As a youngster in elementary school I was a shy one. I seldom got into trouble because I was afraid to. The teaching staff put a label across my forehead that said I was a good boy who madegood grades and seldom needed discipline. That label earned me the coveted position of School Projectionist. How I basked in the light of that title!
It fell to me every Friday, and sometimes other days, to roll the 16mm film projector through the hallowed halls of the stately old school building to show movies in the various classrooms.
I became a highly trained technician and could thread the film from one big reel through the complex projector, in front of the sound lamp, delicately looped in front of the projection lamp and on to the big take-up reel. I was good. I could do it with my eyes closed—and I was fast.
I did that for most of my sixth grade year, then it was decided by the powers that be that more youngsters should be trained and have the same opportunity to serve. What a disappointment. I wasn’t too keen on sharing the glory. I helped train the other kids but I didn’t want them to ever get as good as I was, and I didn’t think at the time that any of them actually did. I had been a big frog in a little pond and I had enjoyed a unique notoriety among my peers.
The following year I moved on to a large junior high school. My elementary school was just one of several that fed into it. The shy sixth grader became a shy seventh grader who was swallowed up and lost in the milling mass of unfamiliar faces pushing and shoving each other through the crowded halls. The seventh grade was not my best year. In fact, I had quickly become a little frog in a very big pond. Then we moved to Mexico and I was enrolled in a small private school—The American School of Monterrey. The pond got smaller and I was eventually elected president of the sophomore class. Things were looking up.
My junior year found me in another small private bilingual school in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The pond got even smaller and, in spite of my less than stellar athleticism, I was able to play varsity basketball, baseball and I distinguished myself in track and field events. My senior year, I was elected student body president. I was again a pretty big frog. There were all of 24 of us in my senior class. Then I went on to a large university…
I don’t think my life experiences in this regard are very different from those of others whose lives have been filled with the usual ups and downs of life’s perilous journey. But I have learned a few things along the way—one of which is the necessity of exercising a little humility-- especially during those times of being the big frog. Humility equates with being teachable.
A friend of mine, Frank Burton, graduated from Eastwood High School in El Paso. It is a big school with a big reputation for academic and athletic excellence. Frank went on to college, obtained a couple of university degrees and eventually became a high school principal. He was assigned to preside over his old alma mater. “When I returned to Eastwood High School as principal,” said Mr. Burton, “some of the teachers who taught me were still working there. It was a humbling experience for me when the first memo I sent out to the staff came back to me from my old English teacher all marked up in red ink!”
Unlike the young projectionist who wanted to keep all the glory for himself, I eventually learned that I could be most successful by surrounding myself with workers who were better than myself or who had skills that I lacked. I learned that as an executive, the people with whom I surrounded myself made me look good. If we could kick the person that is responsible for most of our troubles, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for six months.
The size of the pond and the size of the frog are in a constant state of flux. Whether a big frog in a little pond or a little frog in a big pond, life is good if we will only take advantage of each opportunity to serve someone else and quit thinking only of ourselves. Just remember, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll sit in a boat all day drinking beer…or something like that.