After graduating from college, I was sure of three things: I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or who I was. I had gone from first grade to second grade, proceeded all the way up to twelfth grade, and then on to my freshman year, which for me was pretty much like thirteenth grade. I had a strategy for success: show up, follow directions, do the minimum, and utilize my free time to immerse myself in activities that I loved.
As a 12-year-old, that meant going to every baseball card convention within 40 miles of my home and self-publishing sports magazines on an electric typewriter.
In college, it was serving as sports editor of the college newspaper. I pretty much lived in the newsroom for the last two years of school.
But I knew I couldn’t keep living that lifestyle. After college, it would have meant getting a job at some company, and relegating the things I loved to the weekends. I knew I wanted more. But I also had no idea what that meant.
So I moved across the country to Tucson, Arizona and got a part-time job as a waiter. I cleared my head, met interesting people, went on road trips, and read all the books that I was supposed to read in school (but had only skimmed the Cliff’s Notes). It was an extraordinary time, the first time that I felt free from the daily demands of what I was supposed to do, of preparing for whatever was supposed to come next.
I was at a bar one night talking to some guy, and he was amazed by my story. “You mean you just packed up and moved across the country? You didn’t have a job lined up? You didn’t know anyone? Wow, I wish I could do that.”
It was such a strange remark. I looked at him and said, “You can.”
* * *
Two words can change everything.
I love playing basketball. I remember being 11 years old and going to the local playground. A bunch of older kids were all just shooting around at the two hoops and not really playing. I asked a simple two-word question that changed everything, “Wanna run?”
They all nodded excitedly and we started a full-court game that lasted for hours. More players showed up. A group of girls showed up just to watch. Everyone had a great time and we didn’t leave until they shut off the playground lights. We started playing every night at the same time.
The sad, surprising tale is that this same scene has repeated itself hundreds of times in my life. I show up to a court and everyone is just shooting buckets, like they need an 11-year old’s permission to organize a game.
* * *
The way schools are structured teaches kids to think that anything you want to do requires asking permission first. Without that permission, we learn to sit around and wait for something to change. There’s no process in place to help kids learn how to initiate something. One of the best things we can do for kids is to help them internalize some version of these two-word messages.
Mine is, “You can.”
Clay Hebert’s is “Wanna run?”
Come up with your own or steal one of these, then teach it to a cool kid who’s complaining that school sucks but isn’t doing anything about it. Encourage her to start something awesome without asking permission first.
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