I came back from my walk after listening to the podcast interview of Charles Koch, and I was fired up. He left me with a quote from Abraham Maslow, “What you can be, you must be.” This gave me the idea to go deep, to think deeply about answering the question:
How did I achieve my God-given potential?
This brought me back to my childhood. I never think about these early experiences and how they began to shape my character. How these experiences, some as early as seven years old, put me on the path to achieve my God-given potential.
It all started in first grade.
I attended St. Paul’s Catholic School in Jersey City. In those days, we used to have hour-long lunch breaks. When the lunch bell rang, we were all shuffled into a room the nuns called the lunchroom. It was just a room with tables and chairs. There were no cooking facilities. We each brought our paper bag containing whatever our moms packed for lunch. We would eat as fast as we could then head for the playground.
My first lessons in life were in the schoolyard.
The schoolyard was a fenced in area fifty yards square. Upon release, we demonstrated our new-found freedom by chasing each other around. This eventually turned into a game of tag.
We drew a line with chalk at each end of the schoolyard. We always had a bunch of kids who wanted to play. As I remember it, three kids were chosen to be outside the lines. We called these kids the “you are it” kids. Their mission was to tag a kid who was running from one line in the schoolyard to the other. The kids running, the free kids, were tasked with avoiding getting tagged. If you got tagged then you were “it,” and the kid that tagged you became one of the free kids trying to avoid the tag.
I learned three really important life lessons from this simple game of schoolyard tag.
I had a gift other people didn’t have. I was fast. Really fast.
I rarely if ever got tagged. If I did, then I was so fast that I wasn’t “it” for very long. I had speed and agility, and I had the moves. If you were fast enough to get close to me, I’d juke you and be gone!
I learned I was very competitive.
I loved to run. It was freeing. As I look back, I realize my motto was, why walk when you can run. I ran everywhere.
This simple game of tag gave my running purpose. There was an objective and there were rules. There were winners and there were losers. I always wanted to be the winner. I wanted to be the best and now I knew how to measure that. Don’t get tagged. And if tagged, tag someone else really quickly, so you can return to the rest of the group and run free.
I figured out if I avoided being tagged for the entire game, that made me the best at this game. Knowing this, I rarely, if ever, got tagged. I wanted to be seen as the best at whatever I did by my friends.
I learned strategy.
Some of my friends were as fast as I was. Other friends were clever.
The fast friends would focus on the kids who were slower and go right after them. They would chase them down. Tag them and be done with being “it.”
The clever friends, who weren’t all that fast, would watch me out of the corner of their eye. They would appear to be going after another kid. Just as I was speeding past, they would turn their attention to me and tag me. Smart.
Other free kids would wait until a herd of kids would leave the safety of the line and head to the other side of the schoolyard. They figured they could hide in the middle of the pack and never get tagged. But the smart “it” kids figured this one out, too. They would focus on one kid and not be distracted by the herd of kids.
Simple life lessons from a simple life game.
- I have gifts other people don’t have.
- I am competitive. I like to compete and win.
- I have a strategy for winning and so does everyone else.
Learning this at seven years old gave me what I needed later in life. I used these simple lessons to begin achieving my God-given potential. It’s amazing what I learned as a seven year old.
What I can be, I must be!