Everyone at some point in their lives needs a helping hand, which often comes from the most unexpected people or places.
Some might call them a guardian angel, others a good samaritan, and yet others a saviour of sorts, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they are there for you at a pivotal moment in your life.
Don’t worry, I’m not getting religious on you! 🙂
Even if you didn’t realize it at that moment in time, and perhaps not even until years later did you appreciate that necessary impetus or support they provided you at that moment as they nudged, or in some cases launched you in a direction that ultimately changed your life.
I’ve been reflecting on my life and the influences that have helped mould and shape the person I am today.
I’m a big believer in the concept of “the universe has your back”, and that things happen for a reason, just as you have people come into your life.
As the saying goes, some for a short time, others for a lifetime, but always for a reason.
As a teen you have no idea about the ways of the world, even though at the time you think you’re both invincible and are wise beyond your years…the reality is you’re a kid with almost zero life experience. Not that it stops you from “having all the answers”. 🙂
Here’s how one of the most transformative moments in my early life came about, and without me knowing at the time propelled me toward the path that I had been seeking unconsciously in my head, but more importantly in my heart, yet had no idea how to begin…
Yep, I was in way over my head.
I had lost confidence in myself at an early age. Unequipped for any form of academic undertaking I grown to believe that I was dumb. A slow learner, I’d struggled since elementary school to make a passing grade in almost every subject. In those days it was easy to get lost in the classroom and labelled early on as a lower achiever.
This had only been compounded by the time I was in secondary school, oh yeah, cos’ I was “not that smart” I went to a technical college to learn a trade and not the high school where the smart kids went. Yeah, enough said!
I didn’t know how to study, and certainly didn’t have the necessary support at home to do much more than wait until I was 15 and leave school.
Without a role model or someone to emulate I was in a crappy situation, and deep down I knew it. I was so frustrated…
Another thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to be stuck in the cycle of poverty that our family had been for generations.
By the time I was mid way through year 9 the writing was literally on the wall and it would be just a matter of time before I would fail school and then be unable to resist the push from my parents nor the school to leave.
There would be no second chances.
I must admit I may have been considered a “shit disturber” by this stage of tech school as I was academically lost and sinking fast, so tended to show up to classes without a pen or paper and sit sullenly at the back of the room hoping to be left alone and waiting for the time to pass.
More often than not I’d be sent to the Principal’s office before I could actually make my way into the classroom. I guess for some teachers my reputation preceeded me.
So how do you like me now??? 🙂
To pass year 9 it was mandatory to pass English, but seeing as the year was half over and I actually hadn’t yet completed one single assignment or piece of work I was literally a lost cause…pretty much ignored, which suited me just fine.
As providence would have it, my regular English teacher went on sick leave (who could blame her!) and we were presented with a new guy straight out of teachers college – we were his first school and perhaps even his first class.
Only years later did I feel sorry for him and the steep mountain he had to climb in those first six months. – it must have been a living hell!
That said, he did something that no other teacher had done until this point – he had a conversation with me. No, seriously…like a real conversation where he treated me like normal human being.
During his first class I could tell he was observing everyone individually, checking them out to see where we were in terms of our academic abilities but given were the lowest streamed academic english class, and stacked with the kids no one else wanted it was a mighty low bar.
At the end of class he asked me stay behind. I was expecting the same old one way storyline “bring a pen and book or don’t bother coming to class” sort of lecture, but instead he looked me in the eye and said “I’m Brian – what’s your story?”
I was flabbergasted, no teacher had introduced themselves to me, and certainly not on a first name basis. He asked me what book I’d read recently, and if I had a favourite author, both of which I couldn’t answer.
I felt foolish, but it was like he could read my mind…
His next statement blew me away… “you seem like a smart kid, what are you doing in this class?”
Firstly, no one had ever called me smart before…not ever! I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I was embarrassed and I could feel my face flushed noticeably.
“I’ll make a deal with you” he said somewhat conspiratorially. Oh yeah, was my response, what sort of deal?
If you write one essay to my satisfaction, I’ll pass you in English and, who knows where that might take you he said cooly.
My skeptical and rather angry teenage self sneered, what’s to say you’ll keep your side of the bargain and I’ll be just wasting my time? He looked me in the eye and said that a deal was a deal and he would keep his side of the bargain, but that I had to keep mine as well and that this conversation was to go no further.
I warily agreed…cos’ after all I didn’t have a huge amount of trust for teachers given my challenges to date, but what did I have to lose? One easy assignment – how hard could that be I reasoned in my head.
The following week he gave me the topic, all I had to do was write a 500 word essay and hand it in the following week. Easiest class ever….right!
Actually I really tried to do a good job, and handed it on the day he asked.
The next day he came to another of my classes and asked the teacher if he could see me in the corridor.
I could see he was holding the essay in his hand, but all I can I see was “a sea of red ink”.
He reached out and handed the essay back to me and said there are a few things that you need to work on. “What? was my only response. He said we’d made a deal that if you completed the essay to “my satisfaction” then he would pass me, and right now he wasn’t satisfied, “was that not the case Mr Wallis?”.
Feeling a tad frustrated, but being a person of my word I begrudgingly took it back and redrafted it before handing it back in a couple of days later.
And so the cycle began, I ended up editing and submitting that essay five times before he accepted it as “complete and to his satisfaction”.
Throughout the editing process he began to show me how I could use words more effectively, and offered up some books that I could read so that I could see how other people wrote to get their stories across more effectively. As well, he encouraged me to read and loaned me a book to get started.
And although baby steps, it was a lifeline and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, he changed the trajectory of my life irrevocably.
Being called smart for the first time was like being pulled from the rip by a lifesaver at the very last moment before losing consciousness.
The merest glimmer was enough for me to realize that perhaps not all was lost, and that if I applied myself that maybe, just maybe I could “change the soundtrack of my life”.
In essence he gave me hope…
It truly was one of the greatest gifts anyone could give a desperately lost 14 year old boy in his quest for a better life.
It’s not often that a kid from the bush, buried in poverty, with a learning disability could rise to become a managing director at one of the largest and most prestigious consulting firms in the world.
And as they say, the rest is history! 🙂