How Three Teachers Re-Defined Success for me

Redefining Success

Success is defined in many ways. Mostly, it is associated with money or fame or some individual grand act of courage. What if we saw success as the power to change people’s lives?

It was high school and like many other students, I was trying to find my way and my place. Sports and music were the two big areas that people were attracted to, and I had no real talent for either, so I didn’t even try to get involved. Thanks to the efforts of some teachers, that changed. Thanks to the efforts of some teachers, that changed. They taught me how to define and re-define success. They taught me how real leaders changes lives.

Hockey, Basketball, Band

First there was Mr. Dennis. He was big hockey fan and started an intramural field hockey league for whoever wanted to join. Of course, I didn’t, but Mr. Dennis’s goal wasn’t to just start a league. He wanted to engage students. He knew I wasn’t an athlete. He knew I would feel out of place in his project. Looking back, his strategy was simple. He asked me questions about what I was interested in and what I thought I might be good at. Then he approached me and asked for help! Would I be interested in helping to start a newspaper that would report on the hockey league? He explained what needed to be done and what he expected. He encouraged me to take a chance! I still have copies of the “Goalie,” the paper we put out. Along the way he promoted me to assistant editor to editor. He helped me celebrate my strengths.

Then there was Carl Tershak, the basketball coach. He knew I wanted to play basketball, but wasn’t good enough to make the team. He talked to me and discussed why I was interested. What would I be willing to do? He arranged to have two players from the team, one of them the captain, to work with me every day on my skills. Eventually, after a year of work, I tried out and made it on the team. Now, let’s be clear, I was not good. Carl put me on in recognition of what he said was my hard work and determination, not any real talent. For the next two years I pretty much sat on the bench—I used to joke I was wearing clothes underneath the warmups because there was no chance of me going in. But, I was part of the team and Carl always treated me as part of the team and in the culture he created all of the players did the same.

Finally, there was Blaise Perrillo, my biology teacher and the band leader. I love music. I love singing and wanted to learn how to play an instrument, but again that thing, talent, was the issue. Blaise encouraged me to join the band. I wanted to play trumpet, but he told me I had trombone lips. He had an agenda. I joined 2nd band. There were four trombone players in 1st band. It was safe. Well, all four left (I think Blaise knew that was going to happen) and I immediately became a member of the 1st band. Blaise worked with me every day. He questioned me about my concerns, and my mistakes. I was never really any good, but I played for the next three years.

So, what does all of this have to do with success? My definition of success was being the best or at least the top 3. If I couldn’t be the best, then I was too embarrassed to try. All three of these teachers helped redefine success for myself and in doing so changed me.

What did they do?

All of these teachers–and good teachers are all leaders– followed a similar course of action.

Recognized: They were aware of me and interested not only in what I was doing, but what I was capable of doing.

Questioned: They asked questions and listened. They engaged me in conversations, not lectures. They were interested in not only learning about me, but helping me to learn about myself. They made me think.

Support: They provided a plan and support without micro-managing me. I was allowed to make mistakes, while at the same time, offered timely and appropriate feedback that helped me learn and feel valuable and valued.

Encouraged: They provided consistent and sincere encouragement. They let me know they respected my growth and contributions. They helped me learn I could make a difference.

Celebrated: They celebrated my victories and taught me how to accept my failures. They recognized my contributions. They made me feel appreciated.


So what did it matter? What does it matter?

Except for this post, most likely no one will ever read about these people. They didn’t go on to become millionaires or captains of industry, but they did change lives, mine included. They created a sense of loyalty that motivated me to do better because of their belief in me. It was an early leadership lesson: Success is not measured by how much money we make or even in how successful our team is. Success is measured by how many lives we change.

Successful leaders, real leaders, change lives.

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