Scared Straight …

Max Powell 4It all started with Mr. Powell …

Max Powell was just over 5 feet tall, our high school principal, and the second most feared and powerful man in my adolescent life, coming just after my father.  His authority was almost tangible and he stalked the building and events with a piercing stare that dared you to even consider being anything less than truthful, respectful, and deeply remorseful for whatever he had just observed you doing.

When I was a freshman, he shook up my world at our first meeting.  Upon learning I did not have a pen or pencil to sign a form, he introduced me to the concept of personal responsibility, remarking with that withering glare:  “What kind of student goes around without a pen?”.  

To this day, I carry multiple writing implements everywhere I go, regardless of place or intentions.  I will never be caught without a pen or pencil again.

When I was a senior, Mr. Powell also asked me what my college major would be, assuming that since I was not a farmer or particularly skilled, higher education was the path before me.  I weakly replied “I don’t know”, so a lengthy discussion ensued, after which we settled on Social Science, since those had been my favorite classes while under his charge.

Later on, as a young man, I was asked often by older adults about career and life goals.  Sometimes the questions were casual and relaxed indicating a real curiosity, but at other times, the questions were sharp and implied an expectation that I make some decisions and get on with it.  Either way, a decision was expected.

This has continued throughout my life … someone is always asking me to make a decision and focus on something.  As a counselor, I was encouraged strongly to pick a particular model and submerge myself into it, in much the same way that I had to pick topics and issues for my post-graduate work.   In business, I was constantly faced with the decision to choose a career path, one that would open some doors and slam others firmly shut.

Even in the Army, I had to pick a branch of service to become a specialist in, and not just learn about being a good soldier.

Choose one direction and let go of another … focus on something and learn it thoroughly … Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of this.

Instead of following the trend and creating a career based on toiling in a specific field for multiple decades, I have continually shifted and changed directions, moving from one type of work to another, diligently earning and later discarding professional education, degrees, licenses, and certifications.

I read books on very different subjects and have some trouble staying with one topic long enough to master it.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I could easily qualify for an ADHD diagnosis … high-functioning, of course.

While I have dabbled in many areas, I have gained supremacy in few.   This is viewed by some as a weakness or sub-optimal career management.

Two important observations at this stage of my life:

First, throughout all the changes, a few things have remained constant … and this is a good thing.  

I have core values around honesty, diligence, and collegiality that either show up or create a need to seek new environments.  I enjoy a quiet confidence because I have experienced a greater diversity of workplaces and people than those who have locked in and focused.

Second, I firmly believe that the patchwork quilt of my working life is an asset, rather than a hindrance.  

My working life has not had a laser-like focus, but more resembles a smorgasbord, from which I have sampled often and widely.  While I will never reach the heights of any particular profession, I understand sometimes wildly different issues and points of view, and I can connect dots between those points of view that others do not even see.

I mentioned earlier that I feared Mr. Powell.  I also deeply respected him and remember our interactions fondly.  Mr. Powell was one of those adults who challenged me, at a formative time of my life, to become more than I thought of aspiring to or could even imagine.

Looking back over your own life so far:

Who influenced you the most?

How did they do this?

What have you gained because of their influence?

Fondly remembering shaking in my boots at his approach in the school hallway in the Heartland …