Learning a Life Lesson, The Painful Way . . .

Life is a harsh teacher.  It gives the test first and the lesson afterwards.

I was inspired to create this post after reading a posting from one of my favourite bloggers, David  Kanigan (Lead, Learn, Live).  I honestly can’t recall which exact post triggered this long-buried memory from high school (1964 to be exact) but once the memory resurfaced it tugged and screamed for acknowledgement.  To be free it needed to be expressed and finally given the dignity the situation deserves.

Because I learned such a huge life lesson from this incident and I believe that it contains one of the few real basic principles of living a successful life, I thought I should share the situation with my readers.  Maybe you have a similar situation that has provided an important “life lesson”. Or simply you can learn from my experience.

I was in my junior year of high school in a very small town in Northern California.  My father was the school Superintendent (that’s like the CEO of the school district, and comes with all the headaches, too) so I was fairly well-known because of that as well as for playing sports and being in the honour society (no internet or Facebook distractions back then, just sports and studying). The time was fast approaching for the Junior Prom, which was the major boy-girl dance at our school and entailed getting dressed up and being cool.  At that point I didn’t have a steady girl-friend and yet still wanted to attend this big social event, so I started asking my circle of friends for some “suggestions” (sounds corny today but that’s how it was back then).

About a week before the Prom one of my friends said that a friend of hers knew of a girl who wanted to go to the Prom with me.  When I heard the name I was shocked and to be honest, both embarrassed and slightly unnerved.  You see, in my school there were definite social cliques, mostly based on economic status and “looks”.  I imagine the same is true today, but these cliques were strong and had invisible but strong boundaries.  Well, my friend’s friend said that a certain girl, in my year, admired me and wanted desperately to go to the prom with me.  To be honest, I handled it very poorly and that was only the beginning of my life lesson.

First of all, I was concerned about my “image” as one of the “cool jocks and brains” of the school.  This girl lived in the housing projects (analogous to the ghetto in a big city), wasn’t in my social scene or even close, and certainly wasn’t one of the beautiful girls at school.  There was no way I would be seen going out with this girl, let along going to the prom.  So, I avoided the whole issue.  I ignored the request.  I avoided even speaking with my friend who was relaying the message for the next two weeks and made certain I was nowhere near any of them during breaks between classes or lunch period.  Basically, I hid out!  I knew this was not the right way to behave, but my ego and image took over completely.  I didn’t even have the courage and courtesy to be honest and say that I wasn’t interested.  I just avoided the whole thing, imagining it would go away and wasn’t really a big deal in the first place.

Then came the painful part.  A few days later she was hit by a car and killed while riding her bicycle across an overpass near town. A human life taken at such a young age is a travesty. Her potential contributions lost to the world.  Her family devastated. And I never had the courage to even talk to her or find out anything about her.  I know I had nothing to do with her death, but the fact that I could have been a friend or at least been friendly, but didn’t, has stayed with me for these past 48 years.  I learned a lesson that day.  I made a promise to be kind to everyone I meet, no matter how different we were on the outside.

And I have tried to keep that promise to myself, not always perfectly, but it is one of my basic principles for living a successful life and I still work at it.  Kindness costs nothing, but pays huge dividends to everyone.

I would like to hear if any of you have similar or powerful life lessons that I can learn from.

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. -Robert F. Kennedy

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

john@johnrchildress.com

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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4 Responses to Learning a Life Lesson, The Painful Way . . .

  1. I think you emoitionally scarred me and it was not my story. Thanks for the powerful reminder.

    Like

  2. John, this was a very moving story. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  3. Mike Petrusek says:

    Dear John: This experience of yours brings to mind my number one rule for myself when it comes to relationships. ” I’m ok, your ok.” I know it is the name of a book from the 70s, but I live by the rule. I have found that everyone has something wothwhile to offer if you just give them a chance.

    Like

  4. Pingback: 4:02am and Inspired… – Lead.Learn.Live.

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