Over the years, I’ve gotten chewed out by teachers, bosses, coaches and friends – and I’d like to thank each one of them.
Although I thought of them as meanies at the time, I realize now that they cared enough about me to put me in my place. Such behavior seems less common now. Still, I hate to think where I’d be if everyone had tried to make me feel good about my screwups or told me I was well above average when, in reality, my lackadaisical attitude made me mediocre at best.
Here’s a small sampling of thank yous to those caring meanies:
Thanks, Mrs. Fillmore, for telling me I was way behind in high school chemistry class. Thank you for telling me it was totally my fault, not yours, because most everyone else in class was doing fine. Your hunch was that I was smart enough, just unmotivated. I particularly appreciate how you said all of this in front of my parents and then later repeated it in front of the entire class. I passed with a solid C.
A special thank you goes out to Coach Bub Collins, who had me stay after basketball practice to let me know I would not make the team. Remember, Coach, how you put your arm around my shoulder and told me matter-of-factly that I was slower than most of my teammates, I couldn’t jump and I shot too much? At the time, I thought I was star material, but you were right on all fronts.
To my friend, Larry Case: thank you for yelling at me in college for throwing candy wrappers out the car window and skipping most of my classes. You liked me. You wanted me to stay in school and not mess up the environment. I quit throwing candy wrappers out the window but I flunked out of college. (You can’t get everything right the first time.)
I also want to thank my boss, Rueben, for writing me a detailed note letting me know I was fired. You made a list of things I was supposed to do that I hadn’t, and a whole separate list of things I did do that I shouldn’t have. You also followed up with a phone call loudly emphasizing the same message. I did a lot more of what I was supposed to do on my next job.
I could go on and on thanking the people in my life who delivered robust and honest dialogue. Many of these same people also boosted my self-esteem and congratulated me for good work when I had earned it. A few inspired me by painting pictures of the person I could become. When it comes right down to it, though, so much of my ability to accept and adapt to what’s in front of me each day comes from those caring meanies who insisted on telling me the unfiltered truth.