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
John also writes thriller novels!