"What is the most meaningful object in your life and why?"

It's a simple question, but the answer can never be so. From the murex-shell pincushion Cheryl Strayed's mother gave her, or the pocket atlas Ta-Nahesi Coates keeps to remind him of what possibilities exist, or even the championship trophy Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks won in 2011, the things we keep may not be precious in the value sense of the word, but they are no less vital, says Bill Shapiro, the co-author of the upcoming What We Keep, a collection of 150 objects and the stories behind them.

"If you can keep your North Star on this thing that motivated you from early on and had ultimately held truth for you, that's a guiding light for some of these successful entrepreneurs. It keeps them focused on what's really important to them," says Shapiro, who in his book posed this question not only to entrepreneurial luminaries and celebrities but also to regular people like an Iowan steakhouse owner or a fly-fishing guide in Colorado.

"We all have these stories," says Shapiro, who is a former editor of LIFE magazine. "These items come to represent and physically embody these really powerful stories that tell us who we are, make us who we are and keep us true," Shapiro says.

Here, are just two tales--excerpted from the book, out September 25--from a couple of the more famous entrepreneurs Shapiro and co-author Naomi Wax spoke with.

Melinda Gates, co-chair,  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

This Apple III was a gift from my father, who was an engineer working with NASA. I was about 16, and we were all supposed to share it, but I took it over almost immediately and persuaded my parents to let it live in my bedroom. I spent hours on it playing games and learning to code, and  my dad more or less had to ask permission  to use it. But he didn't seem to mind; he was  always incredibly supportive of my interests in science  and computers.

After I took a job at Microsoft, I had the Apple III sent to Seattle because it reminded me of how a computer changed my life. Our dream was to revolutionize the way billions of men and women lived and  worked, and it was nice, as my career went along--I eventually oversaw Expedia and Encarta--to have a memento of my own journey.

There were a lot more women getting computer science degrees when the Apple III was released in 1980 than there are today. When I talk about the urgent need to help more girls see a future in technology, it's not just because I think it would be good for those girls--though I do. It's also because I think it would be better for society. Even now, as we run our foundation, the Apple III is a symbol of our conviction that innovation makes the future better for everyone--and we all benefit when there are more voices at the table making decisions. It turns out that one of the single best predictors of whether a woman goes into a STEM field is whether or not her father believed in her when she was growing up. Well, my father did, in spades.

Mark Cuban, owner,  Dallas Mavericks;  "Shark" on Shark  Tank

In  the NBA, every year there is one winner and 29 teams that tie for last place. To climb that mountain, to reach the pinnacle of the NBA, was incredible. Not just for me and the organization but for Mavs fans around the world. There are few industries that can bring millions of people together to celebrate; they don't throw a parade when Apple or Amazon has a great year.

I've been a basketball junkie for as long as I can remember. Some people travel or bike or cook  to clear their head and calm their nerves. I shoot baskets, play pickup. That's who I am. The feel of the ball leaving my hand. The arc of a shot. The sound of the ball swishing through the net is cathartic. Hitting a game winner against a kid half my age in pickup will put a smile on my face for the rest of my day.

When I was a kid, I never dreamed that any of this would be a possibility. Seeing our trophy every day is a reminder of just how fortunate I've been--and I never want to take any of it for granted.

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Published on: Sep 25, 2018