3 TALKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

As a professional speaker, the pandemic has really changed the way I do things. The seminars I usually hold several times a year have disappeared. The speaking engagements I have with groups and companies have either been postponed or moved to a virtual setting. Recently, I was offered a very unique speaking opportunity. My friend Katie, who is a teacher, asked if I would speak to 3 different 4th and 5th grade classes at Franklin Elementary school in West Allis Wisconsin where she teaches.

Being that I have a passion for inspiring people of every age I was quick to accept this generous offer. Shortly after saying “yes” my mind began to race with concerns. “Most adults take a while to understand some of the concepts I speak about. How will 4th and 5th graders understand?” My brain began to do its best to fill my mind with doubt. I shared my concerns with both Margie, the love of my life, and my mother. It was through discussions with both parties that I began to change my focus from how will I do this and what if I do not do well to the more important focus of what can I say to the children that will serve them the best?

It was with this focus I began to consider what I would like to discuss. Of course I was going to share the steps it takes to be a writer and how my book came together. Then I began to ask myself a very important question, “What would I have liked someone to tell me when I was that age?” The focus of the project they are working on is how to improve both their school and their community. I began to think of ways I consider best for helping to do both of those things. Then it occurred to me, my poem! As some of you may recall, this past year I had written a poem on how to have the best city you can. That poem won a city wide poetry contest and is now stamped in the sidewalk in 2 locations throughout the city.

The poem read as follows:

The true worth of great city is not defined by its buildings or how many have a steeple.

The true worth of a great city depends on the quality of its people.

Whether you are a child, a woman or a man,

if you want a great city, be the best person you can.

That is the idea that I wanted to convey to these wonderful and talented young people. Each one of them, just like each one of us has the ability to change their community. We can do so by being the best person we can. I wanted to empower the hearts and minds of the students to understand that each one of them was special and each one of them can make a big difference despite their small stature.

In our own communities it is so important to remind the young people what a big difference they can make. I applaud Katie, Amanda and Jordan, their teachers, for taking on such an important project. Teaching, and learning from, students on how we can make a better community is more important now than ever. Next post we will take a deeper look into my experience with the kids and much of what I told them, and what they taught me.

WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

This blog post created itself last night. After Margie and I had finished our Wednesday night show and found ourselves driving with our friend Kelly. We began sharing defining moments from our childhood that defined who we are today. It caused me to reflect on a few moments that I would like to share with you. More so, it made me think of something far more important that we will get to right after this moment of reflection.

For those of you who may have been reading my writings of late, I have shared the story of my senior year English teacher. On the final day before graduation, she pulled me aside and said in an almost pleading tone, “I pray to God you will never have a career involving writing.” Given the evidence up to that point I would have been inclined to agree with her, but here we are.

Another fun story involved a teacher I had for business. She was a kindly lady. She kind of reminded me of someone’s grandmother from a Norman Rockwell painting. My relationship with this wonderful woman was great. We laughed, smiled and shared many good conversations. I would have said I was the perfect student with one glaring exception. In this class it just so happened I was surrounded by friends of mine. It also happened these were friends that like conversation as much as I did. Daily we shared conversations about life, love and our pursuit of happiness. When the time came out for giving everyone a grade I still recall what this teacher wrote. Written next to my grade was the comment, “Neil will do a lot better in life when he understands you can’t make a living discussing life and its challenges with people.” Once again, here we are. Discussing life and how to positively approach and overcome its challenges. Granted you might be reading this in Greenland, South Africa or Fiji while I am here in West Allis, Wisconsin, but virtually we are engaged in this conversation.

Let me share a more comical example from my youth. Second grade I do believe. I had a good friend who had just moved away and I found myself in trouble for something. That part seems to remain vague. As punishment I was to stand with my back against the wall and watch the other kids enjoying recess and playing on the playground. Sounds a little cruel in hindsight but I guess it served as a lesson – almost. As I was standing there I thought of a joke. One of the kids walked by and I told him my joke. He thought it was so funny he went to bring other kids to hear it. Before recess was over I found myself doing what could be described as a forced stand up comedy routine.

I saved this example for last because it was by far the darkest example. I was part of a group called ‘peer helpers’ in high school. The program was designed to help students who were facing addiction, abuse or any other emotional trauma. To me it sounded like a great idea on the surface. It became apparent very quickly that I disagreed with the approach of the program. It seemed to approach the issues from that of the adults who formed the group and not of the youths facing the challenges. I soon politely left the group. All would have been ok with one exception. I really did have the desire to help and still talked to many of the kids I had met in the program. I tried methods I believed might reach them. This was especially true because most of them had stopped asking for help from the Peer Helpers program.

Again, this would have all been good, but my locker happened to be right across the hallway from the lady who was in charge of the program. Once she noticed that quite a few of the students who left her group were coming up to my locker and asking questions she stormed over. She issued what can only be viewed as a veiled threat. She yelled how dare I think I could help kids better than she could and I better stop what I was doing “or else.” I really wasn’t trying to do anything but help people the best way I thought I could. I continued to do so with a little more discretion. Two days before I was set to graduate I was summoned to the principle’s office. When I arrived the teacher was there along with several police officers. This teacher, this adult, this individual who is supposed to be an example told all of them I had threatened to physically harm her. Not only was that a total lie, but I had no malice towards this woman, merely a difference in philosophy. Luckily, with the support and sworn statements of my character from other instructors I had and her changing her story several times the matter was all but dropped.

What is the point of all of these stories? The point is that anyone of these stories could have had a very negative impact on my life. What made the difference is that I chose what they meant to me. My high school English teacher could have prevented me from ever starting this site which has close to 1000 posts. What she told me could have dissuaded me from ever writing my book A Happy Life for Busy People. My business teacher tried to convince me there was no future in listening to the challenges people face in life and trying to help create solutions, but that is the basis of all I do.

Through my punishment that day in second grade I learned the power of humor to reach people. I also learned that sometimes when the world seems to be taken away from you, the best solution is to make the world come to you. It is a theme that kind of plays throughout the videos on my YouTube channel. It also showed me new and wonderful ways to make friends. The lesson that if you can introduce your material to enough people it can really change your situation didn’t escape me either.

The final dark situation could have steered me in many different directions. I could have decided not to trust authority. Certainly learning that ego can override professionalism and make people act in ways they shouldn’t. I could have decided that it meant if I try to do things on my own in a way I feel will help the most people it will lead to trouble and could land me in jail. Of course it also showed me the value of displaying and acting with the best character and highest standards.

What is your story? What events have transformed your life? Have you let them decide what you can or can’t do? Are they putting limits on your life or are you using them to motivate you? The story of our lives should not be told through the mouths or actions of others. Realize you are not a victim of your past but a victor over it. You have made it to today despite what you have been told and what has happened to you. Do not let your past or those in it steal your power for a strong future. Find the empowerment in every challenge you have faced, or may now be facing.