We walked into class that day, and my English teacher gave us a shocking assignment. She walked to the front of the room and calmly said, “Today, you will be writing your guiding principles for life. You have one hour. Starting now.”
And I froze.
After years of penmanship, and book reports and weekend stories where I was taking information and just writing it down or transcribing information from other people, or books this time it had to come from me. From inside my head, my heart. No notes.
The clock on the wall got bigger and bigger and louder and louder with each tick of the second hand.
“Ten minutes gone”, she says.
I looked down at a blank piece of paper.
Small beads of sweat had formed on my brow.
All I heard were the brilliant thoughts of the other students. Ideas and thoughts were popping out of their heads, pumping through hearts, moving down through arms, their hands, through their pens filling page after page after page with brilliance.
Twenty minutes gone.
I still had nothing.
I sat next to the window in that class and usually it was not a problem. Today however, it was like a magnet. My eyes locked onto the boys gym class. They were running track. It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day. My mind wandered and I began to think. I hate running. I hate running to a timer. I hate sweating. What is the purpose anyway of just running in circles, anyway? Or trying to jump over those high hurdles, who in their right mind would want to do that.
While my mind wandered, the teacher moved from her desk and began going around the room to each student. Sometimes she would touch a shoulder. Other times she would touch a shoulder and lean down to say something to someone.
She had made great progress while my mind was meandering, and she was just two students behind me.
Thirty minutes gone.
I have nothing.
As I felt her hand touch my shoulder, I frantically wrote down a word and a period. She leaned over, read the word, nodded and went back to sit down.
I could not believe it. I was so relieved.
Relief however, did not bring any brilliant stream of consciousness. Nothing was popping out of my brain, pumping through my heart, down my arm, through to my pen to my blank page. Nothing.
Forty minutes gone.
The window magnet beckoned me again. This time I noticed a couple laying out under the trees in the shade. They were ditching class, they always did, I could tell who they were. They were ‘The Couple’ of the school and they were making out. I mean really making out. I looked back around the room to see if anyone else saw this. No one, they were busy being brilliant.
We had just learned that the best and most memorable stories come from what you know, what you experience, what you see. So I wrote down two words. Making out.
Forty-five minutes gone.
Suddenly, the teacher stood at my desk. I hadn’t even noticed her get up from her desk. She was like a cat, so quiet. This time she touched my shoulder, read my words and leaned down to say, “You might try passion here
instead.” I had been holding my breath, waiting for her rip up my paper and to send my to the principals office and I had to think and figure out how to breathe again for a minute. I looked down, thought about it and crossed out making out and wrote passion.
The other students around me were finishing up and looking at me now because I had not been frantically writing and flipping pages, and producing any popping brilliance into the room.
Instead, I was watching the boys gym class end and they were horsing around, tripping each other, having fun.
Fifty-nine minutes gone.
I wrote down one last word.
I ran out of the room, embarrassed, face red, sweating.
Two days later, the teacher read three papers, and mine was one of them. My heart was pumping now.
She read: “Purpose. Passion. Play.”
She turned to me and said, “Joni, you nailed this assignment in a very unexpected way. Congratulations.”
I think often about that day, and how unprepared I was to be taken out of my comfort zone. About that hour and how agonizing it was to not keep up with the students around me. And about that teacher who gave me two gifts that day. My guiding principles for life and my work, and the support and kindness I needed to find them inside of me.
I have added one more over the years – possibility – which comes from a quote that sits above my desk today from a favorite author of mine.
“Dwell in Possibility”, Emily Dickinson.
Thanks Emily and to all teachers for the gifts you give daily. You are brilliant.
Repost By Joni from: http://www.bizdevbiz.com/blog/ follow: @jdkovarik