I was 19 years old in the picture on the left, and while I was so happy to be with the beautiful girl next to me, who would eventually become my wife, I had been struggling in one major area of my life for the past many years, and little did I know when that picture was taken, I would continue to struggle in that area for years to come. (That was a long sentence)
Ya see, when I stood for that picture, I had just completed my freshman year of college, and I must confess that my college experience, my high school experience and my middle school experience were horrible — absolutely horrible — not because of the schools — not because of my peers — not because of the impending Y2K bug that was guaranteed to end the world as we knew it — but because of my grades. (This sentence was even longer)
I had almost no chance of graduating!
I was never a straight A student. Let me rephrase that — I was never a straight B student. Actually, let me rephrase that — I was never a straight Cstudent. Actually . . . . Well, you get the idea. My grades were bad — really really bad. I can’t tell you how many times I prayed to God that I would get a D on a test, just so that I at least passed (Spoiler Alert: God frequently did not answer that prayer).
After I had completed 1/2 of a year in 6th grade, my parents and the school decided that I should be put back in 5th grade. By the time I finally reached 7th grade I had completed 1 1/2 years of 5th grade and 1 1/2 years of 6th grade. Weird, right? Unfortunately that change did not help. In fact, it really just prolonged my misery. My grades were still “less than stellar” to say the least.
By the time I reached my senior year of high school, nothing had improved, and I was warned by the school counselor that unless I made drastic academic improvement I would not be graduating and would have to do my senior year over. For someone who hated school, that was not what I wanted to hear. By some miracle, I got my grades just high enough to earn my high school diploma, but then it was off to college . . . .
I was naively hoping that my college experience would be better. Guess what? It wasn’t! In fact, during my Junior year of college, my parents pulled me out of school for an entire semester and forced me to work a part time job (I was a deli clerk at Weis Markets. I ate a lot of lunch meat during that time). My parents hoped that being pulled from school would motivate me to improve my academic performance. Want to take a guess as to whether or not that helped me? Well, if you guessed that it did not help me, you would be correct. (Gold star for you — something I never received).
My senior year of college was just like my senior year of high school. It became clear that I would not be graduating on time if I did not pull my grades up. In the final months of that school year, I met with individual teachers asking them for grace in their grading. I sought extra credit. But, even with the extra work, that was not enough. I ended up having to redo certain classes just to get my GPA up to a passing level. Eventually I did graduate and vowed to never enroll in a school program again.
My life by that point was really characterized by academic failure (Also, I was horrible at sports, so that did not help my overall confidence). I felt like a failure and questioned what my life would look like, if I couldn’t even pass 5th grade. Since school is such a big part of the life of a teenager and young adult, it was a big part of my feelings of failure.
After graduating from college I joined the work force and surprisingly landed a couple dream jobs, that I had really wanted (Apparently they never asked to see my school transcripts. That’s on them). Being in a “real job” forced me to take things a bit more seriously. Surprisingly they don’t just give you a semester off if you need some additional motivation to complete your work. In fact, if you are not producing, they tend to provide you with a permanent, unpaid “leave of absence.” I really didn’t want to be fired, so I learned, I grew and I developed organizational skills that alluded me in my teenage years. And as it turned out, I actually like learning — I liked producing quality work — I liked being structured and organized. (Who Woulda Thought?).
As I got further in to adulthood I realized I was becoming a life long learner. I read books and blogs. I went to conferences and took detailed notes. I listened to podcasts and audio books, and before long I was actually pretty good at this “productivity” thing.
Then something happened . . . .
I did something I vowed I would never do . . . .
I enrolled in to a Masters Degree program. “What? Are you nuts? Didn’t you learn your lesson?” are all things the little man in my brain yelled at me. (Everyone has a little person in their brain, right? Or is that just me?) I was committed to doing it though — win, lose or draw (I just remembered that “Win, Lose or Draw” was the name of a Pictionary style game show on TV when I was a kid. I’m gonna have to look that up on the YouTube machine).
And so my Masters journey began . . .
It was weird being in school again. Not necessarily a bad weird, but more like an awkward weird — like when you happen to run across an old friend after like 14 years and you excitedly yell “Hey! Jim!” and then you remember his name is actually Chad — and then your further notice that he is walking hand in hand with your old high school girlfriend, Tracy! I don’t want to talk about it — it was a messy breakup. Anyway . . . .
What was also weird about enrolling in school again is the fact that I noticed my grades were actually decent — in fact, they were good — especially compared to the grades I received in high school. After three years and a lot of hard work, I graduated with my degree and received all A’s and B’s. I had finally learned how to do this school thing.
Now, in my late 40’s, I look back at my teenage and young adult years and wish that I knew then what I know now. I wish that there was someone who could have taught me the lessons then, that I didn’t learn until much later in life.
I have learned over the past several years that there are three crucial keys that have helped me get where I am now:
(1) Wisdom (I’m not claiming to be King Solomon himself, but I regularly seek wisdom).
(2) Confidence (The more confident I am — not arrogant — the better I create and produce).
(3) Intentionality (Its all about being intentional with my time, my money, my relationships etc…)
As a Teen Coach, I’m excited to be able to convey these important life lessons to the middle school and high school students that I coach. Whether their struggle is academic, or if it is something completely different, every teenager can benefit greatly to develop in wisdom, confidence and intentionality.
They certainly benefitted me!