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Lessons from the Fanelli Pellegrinaggio: Part I

Earlier this year, around Easter time, I took a bucket-list-fulfilling trip to Italy with my eldest son, Dominic. "Pellegrinaggio" is the Italian word for pilgrimage.  We went to the Comino Valley, in the province of Frosinone, and in the Italian region, Lazio. From this place, Giuseppe Fanelli, my paternal grandfather, emigrated to the USA in 1914. We met cousins who still lived there, saw places where our ancestors lived, worshipped, and were buried, and heard new stories about them.   My cousin Roger inherited the house where our grandfathers were born, and he graciously let us stay there for five wonderful days.  While there we learned that this region is also called the "Ciocioria". Travelers from abroad are just now becoming aware of this 'secret region' of Italy. 

I learned that my great-grandfather, Antonio, built a compound of homes with his brothers in a tiny village named Serravoglio about 150 years ago. They are all buried in a cemetery at Chiesa Madonna Delle Rose (Our Lady of the Roses Catholic Church) in nearby Roselli. We attended Easter Sunday Mass there. Our cousin Anna Maria Fanelli lives in the 'Fanelli compound' next door to the house where we stayed.   The center of local commerce is a delightful town, Casalvieri, founded in 1017.  Pietro and Linda D'Agostino own and operate Bar del Cuore in Casalvieri.  It's both a coffee shop and gelateria where we began and ended our days touring the Ciocioria. True to form, Pietro,Linda and their adult children, Michele and Olivia, treated us like Famiglia (family), knew our Italian cousins and ancestors, and even knew we were coming to Italy!  

Traveling the region in a manual transmission Smart car that we rented in Cassino, we visited Monte Cassino Abbey, where St. Benedict founded the Benedictine Order around 529 AD. It's been completely rebuilt since it was bombed to rubble by the Allies during WWII in the Battle of Monte Cassino, as it was a Nazi stronghold. I learned that the Nazi's evicted the Fanelli's from their homes when they occupied the area and the family had to live in caves up in the hills. My grandfather found a way to send them food, money, and clothing from Detroit during this time.  My cousins still are grateful to Zio Pepino (Uncle Joey)  to this day!

LESSON #1: KNOW WHERE YOU COME FROM

I was practicing Italian on duoLingo in the months before the trip, and I rehearsed this phrase, "Mio Nonno e' nato vicino qui."..."My grandfather was born near here."  That one phrase struck a chord with people in the Ciocioria region, and started meaningful conversations.  Why?  My hunch is that there is an intuitive recognition that we share a common identity, that we are part of the same tribe.  I realized more deeply that I shared some values with the strangers in the Ciocioria such as the importance of family and community.  This was Dominic's  4th trip to this region and the cousins and their neighbors treated him like he had arrived home.  I realized that this place was shaping our identities before we were born!  

Three years ago, I crowd-sourced the design of my business logo, a stylized pathway toward the sun through a green valley toward distant hills, against a blue sky. The view from front yard of the house in which my grandfather was born looks down to the Comino Valley with the Apennine mountains off in the distance. One can see the SS-690 highway in the middle of the valley, with vehicles motoring between Cassino and Sora.  The dominant colors of this landscape on a sunny day are green and blue.  This was my first trip to Italy. This place must etched into my subconscious!

View from the front yard of the home where grandfather Giuseppe (Joseph) Fanelli was born in 1896. See the Apennine Mountains across the Comino Valley.

View from the front yard of the home where grandfather Giuseppe (Joseph) Fanelli was born in 1896. See the Apennine Mountains across the Comino Valley.

The importance of self-understanding to effective leadership has been a major emphasis over the last 20 years of leadership study. One study cited in the Sloan Mangement Review in 2012 found that "75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council rated self-awareness as the most important capability for leaders to develop."  Knowing where you come from deepens this understanding, as you discern how values and ways of operating have been shaped. There are many ways to deepen self understanding, but paramount are some fundamental questions to ask oneself:

  • What's my purpose in life and/or work?

  • What are my passions?

  • What are my strengths?

  • What do I value?

  • What are my weaknesses?

Knowing where you come from can give you some clues on your answers to these questions. As I learned, knowing where one comes from reinforces one's unique identity and gives color to one's life and work ... in my case, literally!