WHAT I LEARNED FROM 4TH AND 5TH GRADERS

As I mentioned last post, I recently had the opportunity to speak to several 4th and 5th graders about being a writer and how to improve their school and their community. I approached the day of my talk with some trepidation. How would I take many of the seemingly complex subjects we discuss on this website and in my book and convey them to these young children? After all, many adults take a while to grasp some of the concepts! Then the above quote from Albert Einstein came to mind. “If you can’t explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough.”

These wonderful young people were giving me a great opportunity to learn a new way to convey my teachings in a simpler format. Could that be done? I recall one of my favorite virtual teachers growing up, Mr. Rogers. His children’s television program routinely tackled very complicated subjects such as death and divorce and broke them down to simple ideas children would understand. I would do the same with the issues I believe allow young people to make a big difference in their community. I wanted them to know that each of us has a unique and special talent, different from our friends and family, but just as important. I wanted to show them the different talents people were using to better our community. We have artists painting murals on several buildings throughout the city. Those are artists using their talents. We have engineers that are redesigning streets to make them safer and easier to travel on. Those are people using talents in math, design and many other skills. It is by pursuing what you enjoy and are passionate about that can lead to a better community. A city full of people pursuing their passions would be a great community indeed.

I also wanted to instill the idea of believing in yourself and your dreams, even if others don’t and it may seem as if they are right. My grandfather, the older person in the picture above, only had an 8th grade education due to growing up during the depression. Despite this challenge, he ended up teaching college welding classes. He did so because that was his passion and he invested in teaching himself. In my own journey, as some of you may know, I was told by a well-meaning English professor that I should never pursue a career in writing. The sad truth is many people cannot see what talents may lay untapped inside of us. In fact, it may take us a while to see and believe in those talents ourselves. If I had listened to that English teacher I would have never written my book that has touched thousands of lives.

Bullying. The last bit of information I wanted to relay to these amazing young people was the need to work together. Especially in today’s world, we are connected more than ever. Not a day goes by that we do not rely on others for things we do and use. Anywhere from the engineers I mentioned earlier that design the streets we drive on, to the people who make our clothes we live in and the cars we drive. There is the farmers who help bring food to our table, the garbage men and women who make sure our waste does not collect rats and flies to, of course, our amazing teachers who instruct and inspire our young.

I used an example to speak to children, but I think it can benefit adults as well. Think of the Avengers. It is a group of different super heroes. Each one has their own talent. Spiderman can climb tall buildings where the Hulk cannot. If they were to arm wrestle the Hulk would win every time. Each super hero has their own talent, but they can do the most good when they work together. Each hero brings something different they can do well, even if it is different from what we can do well. We all have our own ‘super power’. What creates great change and a great community is when all of us ‘super heroes’ come together and use our super powers to make our schools, families and communities better.

I am so grateful to the three teachers who gave me the great opportunity to not only speak to and inspire and empower their students, but who forced me to take a new look at what I teach and to be able to pass that knowledge on to young people. If we can teach our children how best to be not only good citizens, but good neighbors and good people, we have done a great gift to our world and to our future. It is with that thought in mind I want to take a moment to acknowledge the effort and difference teachers of all kinds make in the world. They have not only one of the greatest responsibilities and one of most difficult jobs, but one of the most noble – shaping our future through the lives of the young.

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.

THE IMPORTANT FIRST STEP

Recently, I have had some conversation with a new friend of mine about some stress they have been going through. Most of their stress had focused around an aspect of their job, but had been affecting both their family and their relationship. This happens quite often and can happen to all of us and at some point usually does. This is quite often referred to as taking your job/work home with you. I have even known some people who have changed their entire essence of who they are based on working in a negative environment. This can especially hold true for those working in law enforcement, first responders, teachers, the courts and any other job that exposes you to less than desirable people. It is not limited to these careers, however. You can experience stress in retail, food and beverage industry or the travel industry. It is not only costumers, but coworkers that can cause us stress. I recall early in my postal career this being true. The post office can be a stressful and negative work environment more often than not.

What helped me and what did I share with my friend to help them? I am going to share some of that with you in hopes that you too can use it or share it with someone you know who might be going through some great deal of stress. There are a few basic things I would recommend starting today, whether you are under stress or feeling good about how your life is going. Being proactive can make dealing with stress a lot easier. The time to learn to swim is on the shore and not when you are in a boat that is sinking. Remember I speak from experience. If I had known about or used some of what I am going to share with you when I began working at the post office I could have saved myself and those I care about a lot of stress and hurt feelings.

The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. According to a study done by Forbes magazine up to 70% of us are going to jobs we do not like. In our culture we have put a priority on things like money and benefits to the detriment of our own happiness. Insurance is important, but choosing one job or position you may not like because it has better benefits may end up causing you to experience more trips to the doctor than it will help you reducing your medical costs. How can that be? According to a study done by Stanford University, 80% of visits to a primary care doctor are stress related. Stress has been found to be a common denominator in nearly all medical conditions. Even if stress was not related to the onset of the condition, continued stress will only worsen every medical malady.

