The Pep Talk.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the Multi-County Juvenile Detention Center in Lancaster, OH. This was the first time that I gave a speech that wasn’t in front of students or athletes. It was quite an experience, and I’ll be honest I was very nervous leading up to the time I spoke.
It wasn’t so much about speaking in an unfamiliar place, but more so the fact this was an audience I’ve never encountered before. I wanted to leave them with something they would remember forever (might sound crazy, but that’s always my goal). The more and more I thought about it, I realized how different the upbringing these kids might have had compared to mine.
I was fortunate to have supportive parents, coaches, and friends. And while there were still doubters, like a great boxer I always had plenty of people in my corner. A book that I had been reading by Kevin Elko (a man whom I aspire to be just like) and Robert L. Shook, The Pep Talk, had this story that I just could not get out of my head. I knew it was something that these kids desperately needed to hear, and I desperately wanted to be the one to share it with them. It goes as follows:
“There’s a story about a Stanford math student who was doing graduate work during the Depression,” the stranger said. “His professor announced to the class, ‘Whoever scores the highest grade on this Wednesday’s final examination will be offered the job as my teaching assistant.’
“The student was financially strapped and desperately needed the job to stay in school. He studied so hard that he overslept on the day of the exam and walked into class ten minutes late. The professor handed him the exam that consisted of eight math problems. Two problems were also handwritten on the blackboard. The student did his best to complete the exam, but time ran out before he got around to answering the two problems on the board.
“‘I didn't have time to do those two questions,’ he said to the professor, pointing to the blackboard, ‘and I really need that job.’
“‘You’ve got until Friday to turn in your answers for those two questions,’ the professor answered, ‘but come Friday that’s it.’
“The appreciative student profusely thanked the professor, copied what was written on the blackboard, and headed home. He worked on them day and night. By Friday morning, he woke up with just a couple of hours of sleep, finished the test, and rushed to his professor’s office with his completed assignment.
“The next morning at 7:00, the student heard a loud knock on his door. When he went to the door, there stood his math professor.
“Upon letting him in, the professor said, ‘Congratulations, you just made mathematics history.’
“‘What do you mean?’
“‘Those two problems on the board,’ the professor said, “I wrote them on the board before you arrived and told the class that nobody has ever been able to solve them. Not even Albert Einstein. Had you been there on time, you would’ve known they weren’t part of the test.’
“The student acknowledged that had he known the truth he would have never attempted to answer them.”
When I first read that, I about dropped the book as my jaw hit the floor like the dog those in old Warner Brother cartoons! I’m so curious (and would love for you to leave your thoughts) as to thoughts you have running through your head after reading that. My first immediate question to those of you who are parents, coaches, teachers, managers, etc. would be what are you telling those around that they cannot do? What have you said is impossible? What limiting thoughts are you encouraging others to believe because you’ve never seen it done? Is it because a lot of people on the "internet" say it’s hard? Or is it because you have never been able to do it yourself?
I understand that it’s not always intentional, either, but we all need to be more careful with our words. If I listened to everything people told me I wouldn’t have played Division-I football. I wouldn’t have left jobs that other people felt were safe. I wouldn’t be getting my Master’s degree to go back into teaching, and I most certainly would not be trying my hand at building a brand from scratch.
By all means, put the question on the board. Just don’t go around discouraging people that it can’t be answered.