What Did You Learn at School Today?

Rear view of class raising hands --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Rear view of class raising hands — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Life is a serious teacher, she gives the test first and the lesson afterwards,

When my daughter was young we had a ritual at the dinner table.  I would always ask the question: “What did you learn at school today?”.  Some days the responses just blurted out and other days it ways like pulling teeth.  But we kept at it for most of her early education years.  Sadly, now that she is away at Cambridge University I don’t get to quiz her every evening, much to her delight I am certain. Yet the process of reviewing the day and cementing the learnings, both good and not so great, is a healthy habit to have.

The unexamined life is not worth living.  ~Socrates

Well, last week I went back to school.  Not really, but figuratively.  I attended my 50th high school reunion in Arroyo Grande, California. Of the nearly 300 in my senior graduating class about 115 classmates showed up, and many spouses came along as well. Some of my thoughts on that weekend I wrote down in a previous blog: Time, Relationships and a 50th High School Reunion.

But now that a week has passed, more thoughts are surfacing about that experience.  After all, 50 years is a long time and my CPU is a little slower to process events!

So, time to turn the question back on myself: what did I learn at school today?

One important lesson has been rolling around in my brain since the Reunion. I can describe it as a pseudo math equation.

Input = Output.  

In terms of life this relates to the concept that what you put in is returned in equal measure. In my case, I chose to put in the effort to meet and engage with many students, integrate myself into the school and get involved in various school activities, sports, band, clubs, social activities. Since I came from another school and this was my first and only year at this high school, I chose to get involved. A clear lesson for me.

But as I reflect on the reunion and all the people I reconnected with, it dawned on me that their lives unfolded according to the same principle; Input = Output.  It’s not about personality or being outgoing vs being shy.  What I am referring to is deeper than popularity.  I spoke with many people over the course of the two-day reunion; some I barely knew in high school. And yet many of them told wonderful stories of not being the most popular person at school, but getting actively engaged in their life over the past 50 years. Some became teachers; a real area where Input = Output.  Some worked for social agencies or charities where their Input made a big difference in the lives of hundreds of others. Some worked in shops and public services, again with numerous stories about how they felt they were making a difference.

The unlived life is not worth examining!

It was pretty obvious to me those who chose to give a lot and those who gave less over the past 50 years. While it is natural to compare ourselves with others in terms of “success” when meeting again after 50 years, the real lesson is not how much we have accumulated or gotten from life, but how much we have given. How much we have made a difference. How much we have contributed, whether locally or on a bigger stage. How much better we have made our communities and our society.

And there is an odd corollary to this equation. Not only do we improve the lives of others, but our own life gains as well.

Input = Output.  And it really is an equal equation that works both ways!

Thanks to my great Arroyo Grande High School class of 1966 for the lessons learned at school!

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

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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One Response to What Did You Learn at School Today?

  1. Well said !

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