I probably have my mother to thank for making me take responsibility for ﬁnding that better reality. She wouldn’t let me make excuses for myself. She tried to teach me there was more to life than sports and dancing. She made me scrub the ﬂoors at Winchell’s after her late shift. She said to me, “Don’t do half a job.” I learned the discipline of doing things all the way, no matter what challenges presented themselves.
Whatever we want to do, there are almost always obstacles we have to overcome. They may be external, such as a lack of money or physically being in the wrong place. You can’t train horses in Antarctica. If you’re seven foot two, you’re not going to be a jockey. You may have family responsibilities that you can’t shirk. You may need to learn a new skill, reach out to new people, or otherwise change the way you live your life. The obstacles may be internal—old habits, old rules that have been passed down, a lack of self-confidence, fear.
Whatever they are, they’re not adding to your life, they are adding to your drag. You’re dragging around all this extra weight. You’re not who you really are, you’re that person plus all that other weight. In the years after my father died, I carried around a lot of weight. I wasn’t doing well in school, my father was gone, and my family was searching for a center. It was a long time before things started to get better.
I had difficulty with reading and writing, so I was labeled a “troubled student.” That was the label they put on me, even when they didn’t say those words to my face. That label determined how I was looked at, how people treated me, and even how I felt about myself. That label became my image. The dictionary defines image as “the opinion or concept of something that is held by the public,” or “the character projected to the public.” I picked up that label, put it on my forehead, and wore it all over that school. I was the class clown, I didn’t pay attention in school, I didn’t make any efforts with my schoolwork.
I had to ﬁnd out how to get beyond this world of setbacks, to tear off those labels. And I did, but I didn’t do it alone. It happened because of some things I chose, and it happened because of some things that chose me. One of the things that chose me was Mr. Probert.
Mr. Probert was one of my teachers, and a funny guy. He looked and acted a little like Mr. Rogers. Even down to the sweaters. He’d come into class, take his sweater off, fold it up, and put it in a plastic bag, like he was working at Brooks Brothers. But he wouldn’t accept my label. He told me I should work harder, because I was better than I thought. He saw the best in me, not the label on me. He argued with me a lot, and in the end he won. He convinced me that I had value. Mr.Probert saved my soul.
I realize now that Mr. Probert saw me from a God’s-eye view. I don’t know if he would say it that way, and you don’t have to say it that way, but you can see it that way no matter how you say it. I didn’t have to show Mr. Probert anything. I didn’t have to turn somersaults, do math problems, or show him my Superman suit. He just knew it was there.
And I’ve learned that it’s there in everyone. Some of you may think that doing something wonderful is beyond you. You’re too young, you’re too poor, you’re too dumb, you’re too shy. And all those may be true all at once. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a wonder.
Remember, there are many kinds of wonderful. Some kinds are obvious, but not all of them. Maybe not even most of them. Before you can see what your life’s purpose is, you need to clear away the things that are obscuring your vision, diverting you from your true path, and dulling your appetite for life without really nourishing you. It’s time to take a look around, rub that sleep out of your eyes, and ask yourself, ”Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I want to be doing?“
Take some time to inventory your personal pantry. What are the things about yourself that you can’t change? What are the things about you that you absolutely wouldn’t change even if you could? What are your strengths? If you have trouble making that decision, what are the things that other people say are your strengths? We’re putting together a list of ingredients for your success, and once we have the things that are givens in your life, we’re going to look for the gift—your true hunger, the strength that will make you a world shaker and a history maker.
, the fantastically successful investment counselor, also had trouble in school when he was a child. He could do well in science and math, but anything that involved reading and writing were really difficult. But he didn’t let his problems bring him down, didn’t let them become excuses for himself; he just kept doing his best. And you can see that his best was pretty spectacular.
Years later, when his son was diagnosed with dyslexia, he realized that he had the same problem all the time. But he thinks that his disability actually worked to his advantage. “I worked harder to over-compensate,” he says. “My SAT scores
were pretty bad, but my enthusiasm, commitment, and hard work were impressive. And because I had to work harder than the other kids, I had self-confidence.”
We all have challenges in our lives; we’re all good at some things and not so good at others. Life will deal us some bad breaks, hard shakes,and heartaches. Whatever they are in your life, don’t let them keep you from the real work, the real worth of your life. Don’t let yourself have an“almost” life. You know, “I almost made the team” or “I almost got the job.” And don’t even let yourself settle for a “mostly” life—“I’m mostly happy” or “My life is mostly OK.” No. Take your life to the utmost.