“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Can I really make a difference in the world? Does what I do really matter?
The other day, I ran into a young man I’d worked with, having long talks about his future. We became friends, and I was a cheerleader in his life. I watched him refocus in high school, and graduating there. I walked with him and held his hand as he thought about college, and enrolling.
A few years later, I watched him receive his community college diploma, laughing with him as he posed for a family picture, diploma in hand. His wife, and his sister, now both in college, stood proudly beside him.
At the store, he shared a photo of his new baby, and his dream of a bright future, getting his bachelor’s degree, creating a bright future for him and his family.
“Thanks,” he said, quietly. “Without you pushing me, encouraging me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
A few weeks ago, I took a young man to a university, walking with him into the registrar’s office to schedule his classes, and get him ready for fall term. We’d worked together last spring, to get him admitted, and transferring all his credits he’d earned for his associates degree, ready to start his junior year. He’s been aiming for a bachelor’s degree for a long time, and was finally able to make the move into a four year university, one that has an excellent program in his area of interest.
He’d been dragging his feet, not making the phone call to schedule his class registration, and all the other paperwork that needed to get done before he was really ready to begin classes. The plan was for me to drive him there, make a day of it, and to celebrate his achievements. But, he was dropping the ball, ignoring my increasingly less than subtle hints to take that drive, and move on with his life.
I nudged, I prodded, and I waited. Procrastination and fear took over, even a bit of resentment towards me, for being the quiet voice urging him forward, encouraging him to go live his dream.
Time was running out, and I spoke up, becoming direct, calling out for him to confront the elephant in the living room, and get moving here, moving ahead with his life. We met, finally, to have that hard conversation. We argued, we struggled, we finally got to the heart of his struggle, we each teared up, our guts churning.
We named the elephant, and we argued some more. He asked me where he thought I’d be in a few years, if he didn’t go to college, if he didn’t make that short trip to the university’s registrar that week, and be ready for fall term.
I got blunt, and painted a realistic picture.
“If you don’t live your dream, if you don’t work towards achieving your goals, life will be hard, and life will be disappointing. You will end up being disappointed in yourself. Is that what you want?”
He admitted he really did want to go to college, but the old voices, the voices of childhood that had always whispered that he wasn’t good enough, that he wasn’t deserving of success, those were the voices speaking loudly in his head lately.
We refocused. We didn’t dwell on “failure” and “I’m not good enough”. Instead, we moved on, living in today. And, looking towards the future, planning for it, taking real time steps to get where he wanted to go.
I grabbed the car keys, and his cold, sweaty hand, and walked him to my car. Amazingly, at least to him, within an hour, we were at the registrar’s office in the university, organizing his schedule, planning for his graduation in two years. He registered for classes, accepted his healthy array of scholarships, and sent in his student loan application.
On the way out the door, we picked up his student body card and scheduled a time for him to meet his department head and double check his class schedule, to make sure he was on the right track with his major.
Along the way, every college staff person was courteous, informative, and dedicated to getting him enrolled and off to a good start. Each one of them took the time to take an interest in him, focus on his needs, and help him achieve his goals for the day, and for the next two years of his life.
Each one of them, taking the time, being interested, investing in him. He saw that in how they treated him, how they were living their day. The caring about one other person, one at a time, with all of their focus, all of their energies, all of their wisdom.
And, so it begins, the new student and the teachers, the first lesson, building on the past, and aiming at the future.
One person at a time.
Neal Lemery, August, 2013