As a young adult growing up in Western Pennsylvania, just when I was thinking about college, career and a job to get me started, the steel industry collapsed. Twenty-five miles of J&L steel mills closed and, entire towns withered to nothing. Everything begins with a story.
The county where I lived had an unemployment rate of 27.1%. This was greater than the peak U.S. unemployment rate during the Great Depression!
In my town they took out the traffic lights and replaced them with stop signs. Traffic was reduced to such a trickle; red lights weren’t needed anymore. The antithesis of growth was everywhere.
An entire industry collapsing was a hard thing for a young adult to understand. It was hard to grasp that my professional life, what I most strived to create at that time was at a dead stop even before it started.
My friends took jobs at fast food restaurants and delivering auto parts….. I was still in my teens and bewildered as to how I would jumpstart some kind of momentum.
Then my father died. I sunk even lower. I was one of nine children so guidance and support was spread pretty thin….I was literally on my own to create growth where there was none while clouded in a shapeless fog of grief and bewilderment.
Working on cars by day, I attended night classes at a non-descript community college.
Everything begins with a story: Dr. K’s Pivotal Lecture
The literature professor (“Dr. K”) was a serious intellectual with high standards. Students grumbled about his arduous assignments of reading, analyzing, and reporting on several difficult classics.
He pounced at the opportunity to lecture the class, crossed his arms, stared out into the whining class and with a deliberate east to west gait began.
“It’s short sighted and naive to attempt to change what is “out there” thinking it will help you and your situation. Difficult assignments, the slow economy, the unemployment rate are life struggles that are like the tide.
They are always going to be there in one-way or another, either high or low, coming or going. There is one sure fire way to change your circumstances and that is to first change yourself. Embrace the difficulties of life and use them to grow and improve.
If you continue to do what you have been doing, you will get the same results and if you expect something different from the same effort, well that’s what Einstein called insanity.
You are here in this class to initiate a change and create a turn around for yourself. This is your opportunity to seize change rather than passively bounce with the tides of life.
Everything begins with a story. Are you here to change yours or are you going to be college educated but still doing the same things, complaining about the economy, blaming the government, whining about what you could have been?
If you are willing to take a hard look at yourself, face the past and make course corrections—accept the challenge to change yourself….” he said, “If you begin right now to change yourself, I guarantee you will change your future. Your income will change and your life will change.
Don’t resent a difficult assignment, but rather invite and appeal to the opportunity at hand. Don’t wish life was easier, make yourself better!
The lecture was pivotal and the one pearl of wisdom from Dr. K that I integrated was this.
Always remember, one of the most valuable assets anyone can have—even from a university education: a love of knowledge and a thirst for education.
This is the classic framework of myth. The older man shares his wisdom for the good of the student, and the universe.
Myths and stories are legendary. Think of Confucius, Aristotle, the Greeks and Star Wars.
Figuring out and articulating your story is crucial to finding your center—the place that is known, held and adhered to when difficulties arise.
Myths and stories can tell you how to live a human life under any circumstance.
To move forward we must know where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. Don’t overlook the healing power of a story...
So where’ve you been, where are you now and, where are you going?
Here’s another story of my youthful learning…...the powerful lessons I learned buying my first car.