Are you a Startup or an Upstart?

Many of us are currently honoring a time of annual reflection. Looking forward, we are preparing to celebrate our heritage and legacy to current and future generations. Looking back, we appreciate the things the call to action that inspired us to pursue our current interests, however small they might seem.

Years ago, in pigtails and a uniform, I was declared “an upstart” for defending my right to stay in a mainstream classroom rather than a malformed quasi ESL classroom with a militant and untrained instructor. I created my own learning environment with a lot of help from the person who inspired me most throughout my life — my grandfather — who demanded a full set of the books and course outlines for the year from the principle herself, which was simply not done back in those days.

“You can do this.” he would say. It was a statement, not a question or request. With his guidance I pushed past the stigma of being a polilingual first-genner and not only mastered my lessons but went on to be a professor… of English Language and Literature. The fact still makes my folks smile a little when they see someone from the old neighborhood who said I’d never really make it in the mainstream English-speaking arena. (We’re Greek… we make our own arenas.)

A few years later I was asked to tutor twins who had just transferred to the school. We were from the same home town and spoke the same language and they needed a mediator between them and their teacher until they caught up with the vocabulary. So lunchtimes were spent chatting it up with my 5-year-old compatriots and my former teacher. My first community service, I guess, and one that would shape my life and my outlook through to the present day.

As an instructor I saw that a lot of things hadn’t changed throughout the years, that the ESL/immigrant student was still being treated with a double standard at some level, as though they were to be tolerated rather than taught. I first noticed it when I was calling the roster and a name was difficult to pronounce. I asked the student how to pronounce his name and he said “Just call me Steve.” I looked at the roster… the name looked NOTHING like “Steve.” I waited till after class and called the student over. “Is Steve your name or is this name correct?” “Oh, that name is correct, but my other professor told me that I’m in America now and have to adapt.” I looked at him. “If your parents didn’t name you Steve, then neither will I. No one has to change their names here. It’s the 21st Century.” I asked him to pronounce his actual name for me a few times and made a note of the phonetic pronunciation.

A few years later, around 2009, this student brought a few friends together to ask for guidance… and the Philo4Thought discussion group was formed. A startup? Not really, just a discussion group. Coffee at the local diner with a few students, alumni and faculty exchanging ideas and making recommendations. We gradually mentored students from a variety of organizations, neighborhoods and university communities as they prepared to transition from one phase of their academic and professional training to the next. Soon the group was too large to sustain with the little budget I’d culled out from my own salary.

In 2014 we were officially granted the status of a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational foundation, The Philo4Thought Hellenic Mentoring Initiative, on the principle that we all deserve a fair shake at opportunity, especially here, in The Land of Opportunity. The organization is a “Hellenic Initiative” in the sense that we work to serve and support the Greek community but also in the sense that we bring an old-world Hellenic vision for Philotimo and Professional Parea to support those in need of professional development to reach their career goals. You don’t have to have financial wealth to lend a hand; you just need a spiritual wealth and a sense of determination.

Today we have a readership of over 176,000 people internationally who write, Skype, or attend one of our events to ask for advice, network with others to land good jobs, internships, mentors, and more. What’s more? Our small team of volunteers does it on a totally shoestring budget with the support of our community. A startup? Formally, yes, I suppose it is. An UPSTART? Yes, definitely, in the sense that it’s an expansion of the values instilled in me by my grandfather all those years ago, which I share with my team, which we share with the community.

The point of today’s post? Don’t let folks dictate who you are and what you should strive to become. Don’t let them clip your wings. Know and respect your own potential and find/build a network that helps you thrive.

Interested in attending an upcoming event or volunteering with us? Take a look at our website, “Like” us on Facebook, or tag us at to learn more.

Want to know if your organization is more of a startup or an upstart? Take a look at this link for a basic comparative definition: QUORA ARTICLE: CLICK HERE.

Have your own “upstart” story to share? Post a comment!


Mans hand drawing Startup concept on white notebook

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