I wasn’t heavily influenced by many teachers whilst at school — it wasn’t that they were bad teachers, it’s simply that I can't really point to a ‘Mr Miyagi moment’ with any one of them.
There was one teacher who by and large remained invisible to me for most of my high school years — but as it happened, he was watching, listening and very much attuned to me as a student. This one teacher left me with a simple lesson in a single interaction, that still resonates with me today — well almost thirty years later. This lessons draws strong parallels to both my personal and professional life.
Like most teens, my emotions bubbled to the surface easily and it didn't take a rocket scientist to know how I felt at any point in time.
I would give a lot of my time and my self to people. I would help friends with homework, I would do favours without the expectation of having them returned and I would feel the slow burn of resentment when I realised that they didn't appreciate my effort.
As we know, teenagers can be brutally mean.
Little did I know that there was someone watching me from a safe distance..
David was my English Literature teacher — a subject of which I felt both pathos and frustration. As a teacher, David challenged the curriculum and introduced my class to texts outside of the standard, vanilla prescriptions. We worked our way through the Classics to mid-20th century satirists. He introduced me to Marcus Aurelius, Henry Miller and Kurt Vonnegut, three authors I still have on my bookshelf into my 40s.
One day, I was sitting alone watching a game of football being played by some of the younger students. We were only weeks away from finishing our final year of high school and I had gone through a particularly rough patch with friends. I felt a tidal wave of emotions that swelled form anger to frustration and bitterness. I felt angry at being used and taken for granted. I gave so much to them, and received very little if anything, in return.
He sat with me and began to talk unprompted. His simple monologue remains with me today.
We all give so much of ourselves to others — we give time, we give effort, sweat and tears. We give loyalty and we give our own sense of integrity. Sometimes we sacrifice something in an effort to continue this giving. It's simply what we do because most of us come from a place of love, not hate. Good not evil. Most of us are good people.
David continued talking to me but not looking at me — we were staring directly out towards the football game being played by the junior children on the oval.
His lesson continued;
Feeling love and hate are both choices we make Jim — choices as to where we place our energy. Whether we choose to love (give) or feel anger (take) it's all the same. It's just energy placed into the world and both emotions require the same amount of effort from us. Exactly the same.
As we watched the football game unfold, his monologue had me thinking about where I chose to channel my energy and to whom I chose to give it. And most importantly, why.
He looked ready to get up as he completed his monologue;
Where you choose to give your energy is one of the most important decisions you can make in a day. You can choose to give all of your self, or just a little. You can choose to love or choose to hate — but the most powerful thing to do is to feel neutral. To be balanced. Equal. Measured. Considered. Empathic. Jim, only then can you truly make the right choice as to what to do and how much of yourself you should give.
David stood up, brushed some grass off his pants and smiled at me. He shook my hand and handed me a book with the other. It was a little red book with a picture of Winnie The Pooh on it.
It was called The Tao of Pooh
"This is a gift from me to you — be sure to read it"
David walked away and I never saw him again — our school year completed a week or so later and here I am today sharing the story with you thirty years after that day.
What does this have to do with my career?
Every day we give ourselves under the premise that we will one day get something in return. A promotion, a new client, a signed contract, validation, a raise, an extension on an existing contract, a retainer and larger consulting gig. Something.
Every day we choose to place energy into the world and we don't for a minute stop to consider why, how or where it comes from.
I choose to teach everything I know to readers of this journal, students of my Strategy Masterclass (enrolments will open in May) and other creative leaders I mentor, coach and sit next to each day at work.
But I also choose to keep most of it for myself, for my children, my wife and my health.
This is good energy — it comes from a good place.
And for this I am rewarded. Each day I receive the most wonderful emails from people from around the world connecting with me in more and more meaningful ways. I reach out to people in Serbia, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, the USA, across Australia regularly. Some of these people write to me to tell me when they've landed a new job and how something I wrote, or some advice I gave them inspired them and moved them towards that new role.
And this, I'm sure is energy well placed; coming from a good place.
What choices will you make today?
Will they come from a good place?
Where will you choose to place your energy?
How much of yourself will you give?
Will there be any left for the people you love?