Learn from a 5th grade dropout

Learn from a 5th-grade dropout.

This rule was inspired by Dr. Rick Rigby’s talk on the Wisest Man He Ever Met, A third-grade dropout. I was really impressed by his talk. View it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_Q7KYWG1g

The 5th-grade dropout I am referring to is my father. Neither of my parents graduated from high school AND, as I reflect, I learned a great deal. Now I realize lessons I could have learned if I was more open earlier in my life.

Stan Slap (2010), in his book Bury My Heart in Conference Room B, writes about an activity he uses to help people work together. When starting a project or creating a new team, he asks two questions.
1. What are your 1-3 most important values? (He shows about 50 values, and of course, you can add your own but the process whittles them down to three)
2. How did you get that value? Now people share experiences from their life, mentors they have had, and core beliefs that have been developed over time.

Our Learning Omnivore group were fortunate to work with Stan in San Francisco and we did this activity. It was hard getting my values down to three from many but the second question became the most valuable. Listening to myself and others on how we got those core values was amazing. I learned so much from me searching my history to clarify how I got those values. I learned so much about my colleagues listening to how they got their core values.

For the record, my number one is fairness. I grew up literally next to the tracks. I don’t like it when people put others down. My warrior side comes out.

I have used this activity with PLCs, for groups of school leaders, with new leadership teams, and other committees. Doing this first helps people make connections with others. I have often said, what we think divides us, what we feel unites us. Every one of us knows what it is like to feel mad, sad, glad, scared, rejected, etc. I couldn’t have predicted the positive results doing this activity with different groups. Never underestimate the time spent building connections for longer-term positive working relationships. I am grateful to Stan for his writing and learning opportunity with him.

Recently I paid $75.00 for a service call on my garage door. The technician tried to help me on the phone (which would have saved me $75.00). Within five minutes he reconnected two wires that had been chewed by a squirrel or rodent. I told him my dad dropped out in 5th grade and could fix anything. I wasn’t smart enough to learn from him when I had the chance. He was an appliance repairman as a career. I was too busy thinking college was the only way to learn. Now I pay big money to do tasks that my dad would have done quickly and efficiently.

Just for balance, my mom dropped out in 9th grade and cleaned houses and cooked meals for the rich side of town. They both knew how to work. I did learn that early and often.

After stumbling on Rick Rigby’s talk, I reflected on a few things my dad said that started making deeper meaning to me. I hope you take the time to reflect on your values, how you got those values, what you learned from parents or caretakers, teachers or other models in your life. Below are the ones that come to my mind from my dad.

Here are 8 things I remember well. My dad didn’t say much but what he did say was usually meaningful.

1. Never try to be someone you are not. I was an introvert through high school. The second hardest thing I ever did was to ask my future wife out for my first date for homecoming as a junior in high school (number one was asking her father to get married). Before my first date, my dad gave me one piece of advice. Don’t try to be someone you are not. I have seen what an enlarged ego does to people. It is not pretty.

2. Never urinate in your own drinking water. I cleaned this one up a little. I used to get mad, whine, and make things worse when things didn’t work out. Traveling a lot I remember when this really made sense. I was behind a man who was mad at a flight being canceled. He was berating the ticket agent. I finally stepped up and said to him, “she is the only one who is going to help you, I suggest you treat her with respect.” I wish I had learned this earlier in life.

3. The more options on something, the more can go wrong. As a repairman, my dad always said this about having lots of bells and whistles. So, when the car salesperson says “options?” and I respond, “yes,” I know I am in trouble. I want a VCR (ok I am dated) or a DVD player to start, stop, rewind, eject. I don’t need it to shine my shoes. Yes, I am a technopeasant. (got that term from Art Costa). KISS principle in action.

4. It costs more to hire someone to fix things than if you do it yourself. In one school where I was principal, there was a student named Kyle. The school was about 90% who were college bound. Kyle was going to a vocational-tech program part of the day. I connected with Kyle because he was not doing well in classes. I had a lawn mower that was broken. (ok, I threw it across the lawn because the self-propelled option wasn’t working, see #3). I decided to give it to Kyle to work on. He took it to his classes and about a week later came to school with his dad. Kyle said, “your lawn mower is fixed.” I told Kyle I wasn’t smart enough to learn from my dad when I had the chance. I said, “I suppose I am going to be paying you big money to fix things for me for a long time.” Kyle looked at me with a smile and said, “yup, pretty much.” I gave Kyle the lawn mower to sell and keep the money. He fixed it, I thought he should have it. Thank you, Kyle, for reteaching me this lesson, wherever you are.

5. Talk is cheap. Do the work. I have heard this in many talks, etc. It means more now than it did in high school. It is not what you say as much as what you do. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I am reminded of Serena Williams’ quote when asked why she was successful. She responded with three rules: 1) have some goals; 2) bring your stuff, and 3) work hard. She has it right.

6. Go fishing. My dad loved fishing. When we went fishing I would get bored. After about 30 minutes I would start throwing rocks into Robins Lake. My dad was a patient man but would say, let’s pack it up. We went home. I missed spending more time with my dad. My dad would go down to the Cedar River and fish for hours. Sometimes he would even catch a fish. It was his time to reflect. I didn’t get it then. I get it more now. We all need some quiet time.

7. There is nothing I won’t eat. Yikes. When I asked him what he likes to eat, he would say he would eat anything. I, of course, didn’t do green vegetables growing up, etc. What this means to me now is, he would try things, even if it didn’t look appetizing. He was open to new experiences. For years I would never eat fish. Hanging out with friends from the west coast, now I eat more fish than red meat. Probably the best choice for my health, but I had to be open to it. I am glad I have friends who introduced me to new foods, ideas and put up with me. New ideas have been my lifeblood. Thank you, Art, Diane, Skip, Jane, Marney, Jennifer, Frank, etc.

8. There is always someone better than you. It doesn’t make any difference how good you are at activities, athletics, or doing work. There is always someone who has better knowledge, skills or creativity in getting things done. Be your best, that is all you can do.

So, my wish for you is to think about what did you learn from those in your past? What do you still have to learn? I wish you a learningful life.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!