The year was 1977. The place was Pearl R. Miller Middle School in Kinnelon, NJ. The class was science. The assignment: find something interesting in your yard and create a presentation about it. This was the kind of assignment Mrs. Allen was fond of giving: a bounded field of exploration (your yard) with just enough room to force students to think.
I chose to make a dandelion salad. Yeah, I was that kid. I can’t remember when I started watching Julia Childs and the Galloping Gourmet, but it was before 1977. My big sister taught me to make my first dish when I was 13 – spaghetti sauce. I’ve been working on that one ever since.
But back to my salad. While other kids were showing pressed leaves or worms, I was serving my 7th grade class field greens with some kind of dressing. Probably Catalina, since my dad loved that stuff. It’s long enough ago that I don’t remember everything in the presentation, but I do remember one of the points was about the surprising nutritional value in what we otherwise perceived as a weed. I also remember something about how different cultures look at food (I’m pretty sure my mom found that tidbit in the Encyclopaedia Britannica).
When I was done, I still remember Mrs. Allen looking directly at me and telling me how good I was at explaining complex ideas, and that I should think about being a teacher. Decades later I can look back over a varied career and see that my most successful jobs were those where I was involved in teaching or training. In fact, when I left the corporate world in my early 40s to earn a PhD, Mrs. Allen’s word helped seal the deal for me. I’m not sure if you’re still out there, Mrs. Allen, but if you are, thank you.
Who first saw your personal value proposition? These amazing people have the power to shape lives. Who was your Mrs. Allen? I’m not talking about your mom or dad. They are supposed to think you’re awesome. I’m talking about that person in your life who first identified the thing you do best. It could be a teacher, a coach, or a friend. As you look back over your life, who was the first person to see something in you that shaped your life from that point on?
Okay, do you have that person in mind? Great. Now, look forward – in whose life will you play that role? You see, it’s easy to say thank you and offer praise for your mentors. But if you want to truly thank them, then ask yourself what life or lives will you shape by taking the time to see their potential and make it clear to them?