All Aboard: Sean Strong

sean strongTo know Sean Strong is to love him. His friends describe him as cool, genuine and sincere with a kind heart. As a child he had an unusual interest in trains. He fondly remembers giving neighborhood children rides on his ‘train’ by connecting grocery carts together with string. When it was time to attend outdoor school, Sean emptied his bags his mother packed and replaced all his clothes with trains! Some people just know what it is they are destined to do while others spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. Sean knew and made his passion a career by becoming one of a handful of Black Amtrak engineers. Sean is a living example of hard work paying off. While in his 20’s, Ebony magazine listed Sean, along with Tavis Smiley and others, as a future leader; he did not disappoint. Aside from trains, Sean loves music. He’s featured in a Beyonce video and knows some of the top movers and shakers in Hollywood. He’s traveled the world! Someone with half Sean’s experiences might walk around with a Big Head, not Sean. He remains as humble as the kid tying grocery carts together with string. The year 2013 marks his 20th anniversary with Amtrak. Congratulations Sean! I recently spoke with Sean, here’s what he had to say,

Hello Sean, How are you?
Thanks for asking, I’m doing great! This is my 20th year with Amtrak so I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on my journey, career and all the situations that have taken place in my life that brought me to where I am today. I still find it amazing that the 10 yr. old kid who was almost sent home from outdoor school (camp) for filling my suitcase with model trains, and the kid who tied shopping carts together to mimic a train, is now living in the biggest city in the nation and driving the fastest train in the nation!  Things weren’t always easy and didn’t always go the way I wanted them to go. But, God had a plan for my life. After 42 years of living, I realize things went exactly the way they were supposed to.  I figure my 20 yr. anniversary with Amtrak would come and go with little notoriety or fanfare until you approached me about this article for your new blog. I’m going to use this moment to say thanks for the recognition and I’m truly grateful to be a part of a blog that celebrates the beauty and achievements of my people! It makes all my sacrifices well worth it.

You are doing it! Oh my goodness… I’ll come back to that in a minute, I would like to start by asking, Why did you leave Portland?
I initially left Portland in 1997 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. I was a conductor at that time. I had aspirations of being an engineer. Amtrak had a greater presence with more room for growth and the majority of record labels, agents and entertainment people, live in Los Angeles or New York.  It just seemed like a win/win situation at the time. One huge advantage I had was working for a national company with crew bases in most major cities in America. This made it so I didn’t have to look for a job which is half the battle for many individuals who make plans to relocate.

Do you think you’ll ever move back to Portland?
In 2001, after a visit to New York, I said I could never live here. A year later, I ate those words! So, I never say never. However, I can say I don’t have any plans to move back to Portland. Not to take anything away from Portland, It’s a beautiful city.  I’m amazed at how it’s grown over the years. But I’ve been away so long and so many dynamics have changed to so many neighborhoods that in a lot of ways it’s really not the Portland I remember. I consider myself to have a very eclectic personality. Sometimes I like being out gallivanting around the city being in the middle of everything and other times I don’t want to be bothered. Because of the size of New York, I always have an option to choose. I don’t have to wait until the weekend or the next big act to come to town. I’m also a huge fan of the rapid transit system in New York. I love not having to drive; I haven’t driven in so long I’m more comfortable behind the controls of a train than driving a car.

Getting back to your career, some years ago you appeared in an Ebony magazine future leaders article along with Tavis Smiley and a host of others. You’ve worked with Beyoncé and more. You’re a singer, you travel the world and you’re an engineer…woosh! You are successful on so many different levels. How does this feel? Are you settled in your success?
Wow, you guys really do your homework! There have been some exciting things to happen in my life. I’m very grateful for all the accolades and honorable mentions. I can’t really say  I’ve reached the end road of success. I’m just a hard working person pursuing his dreams. I’m trying to live my best life, taking the good with the bad and enjoying the process. I think real success is measured by your own personal happiness; when you can truly be happy being who you are, wherever you are, regardless of how many people are paying attention. I see people who are sad because they want to be more successful and successful people who are sad when they realize success doesn’t make them happy. Peace of mind! That’s success to me.

Do you think you could have achieved the same level of success in Portland, why or why not?
I can’t say for sure because I left, but I believe so. I was a conductor, featured in Ebony magazine and wrote a song with Nu Shooz all before I left Portland. I believe your environment plays a role but it’s your faith, diligence, work ethic and integrity that will keep your life moving forward and towards your dreams regardless of where you are.

What are some of the pitfalls you encountered on your rise to the top and how did you overcome them?
To mention all the pitfalls I’ve experienced over the last 20 years of my life would require a novel. So I’d rather focus on some of the ways I got over them. 1. Be faithful and trust that God has a plan for your life. 2. Stay in control of your mind and don’t let your mind control you 3. Don’t be afraid to walk away from toxic relationships 4. Trust your gut 5. Don’t be afraid to fail but be smart about pursuing your dreams! 6. Surround yourself with likeminded individuals who have your best interest at heart and inspire you to take your life to the next level 7. Work hard and be patient, don’t be jealous or concerned about what everybody else has,  be grateful for what you have. 8. Learn from your mistakes don’t let them defeat you. 9. Be a person of integrity. If you borrowed it, pay it back. If you say you’ll be there, show up! That unpaid utility bill will come back to haunt you when you need a job/ house or credit. Don’t put people in boxes and make authentic relationships with people who have good hearts.  Don’t silo yourself.  You could miss out if you do.

What are you up to now? Any trips, music projects or anything else exciting you can share? Sean, we got travel envy going through your Facebook pictures!
These days I spend the majority of my time at work. My job demands a lot of my time and can be both physically and mentally exhausting.  However, as I get older I’m trying to better manage my time. Whoever wrote the song “I’ve been working on the railroad all the live long day” was no doubt a railroader. The good part is I love what I do and I firmly believe my worst day doing something I love is better than my best day doing something I despise! I’m still working on balancing my life better and infusing more hobbies and other things I enjoy doing into my life. I’ve decided to revisit my musical past and I’ve teamed up with Chris Turner to collaborate on new music! I wouldn’t mind writing for other artists as well as myself. I’m in the process of launching seanstrongmusic.com so keep a look out!

What’s the one thing Portland has that NY cannot replace?
Great scenery and fresh, reasonably priced groceries.

Are you single?
Yes, I’m single until I find the right one! They’re out there somewhere we just haven’t met!