airlines which started as a crop dusting company. I attended a high performing public high school where sports were spotlighted and a confederate soldier holding a confederate flag flies as a mascot. I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees, both at public universities in Louisiana and later went on to study internationally. I then went to work in the United States Senate managing deep grassroots outreach and public affairs during both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and later left to work in corporate America in public and government affairs for a Fortune 3 energy company. As we see today, Louisiana is full of extreme conservative values and has never been an ideal place for LGBT youth or professionals.

As a successful gay man, I have reflected significantly over the years on the #BestAdvice I have received both personally and professionally. I’ve been featured in numerous publications from both of my universities, hometown newspapers and other opportunities through my profession and I always tie my success, character, work ethic, compassion and my sense of reality back to my roots.

My mother is a calm, loving, quiet and hardworking woman. She raised two children as a working mother having gone through a rough divorce and later remarried. She battled breast cancer issues at a young age and has witnessed rough deaths of both of her parents. She was raised in a very interesting environment through her own childhood, like many southern women and is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met in my life. My mother conceived me at a very early age and did not attend university. She entered the workforce at an early age and raised me and my sister in a very structured home.

My mom told me to always stay true to myself and to remember where I came from. She told me that hard work always pays off in the end and that compassion and love for others is at the center of our being. She told me that my sense of humor in life could get me through most any situation and to never take myself too seriously. It takes failing to understand or appreciate success, it makes us stronger.

As a young gay person growing up in rural Louisiana, I never thought much about these things, thinking they were just built in to my sense of being and that life was going to always be a challenge for me. What I did not realize is that my mother provided me with some of the #BestAdvice anyone would ever give me and I want to pass it along to others who travel down a similar path as mine. My mother instilled this perspective into my value system and showed me through example the absolute best way to always be “real.” In my professional life, I have always tried to pass along this #BestAdvice to younger students finishing university, or to other LGBT professionals, or even in my day-to-day activities reminding my own self in life.

I have worked with and competed with many pedigreed professionals in the workforce. I’ve always realized that this advice that built my value system and my work ethic, time and time again set me apart from my peers. I’ve been told by former bosses and by executives and other leaders, that being me is what has allowed for my own success. And that “being me” is thanks to that #BestAdvice passed along by my mother and reiterated every single time I’ve been drawn to a leader who I look up to and every time I’ve faced a difficult situation in my life. The influence of my upbringing and the rural American community I came from in the deep South has always brought out the best in everyone I come in contact with when we get back to those core values.

So my #BestAdvice I would pass along to others reading this post is:

-Always stay true to yourself and remember where you come from
-Work hard and never give up! It always pays off in the end
– Compassion for others will always give you a refreshed perspective
-Activate your sense of humor
-Don’t take yourself too seriously
-It takes failure to appreciate or understand success. It makes us stronger!