We’ve all heard stories about ‘self-made men or women’ and marvelled at their stories, and wished we were them. The truth, however, is that very few (if any) people are truly ‘self-made’. Be they negative influences or positive ones, the people in our lives, from birth to old age, have a large part in dictating who we are. The people who surround you are the people who also influence who you will be. It is always a good idea to be selective about the people you choose to let into your inner circles!
Among the people who can have massive influences on our lives are mentors and role models – I’d like to introduce you to one of mine.
I first met Frazer Buntin when I attended my first Beyond the Gates weekend at Sewanee. Frazer is a Sewanee alumnus who was assigned to be my mentor for the weekend. While we were unable to connect over the weekend itself, as he had to return home due to a family commitment, we found some time to connect shortly afterward, and I was impressed by what I learnt about him.
Often enough, ‘formal’ mentorships end up not working as well as mentorships that develop over time, but I’m lucky enough that in my case, with Frazer, the first naturally led to the second. We stayed in touch, and throughout the years, he has guided me, advised me, believed in me, and been an invaluable sounding board for when I’ve needed someone to bounce ideas off of. Most, if not all of the career related decisions I’ve taken after graduation were taken after consulting Frazer.
Over the four years that I’ve known him, I’ve always felt that I should share his story with more people, so that they could also get inspired as I have – and now, I have the chance! Over the next few posts, I’ll be featuring Frazer as he tells us a little bit more about his life, his work, and an exciting project that he’s working on!
|Sewanee the Light by Stephen Alvarez|
Early childhood and Education
I would describe my early childhood as “a silver spoon and a brown shovel”. I grew up on a family farm just outside of Nashville, as the 5th generation of our family to live on this land. Uniquely, my father was not a farmer but the farm was an active agricultural farm as opposed to many “hobby farms” that exist today. As such, the brown shovel side was parts of every summer and weekend that were spent doing hard, physical labor.
For those who haven’t been exposed to a farm, don’t think milking a cow but rather, works such as using a heavy gas-powered weed eater for 8 hours to keep fence rows clear or loading several hundred bales of hay up into a hot, dusty barn in late August. These experiences taught me to be tough, to have confidence in my physical abilities, to want to contribute as an individual, and to “pull my own weight”. As part of this experience, I interacted with all sorts of people associated with farm life. Many had minimal education, were poor by today’s economical standards, and lived simple lives. However, all were kind, interesting, dedicated, and full of ingenuity. All of them wanted more for their kids than they had for themselves. This exposure helped me learn that appearances and education and clothes and houses don’t define a person. I like to think spending time with Albert, Ron, Tinnie, Ernest, and Lolla to name a few, helped me be more open to others throughout my life. It took me a while to come around to that realization – but I see it clearly now.
As for the silver spoon, the other half of my life consisted of the best private school education from kindergarten through to business school. My father owned his own advertising agency in Nashville so we drove to “town” everyday – 45 minutes each way where he traded overalls for a suit and led national accounts for 45+ years as the CEO of a very successful agency. My siblings and I were lucky enough to attend fantastic schools and be friends with others in that environment.
One Saturday might have been shoveling shit on the farm and the next Saturday was a tennis clinic at a country club. It was very schizophrenic, but it kept me grounded as well as allowed me to succeed culturally. All my academic and social life was in Nashville and all my family life was at the farm. It was almost a 50-50 split though. We travelled extensively as a family and covered much of the globe. My parents firmly believed in investing in experiences and culture and education.
I never have driven a new car in my life however, so we were not the “new BMW with a bow on top for our 16th birthday” type of family. We were more of “hand me down cars with 100,000 miles on them but then a trip to Africa for Spring Break” type of family. My father is a bit of a renaissance man and my mother an absolute rock of a person. Values were part of our lives from an early age. We were taught to care about things, to make good decisions, and simply – to be good people.
There were never career path expectations for me. There was never a push to define a college major and march toward that field. I was encouraged to find things that interested me and then bust my ass at them.
I attended college at The University of the South, commonly referred to as Sewanee. I was drawn to it, as it was a small school with a lot of physical space. Additionally, the culture and feeling of the school fit me. Probably most importantly and embarrassingly though, I applied early admission and got in and I have always chosen completion over accuracy, so I chose the first school I applied to. I liked the small class size, the formality of the interaction between student and teacher, the traditions, and yet the ability to be creative.
I actually struggled with both finding my interest and busting my ass considerably though in college, primarily because of the interest side. I am a super practical person and liberal arts educations don’t match with that type of wiring. I majored in Natural Resource Management as naively, I thought it would be nice to be outside during the labs. I know. I am shaking my own head at that decision-making as well. That is some brilliant freshman year logic!
My favorite class ended up being Industrial Psychology as it clicked with the practical side of my brain. Sewanee prepared me for the real world, not in an academic way, but rather how to analyze a situation, be accountable for my actions, speak my mind with logic and preparation, interact with different types of people, and build a network. These skills are much more ambiguous but are more easily carried throughout a career.
I wish I had a do-over at Sewanee though. I don’t regret much in my life but I do regret not marinating (yes, that’s the right word) in the opportunities at Sewanee. I missed out on things because I thought I would miss out on other things. As such, I often chose the wrong things. This regret is part of growing up though and helps me reflect now to consider what I might be missing out on because I think I might miss out on something else. What will I see in 20 years from now when looking back?
After 5 years of career experience after graduating from Sewanee, I found my academic groove at business school at Vanderbilt when the practical side of my wiring and the content of the program married nicely. Correspondingly, I learned a lot more applicable academic content and my GPA reflected it. Although, by business school, I cared not about the grade but rather the absorption of information.
Keep an eye out for our next post, where we find out more about Frazer and his career so far!