I’m sending this post out to those of you who have been giving unselfishly of your time helping others, whether formally as a teacher, coach, instructor, club leader, or more informally as a parent, mentor, trusted advisor, or friend. I suspect (and hope) that this includes most of you. I’ve tried to do my best at this, formally for over 15 years as a high school teacher and university instructor and more informally since then for the past 20 years.
I know firsthand that there are times when you wonder if it is all worth it. “Am I really helping? Does it matter? Am I making a difference? Am I having an impact?” My hope is that this post will help you to answer these questions with a most emphatic “YES!” I’d like to share a recent experience that puts the exclamation point on that answer, so I can encourage those of you who may be questioning your efforts to keep up the “good fight”.
Several weeks ago, I received one of those wonderfully unexpected and rare notes a teacher gets from a former student. One of my high school students from the class of 1988 (my last year of teaching before I decided to try out the private sector “just for a year” and came to work for Autodesk Inc.) This former student tracked me down last month via an online search and sent me an e-mail that said in part:
“Dear Mr. Hodgins,
After all these years, I’ve finally tracked down an email address for you. I hope you remember me, ….I graduated from your career prep drafting/ CAD class in 1988.
Although I never really applied myself in your class, nor any other for that matter, I wanted to let you know how much your classes affected my life. It not only gave me a solid foundation for which to grow on, but it also gave me a wealth of useful everyday information – like how tall standard door frames are for example. Immediately after completing high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do – so I went to work at my Dad’s automotive shop… which I stayed at for several years. It wasn’t something that I really enjoyed, but at the same time I didn’t want to let my Dad down either.
Today I am one of the General Managers of a global packaging company that is based in Tokyo. I still do a great deal of design work and use AutoCAD on a daily basis. I am solely responsible for this location and only report occasionally to the owner in Japan. Our facility here is 40,000 square feet and employees about 25 people.
It is very rare in life that we get a chance to say Thank-you to people that make a difference in our lives – I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on this opportunity to Thank-you and to let you know how much you contributed to my life. Without the education that I received from your class, I really don’t know what I would be doing today.
Next time you’re down this way, please let me know as I would enjoy buying you dinner and listening to whatever you’ve been up to in the past 20 years.”
Wow! Does this guy know how to make my day/week/year! I did indeed remember this student, in spite of the accuracy of his statement “I never really applied myself in your class, nor any other for that matter”. But as those I’m addressing here would know, you learn to never judge students (or anyone for that matter), especially ones at this age, by their outward appearances and behaviors. You can imagine how proud I am to learn about his great story and his success in life. He is a perfect example of why it DOES make sense to just give of your time without knowing when, how. or if you will ever be rewarded or what effect you will ultimately have. This one took almost 20 years to get back to me, but boy, did it ever come back!
We are all in this together and it is a rare one amongst us who doesn’t know that we owe a great deal of our success to those few special people we’ve had in our life to give us guidance, instill confidence in ourselves, and help us see and believe in our true potential, which is usually much greater than we’d otherwise imagine. I know that this recent example has inspired me to work ever harder and to lead by example.
So, to all of you who are currently doing your best to help guide and support others, and to those who are having some doubts about continuing or starting down such a path, I hope this small example will help you keep the faith and trust in the power of paying it forward.