Last week, I had a conversation with one of my students. He has been struggling with managing some anger and finding the motivation to produce and learn at school, and he recurring theme is that he wants to go home. The interesting thing is, when I ask him what he wants to do at home, his reply is “nothing.” In the course of our conversation, I shared with him the secret to how he could find success and be happier, and when I did I swear I saw his face brighten and a light go on in his eyes.
I told him that I wasn’t the principal of our school because I was some kind of super genius or because I had special talents. I admitted that I was good at thinking about things in different ways, but really it came down to that I worked my [tail] off to have do what I do.
Conveniently, I was standing in front of my framed Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree diploma’s, and below is how I went on (parentheses are thoughts I had after, but didn’t share with him)
I went to school for 18.5 years to get these two stupid pieces of paper that say I can be a principal. They are stupid, but they are important and mean something. They mean I worked hard and it took me a long time to get them. I completed:
- 13 years of elementary, middle, and high school (didn’t have a lot of friends, wasn’t the smartest or the coolest, but I learned and “played the game to get the grade” at times).
- 4 years of College (averaging 22 credits to earn a B.A. in Music with triple emphasis to be certified to teach in any K-12 music room while working a part time job, volunteering as a church youth group leader, and wooing the love of my life).
- 2.5 years of a Master’s degree (where I completed courses over the summer while on vacation, and for a semester, drove an hour and 15 minutes one way two nights a week to get to classes that weren’t being offered again for a year and half)
Then, on top of earning those papers, I taught music for 12 years (where I’d show up at 6:30AM for a zero hour course and for months at a time come home after 9:00PM because of a music rehearsal, pep band, or concert) and took on a variety of extra responsibilities that would help me understand how to lead a school. School doesn’t get you everything; you need experiences too.
I had a goal – to be a principal – and I worked hard to get there. That’s it. I had a plan and I worked hard, and you can work hard and have the potential to do what makes you happy so you can make a great life for yourself. The best part is, you can start today!
I share these things (including those parentheses), not to brag – because everyone has their own stories of how they worked hard and many are more impressive than mine – but because as I was explaining it at the time and thought about it later, I was proud of what I had done and proud of the fact that I had walked my talk.
The rest of the day went really well for that student, but in all honestly, it’s been up and down since as we are still trying to figure out what his passion is help him experience the joy of hard work paying off. My hope is that he, and the many other students, like him understand that you don’t need special genius powers or insane talents to get what you want.
Let’s be real, it’s important that students know successful people work hard and we have to tell them because they don’t see it.
They don’t know that famous athletes spend hours in the gym conditioning, practicing, and perfecting form.
They don’t know that Youtube stars market themselves like crazy, spend time editing videos and brainstorming ideas to maintain people’s interest.
And they certainly don’t know that their teachers and principals show up early, stay late, work from home on weekends, or give up their only free time during the day to help students at lunch.
No one needs a pat on the back for these things, but they matter and they make a difference.
A Prologue for an epilogue
Two closing ideas
First, take it back about a month, I started reading Angela Duckworth’s Grit, and my wife said to me, “Why are you reading that? You don’t need to read that book. You have plenty of grit.” I asked her what she meant, and she replied, “I watched you apply for principal jobs for 5 years, interview, and come up short so many times. A lot of people would have quit, but you didn’t. You did it. You are a principal now, and if nothing else, you wore everyone else down and lasted the longest to get where you are.”
Although I explained I was reading it to gain a deeper understanding of how to apply it to school leadership and my students, she was right. I’m living the dream and landed in a school with a staff, students, and family community that couldn’t have been a better fit.
Second The icing on the cake was that when I took this job, I was told by my supervisor:
“You may be young and people will question some of the decisions you make, but always remember, you were hired because you were the best person for the job. You earned it.”
If you read this blog post, let those words be icing for you too. You were hired as the best person for the job you have. You earned it.