The Little Red Toolbox
I've always been a builder. Not of houses or office buildings but of skills, of teams, of business. I can trace my origins as a builder to one specific moment.
When I was eight years old a red toolbox showed up for me under the Christmas tree. This wasn’t a child’s toolbox with plastic toy tools. This was a real metal toolbox filled with real tools - hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, whittling knives, chisels, and a number of other hand tools - all brand new, still in their packaging. Tools to create with. Tools to build with. Other gifts were under the tree that year, but it’s the red toolbox that stands out in my mind.
Belonging to two of the largest families in the small Michigan town where I grew up - my mom is one of eight and my dad is one of eleven - Christmas was the most important day of the year. It was marked by two huge celebrations, one for each side of the family. My siblings and I were allowed to take one gift from under the tree to the family Christmas parties. I couldn’t wait to load up my new toolbox into the car and show it to my cousins. They were quite impressed as they watched me walk into my grandparents’ houses with tools in tow. After letting my cousins take a peek, I hid the toolbox in an out of the way place, returning every so often to make sure no one had disturbed it.
I fell asleep that night with the toolbox by my side, hugging it as if it were a favorite stuffed animal. As I drifted off, my mind raced, imagining all the things I would make out of nothing but an idea, my two hands, and my new tools.
The idea of having something with which to build...the right tools for the job and the confidence that comes with being prepared and creating something from beginning to end often with little to nothing has always been a source of motivation in my life and certainly in my career. In retrospect, I recognize that the red toolbox and the determination it stirred in my little
eight-year-old self as the earliest sign of me as the builder I would become.
Of course a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that Christmas morning, but throughout my career - from actor to costume designer, public speaking instructor to acting teacher, nonprofit fundraising data trainer to ask coach, consultant to business owner - I've always been a builder. The tools may have changed, but the goal is the same: to build something out of exactly what you have right where you are.
For over twenty years now, I’ve used my unique tools and experience to help others become better nonprofit fundraisers, smarter nonprofit data professionals, clearer communicators, and stronger connectors.
Needless to say, I’m incredibly thankful for that little red toolbox and the elves who placed it under the tree. The joy it brought and the independence it encouraged will stay with me forever.
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