From kindergarten through 2nd grade I lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood in New York called Spring Valley. I had friends. In fact, in second grade, I was popular; mainly because I was tall, athletic and smart. A girl even kissed me under a big stone turtle statue. Teachers loved me because I learned quickly. I was a leader and I was happy.
Then, in the middle of 2nd grade, I moved to an upper-middle class neighborhood called New City. (Not a very creative name, I know). The day I arrived, I noticed the school looked very different. Everything was clean and nice and spacious. The kids were dressed very differently as well. Much nicer than me.
It was mid-year for most students, but for me it was the first day. The teacher looked at me and asked me to solve the problem on the board. I stood up and said, “15 take-away 6 is 9.” The teacher laughed, then the other kids laughed. She said, “Oh dear, we don’t say ‘take-away’, we say ‘minus’.” The other kids laughed at me again. I sat down. (pause here for about 5 seconds before reading on)
I remember the moment as if it was yesterday. I remember how angry I felt. I knew the damn answer, Who cares how I said it?! Why did they laugh? The rules had changed. I wasn’t tall anymore, I was gangly and weirdly big. My athletic prowess was mostly ignored. My smarts didn’t count in this new world where saying it the “right way” mattered more. I wasn’t popular because my clothes were old and didn’t fit right. I was a loser.
No! (This was the moment) I am still a leader. I just don’t have followers. I wasn’t going to play by their rules. I was going to play by my rules. I wasn’t going to care if I had friends or not. I wasn’t going to care how I looked. I wasn’t going to care if they knew I was smart. I knew who I was and I was going to stay true to me.
The rest of my education followed this pattern. I did well on tests, but I never did my homework. Why should I? No one convinced me its value until much later in life, when it was too late. I had few, if any, friends. I wore headgear (crazy braces thing on your head) for the entire 6th grade school year. I knew I wanted my teeth fixed, and this was the fastest way, so screw them if they didn’t like it.
I was good at sports, but wasn’t a jock. I was good at painting and sculpture, but didn’t hang out with the artist (emo) crowd. I read alot, but I didn’t hang out with the “smart kids”. I was an oddball with clothes that didn’t fit. I was a misfit. But I never lost my spirit. I kept that inside, locked in my heart. No one could take that away from me.
My spirit is fierce and original and cares about things being done right. That spirit is what makes me a leader and allows me to speak from the heart. I am lucky to have found a job that taps into that potential. I would have hated to go through life and never have used that spirit. I think I am very lucky.
Do you know the moment that defined your character? I bet if you think about it really hard, it will reveal itself to you.