When I was in 4th grade, my math teacher was Mrs. Macy. She wasn’t very nice. I was having trouble locking down the concept of multiplication. One day (and I swear this happened,) she told me “You are stupid and you’ll never get this.” She was right, I never did. Not in her class anyway. My parents got me a cute tutor over the summer and with a little practice I did get it. But, to this day I remember her words, and I have long since made peace with them. I had other teachers who questioned my intelligence, who told me “I was lazy, flippant, rude, loud, dumb” and too many other adjectives to list here. Teachers who did more damage than they ever could have imagined.
Don’t wring your hands on my account though, that’s not my purpose here. It’s not like I grew up in Darfur. It was West Harford, Connecticut and it was pretty cushy. But, as I was thinking over the weekend of the kinds of things that hold people back in business, good old Mrs. Macy popped back into my mind.
There’s so much emphasis in business coaching on our “money wounds.” That is, how unhealthy views our parents had about money when we were growing up can shape our own views and can cause some unhealthy habits. That has its place in breaking through into better business, but Mrs Macy reminded me of an issue that looms as large. It strikes me that school gives us our very first business training. Think about it. It’s transactional, if you produce really well, you get an A, not as much a B, etc. You have a boss who determines how well you are doing and ultimately what grade you are paid with. There are company policies, co-workers, etc. That being the case I can’t believe for one second that how successful you are (particularly in grade school) doesn’t shape your beliefs about yourself in the business world and greatly influence your business aptitude, your success, failure or stagnation.
When I think about myself and what challenges I’ve overcome, I have to say they are definitely tied to my school experience. In business, I’ve always been sensitive to unreasonable criticism or personal attacks from those above me. Though, as an adult I have had a zero tolerance approach to it, I do think that’s why I chose a long time ago to work for myself as an entrepreneur. Also, for a long time I felt that I had at best, an average intellect. I thought for a long time, my success was due to being clever. It wasn’t until I had many business victories that I realized I was smart. Smart enough to establish and run a thriving company which certainly takes better than average intellect.
So here’s my question. Are there wounds from school that may be holding you back in your career? Think back on your school experience. Like myself, did you have an abusive teacher or two? Did you have more than average trouble with the other kids resulting in a lack of trust of co-workers? Were you in trouble a lot? You get the picture. The crazy part of all of this is: I remembered Mrs. Macy’s BS for a long time. Then one day I realized, I was 9 years old at the time. I put her at around 60. That means 42 years later she’s probably been dead a long time now and most likely forgot what she had said to me by the next day. But, since I was a kid and she was the boss, it became part of my education. I memorized it and referred to it often.
I thought about this, and an interesting metaphor popped into my head. I shared it with my wife Adrienne who didn’t think it was so interesting. But, then she came up with a brilliant one. By, the way, I’ll be pushing you towards her blog very soon which will deal with the many aspects of reinventing yourself. She’s beautiful, talented and really smart, you’ll love her work as I do. OK, here’s what she came up with: Say someone has built a sand castle on the beach. That castle is huge and is something negative about you. The tide is coming in. You have a choice: You can let the water come in and wash it away and out to sea, or you can make a stand as kids often do and feverishly dig a trench in front of it to preserve it from the surf as the tide comes in. Obviously, you are going to say let it wash away, but is that what we do? Not always. Often we take feedback we got as kids and keep replaying it to ourselves for our whole lives! Then, for some reason we feel need to protect it as it becomes part of our identity.
But, consider this: while we’re feverishly digging that trench, there are other castles, huge beautiful castles, made of positive, wonderful things people have said to us or about us just a few feet away that are getting washed away while we protect the big ugly castle. I have news for you, the surf coming in farther means the tide is rising. The tide is your life and when the tide is all the way in, it’s over. So there is a bigger question of how are you going to use your time here? Feverishly digging to prove some stupid math teacher from 40 years ago right? Or, using your energy to build a career, a business, a present and future? It’s your choice. If you dare, take a moment, close your eyes, see the castles placed there by teachers, parents, other kids, whomever. Now, for once and for all watch them be washed away by the sea until you can see only smooth glistening sand where they once stood. Do it as often as you have to until you can truly say it’s gone, in the past, over.
I actually owe that tired, old, half crazed math teacher a thank you. Though she could have taught me to not believe in myself, she ended up doing quite the opposite. She made me teach myself to move past old psychic wounds and let belief in my intelligence come from within. That freed my mind to create, build, grow and prosper.
And don’t get me started on Miss Borassa or Mr. Hagan.