I did not like school.
I liked to learn, but I did not like school.
Most of the time I was bored and disinterested. My body was present in the classroom, but my mind was far away.
I did like learning what I considered useful and practical. Subjects like math and mechanical drawing I found interesting. Until I entered Georgia Tech, I was confident that I would be the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Why should an architect be bothered with English, social studies and that sort of material?
In addition to being disinterested, I thought the teaching methods were too rigid and required too much rote memory rather than creative thinking.
As a result of my attitude, I did not earn good grades. I did not like school.
However, when I entered the eight-grade I encountered a subject that
I loved! Algebra! It made sense to me. It was practical. I had no trouble understanding it. For Algebra, I was all-in!
During the first quarter, on every test, I received a perfect grade of 100. On every classroom assignment and every homework assignment, my grade was 100. I visualized taking my report card home at the end of the first quarter and showing my parents a perfect score, 100!
To my disbelief, the grade on my report card was 99. When I confronted my teacher, she said,“ No one is perfect.”
I was totally disappointed and discouraged.
For the next quarter, I put forth no effort and received a grade of 71 and a lecture from my teacher,“ James, you didn’t even try, you must always do your best.”
I decided to do my best for the third quarter, and again I received perfect grades of 100 on everything. At the end of the third quarter when I looked at my report card, again, I had only received a 99. I was angry and confronted the teacher, again she said,“No one is perfect.”
During the fourth quarter, I did just enough to get by. If I couldn’t get the recognition I deserved, I didn’t care what the grade was as long as I passed the course. When the teacher passed out the grades for the fourth quarter, she called me to her desk. She handed me my quarterly report with a grade of 79 and proceeded to give me advice.“ James, if … you ever want to amount to anything, you must … always do your best.”
Mrs. Kathleen Dolphin taught me more than basic algebra; she embedded an important lesson in the mind of a cocky, rebellious and uncooperative teenager.
It is a lesson that I have never forgotten. I learned that it didn’t matter who kept the score or whether they kept it correctly. It didn’t matter whether I got credit or recognition. What mattered was that … I knew … I had done my best. I didn’t like Mrs. Dolphin’s method, but I treasure her lesson.
Always … Do Your Best!
For 65 years, I have heard her speak to me. Thousands of times I have heard her voice and still hear it today. I did want to amount to something, and I slowly learned to follow her advice.
When I retired, I was asked, “If you could do it over again what would you change about your career?” My reply, “Nothing … I always did my best.”
Always … Do Your Best!
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