How living off the grid as a child helped me find success–and understand the importance of paying it forward

Living off the grid was the starting point for Lance Doiron's interest in renewables.
Courtesy of Lance Doiron

As employee no. 10 at a startup renewable energy company that was acquired by a larger energy concern, I have seen how many defeats went into each success we worked so hard to attain.

Fortunately, my upbringing prepared me to overcome the physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding challenges required to endure at work–like working 80-hour weeks and sleeping on the conference room floor.

Two core tenets have impacted my success. Thomas Edison once stated, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” And Bryant McGill said, “Giving is the master key to success, in all applications of human life.” I see these as foundational imperatives for success.

Many of my liabilities created real opportunities. This includes being forced to live off the grid for a time when I was younger, which led to my interest in renewable energy in the first place.

What’s more, through a nonprofit that markedly helped me on my journey and that I volunteer for today, the Horatio Alger Association, I have met some remarkably successful individuals who share their stories of accepting and giving help. The trajectory of my life would not have been the same if I hadn’t met–and accepted help from–an inspirational group of peers and mentors.

Success fuels philanthropy, philanthropy fuels success

Successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs fuel the economy, create jobs, and change people’s lives for the better. I believe the free enterprise system should be celebrated, not criticized. When we prosper, we can help others to do the same. What’s more, we can support nonprofits and NGOs that create opportunities for future generations of business leaders and workers.

There are numerous organizations that help students with scholarships, mentoring, or even starting businesses. I want to recognize those who have helped me along the way because they accepted me unconditionally and taught me that I’m not alone and that people are there to help those who are willing to help themselves.

When we become successful and give back, the cycle repeats itself and it facilitates even more accomplishments while fostering hope for others.

Adversity, the great teacher

I was born to very young parents who struggled financially. My dad worked in auto collision repair and my mother worked multiple jobs. When I was seven years old, we lost our home.

We lived in Maine and had to move “off the grid” for a time without running water or electricity. We used coolers instead of refrigerators, an outdoor gas grill instead of a stove, and got by with strictly the essentials.

What I learned from that experience is invaluable. It taught me not to take things for granted, that it takes hard work to get somewhere, and the importance of renewable energy, which drove my interest in electrical engineering.

Finding mentors and nurturing a like-minded peer network has helped me not only to view my past as a stepping stone but also to appreciate the importance of accepting help from complete strangers, adopting a never-give-up attitude, and paying it forward.

Ask for help

Vulnerability is tough for most people. I’m no exception. I knew my family couldn’t afford to pay for my post-secondary education and that the three jobs I worked concurrently during high school would not fund it either, so I went online and persistently searched for scholarships. The hard work paid off and I secured numerous scholarships and the opportunity to attend the Association’s Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

When I arrived at this gathering of members and scholars in 2011, I did not know a soul. But the warmth and energy were incredible and within a few days, I realized how special the group is–and I knew I belonged. That experience proved to me that if I am willing to open up and accept help from others, anything is possible.

While the scholarship dollars really helped, the trip to D.C. was the most valuable thing I received. I tapped into a level of support and inspiration I had never known prior, and it is still one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had.

Never give up

My fellow scholars and successful businesspeople have all overcome adversity to achieve incredible things–academically, in business, and in the world.

What “not giving up” meant to me included the successful search for scholarships, completing a four-year engineering degree in three years (the first in my family to graduate with a four-year degree), and, after college, becoming part of an exciting startup–one that’s aligned with my passion for renewable energy.

However, I don’t give myself all the credit! The success I’ve experienced is not only due to hard work (and not giving up) but also to the like-minded people I’ve met along the way. This persistence mindset is an integral part of my success and the success of countless individuals I’ve met, regardless of age.

Pay it forward

When we succeed despite racial inequities and difficult economic circumstances, it’s imperative to give back. I proudly do this in several ways: I give time to a Boys & Girls Club’s robotics program and volunteer as a field director for the Horatio Alger Association.

I make students aware of scholarship and networking opportunities, help them with the rigorous scholarship application process, and send them care packages and personal letters. I haven’t forgotten where I came from and giving in this way reinforces my gratitude and cultivates contentment.

Lance Doiron is a 2011 National Scholar of the Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit organization committed to helping youth overcome adversity to achieve greatness. He graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering and is an engineering manager at Generac Power Systems.

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