Great, we are all a bunch of stressed out individuals. Knowing such information can lead to little comfort, but do little to help alleviate the actual stress itself. For that we must create and use some tools to help us. One of the first things I have recommended in both my book as well as seminars is creating a happy playlist. This is exactly what is sounds like. A list of songs that put you in a good mood. I don’t care if it is the song don’t worry be happy, or the theme to the Jefferson’s television show, whatever makes you happy put it on the list. Now create a playlist on your iPod or other MP3 player. I actually have created a happy playlist on YouTube so I can listen to it anywhere I have my cell phone. Now when you encounter a particularly bad day at the office we can listen to our happy playlist on our way home so we arrive in a better state of mind. If the situation is really bad, you can find yourself in the restroom with an ear bud in. This will not do anything to directly change the situation, but put you in a much better frame of mind to deal with whatever challenge is facing you.

In addition to music, which I believe provides the quickest boost in mood, you can apply this to other media as well. Create a list of movies you enjoy watching, books you enjoy reading or places you enjoy going to eat. If at all possible, do this while you are in a good mood. Once again it is easier to think of what makes you happy when you are not already stressed out. Then when stress comes knocking, pull out your list, or just push ‘play’ on your happy playlist. I recall listening to Bob Marley’s Legend cd every lunch hour while working for a telemarking concern. I think that saved my sanity more than once.

The other thing I recommend is keeping a journal. For those of you who follow my work even a little I am sure you have heard me mention keeping a journal quite often. The benefits are many and I can’t possibly list them all here. A few worth mentioning in regards to work place stress and how to reduce it are as follows. First, writing your feelings and the facts of the situation down on paper can offer a lot more clarity than trying to figure it all out in your head. It also removes a great deal of stress from keeping all in your head. Second, it provides a great place to vent. Quite often those we love, even those closest to us, can reach a point when being a sounding board becomes too much. We must remember they are dealing with their own stresses as well. Writing in our journal can be a relieving and safe place to vent. Finally, seeing everything in black and white can bring to light solutions we may not have considered when we were in the middle of the emotional whirlwind. Reading back it can show us patterns that we go through that routinely create stress in our lives. By recording how we feel at the moment and being able to go back and reread it when we are in a better mental state can be enlightening too.

As an added bonus, I recommend doing as many of these things as you can out in nature. Being outside in the fresh air can serve as its own therapy. Add some physical exercise and you multiply the stress reliving benefits. It can be anything from an intense run, to a leisurely stroll. Motion helps emotion. Do yourself a favor and get outside and get moving. You can listen to your playlist as you do so. When you stop to rest, you could pull out your journal and write. Before you know it you will create a shield around you that no workplace stress can get through.

By all means, if you have any other great stress reduction tips to add please do so in the comments below.

 

 

ARE YOU THE CANDLE OR THE MIRROR?

It took me a while to truly grasp the power of this quote. The candle represents sources of light in the world. It could be good-looking and charming authors who double as postal workers, social workers, emergency workers, great parents and teachers, religious and spiritual leaders or anyone else who inspires us or makes the world a better place. In some ways I think we are all candles, or at least have the ability to be so. In being the best at whatever we do we set an example for the world to follow. Even the shyest and most reserved of us have opportunities to be kind to others.

The mirror represents those who promote those who are candles. This can range from sharing a motivational website that inspires you with others, to showing appreciation to wonderful people who make a difference in your life. Did a teacher or coach push you to be the best you can be? By telling others that story you bring to light how special they are. This holds true for talking good about anyone. Did your spouse do something thoughtful for you? By sharing the joy they gave to you it brings more light and positivity to the world. This is a double-edged sword. Imagine what we do when we complain and share with others the terrible things people do?

I find by both being a candle to inspire others as well as a mirror to reflect the flame of the fabulous people I come across is the way that I can bring the most light into the world. Starting today, do your best to not only be an inspiration to others, but to recognize and help share those that inspire you as well.

WE ARE ALL TEACHERS

Recently, as in moments ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Kenny, about him becoming a history teacher. I am a big fan of history so we had a very good conversation about learning from history and the cyclical nature of history. Kenny has a great love of people and a terrific personality. The fact that he will be in charge of educating our youth fills me with both great excitement and great joy.

I recall thinking to myself “I wish all the great people I know would become teachers”. No sooner had that thought popped into my crowded head then it was followed by another.  “We are all teachers”. If you are a supervisor at work, perhaps a parent at home you are teaching. We teach our friends, our families and even those we just come in contact with. How and what we teach them depends on the situation and a great deal on us.

So how do we teach and what on earth are we teaching? We teach in many ways. There is of course the direct way of telling and showing people how to do things we know. Trust me, you know a lot more than you think. The other day I had to help someone order at Starbucks using all of their crazy lingo. We also teach in subtle ways. We teach by example. Children learn a great deal by watching their parents, but it is not limited to children. We can learn by watching and listening to our spouses during a disagreement. They are showing us what bothers then and how they need to be loved. How soon we get that lesson will determine how many of these ‘teaching opportunities’ we will have to go through. That’s not just for spouses either. It holds true for friends and coworkers alike. When you fail a class, you have to retake it. The same holds true for life. If we don’t learn from a situation we are doomed to repeat it.

Speaking of coworkers and spouses, mine happens to be one in the same. She has thought me the skills I needed to go from being a bartender to a dj. Hopefully along the way I brought something new to the table that she might have learned.

The takeaway is this,  in life we are all students and we are all teachers. I think there is a moral obligation to pass along what we know to others. If we do not that knowledge becomes useless. By doing so we often sharpen our own knowledge and learn something new. The other night I watched my lady convey the finer aspects of the law of attraction to her son and our good friend. In doing so I think she reminded herself of a lot of that knowledge.

So learn all you can, and pass along what you do learn!