Has there been someone in your life who inspired you to do something you never thought of doing or didn’t think you could do? Maybe this person was a family member, teacher, coach or supervisor who saw something in you that motivated you to make choices that took your life in a different direction. Was there one particular moment or one conversation with this person that set you on a new course?
I recently had a conversation with a 63-year old man who clearly remembers when a teacher lit a spark within him that ignited a simmering passion and encouraged a different direction for his life. Here’s Ken’s story.
Ken’s grades were average in high school. He had the ability to get excellent grades, but he didn’t have the motivation to do what it would have taken. He possessed a brilliant mind and a quick wit. Often, to some of his teachers’ chagrin, he kept his classmates laughing hysterically at his funny comments and hilarious jokes. He was more interested in entertaining the class with his great sense of humor than in keeping his nose buried in textbooks.
One day his English teacher asked if he could talk to him privately after class. Anticipating that his teacher was going to express displeasure at something Ken had done, he was surprised when his teacher started complimenting him. He told Ken that he could see remarkable creativity and intelligence in what Ken did. He enjoyed Ken’s sense of humor and unique perspective on whatever was happening. He said Ken was an extremely talented writer, and hoped he realized his own talent. Then he asked Ken to agree to do a project. He wouldn’t tell Ken what that project was until Ken committed to doing it.
Intrigued and amazed at this teacher’s expression of his impression of him, Ken agreed to the challenge. He asked Ken to write a sonnet – not just any poem, but a sonnet. A sonnet has a fixed structure with rhymes arranged in specific schemes. It was definitely a challenge. Ken wondered what he’d gotten himself into.
Ken was inspired by his teacher’s interest in his writing abilities and the teacher’s confidence in Ken’s ability to create the sonnet. So he agreed to the project and wrote a sonnet. That brief interaction changed his life. Ken read his sonnet to his class. His instructor helped him publish it. Ken continued to write and expand his writing skill and repertoire.
He went on to college where he continued to study English. He published more poetry, and was poet laureate at his college. He graduated from college with a triple major in English, geography and communication. His career took him into horticulture where he uses his creativity produce beautiful landscapes and spaces for people to enjoy. He continues to write poetry. He also has written training manuals and other professional programs. He continues to entertain people with his quick wit and brilliant mind.
That one teacher’s interest, inspiration and challenge gave Ken the confidence and motivation to use his creative talents and pursue his writing. He wouldn’t have gone in that direction if his teacher hadn’t spent ten minutes that day sharing the talents he saw in Ken and asking him to tackle the mystery project. Almost 50 years later, Ken still recounts that story with warmth and appreciation for what his teacher did.
Ken took that inspiration and did the hard work necessary to build a life and a career of which he could be proud. Yet he credits his teacher with recognizing his talent and not dismissing him as just the class clown. That teacher ignited the spark that continues to burn today in Ken.
Ken has paid it forward by working with young people, people who are or have been incarcerated, people in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, people with disabilities, homeless, victims of abuse and violence, and geriatric patients. He is inspiring people who have had little inspiration in their lives. He tirelessly gives back to others in his community. He continues to be thankful to his teacher for changing the direction of his life.
How many sparks have you ignited? Have you changed someone’s life in a small way or in a major way? Do you even know? Do you look for talent and ability in others? Do you let them know what you see and inspire them to pursue their gifts?
Here’s a challenge for you. No, I’m not asking you to write a sonnet though you can if you’d like. I am inviting you to inspire someone as often as you can. Look for talents that are not yet fully developed, where the person lacks confidence, or where the talents are unrecognized. Then build a fire in that person that can burn brightly for years to come. Ignite that spark of inspiration and help change someone’s life for the better.