Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kinkaid ... I love you for very different reasons

My wife Mary was blessed. She loved high school. And high school loved her back. She had literally hundreds of friends. She excelled in the class room. She has friends from 20+ years ago who have tracked her down on Facebook and revere her as royalty. These friends are setting a particulalry high bar for my short legs to jump over ... but I digress.

For me high school evokes very few lithium-like memories. I was the kid who just couldn't quite fit in. I had friends, but I also felt that painful loneliness that teenage kids can get lost in. When I heard about Columbine, I didn't think, 'man, that could have been me'. But I admit that a part of me knew exactly how it felt to be the outsider kid looking in.

It's been more than 30 years since I joyfully fled from the Kinkaid campus on San Felipe. Despite the time and distance past, lessons painfully learned guide my actions through this very day.

1. Only you can define yourself. People can label you. People can pidgeon hole and treat you as if you were part of a different caste. But in truth, you are only who you choose to be. And if you choose to change that person, you become someone else the moment you change, regardless of others institutional memories about you.

2. It's not a failure until you quit. Life throws punches. I got knocked down in those hallways. Frequently. But I was the kid that wasn't going to allow someone else to keep me down. I might not have gotten invited to the party, but I wasn't going to lose sleep at night fretting over it. I simply chose acceptance on my own terms. Which made me a true believer of the Vince Lombardi quote ... winners never quit, and quitters never win.

3. Sometimes you get scared. And that's ok. One day we were playing football in gym. I intercepted a pass and was returning it. A kid named Johnny Parker, who at that time I didn't know particularly well tagged me pretty good from behind. A few plays later he caught a pass. I would like to tell you that I intentionally returned the favor. Truth is that I knocked him down, completely accidentally. Johnny found me in the locker room afterwards and made it clear that I was now on notice for a severe butt kicking. We never became friends, but despite scaring the stuffing out of me at the moment, John was always decent to me. I was scared. Held my ground. We both moved on. Have no idea where John is today or what he is doing. I hope he is doing well.

4. If you like someone, you have to risk letting them know it. I loved Alison Crooker. Never was going to be her boyfriend. Never asked her out on a date. But she was a friend to me when others weren't. Whenever I hear Elvis Costello sing 'Alison, my aim is true' I immediately flash to Allison's face. Alli was the cool girl who gave up a little popular power to befriend me. As my career moved on and I got into a 'popular' position, I always applied the Crooker rule. Simply, when you like someone, let them know it. It's a little thing but it has made a big difference throughout my life.

5. Greatness isn't a destination, it's an on-going lifestyle choice. I didn't choose to be great at Kinkaid. I went for somewhere between invisible and average. I had a moment or two. Had a great history teacher who made me want to stand out. Coach Hunter gave me a chance to kiss his ring in class ... which in turn bought me some much needed street cred with some guys who had never given me much due. But in large part, I wasn't ready to be the nail that stood out from the board. At Kinkaid, I simply wanted to fit in. At the University of Texas I learned the value of standing out.

Fifteen years after graduation I went to a reunion. By that time I was a Senior Vice President in my company. I had produced over $20,000,000 in billings. I had a beautiful wife. Two healthy boys. Lived in a community surrounded by friends and associates who respected my skills. But none of that was readily apparent to either my fellow classmates or the school's headmaster.

I vividly recall putting myself in front of Barry Moss, then headmaster. While I knew that I had been an underachiever at Kinkaid, I was anxious to share with him how I had turned it around after graduation. Mr. Moss asked me one question ... what did I do for a living? I said 'advertising'. He said 'your father was in advertising, wasn't he'? I nodded yes. And with that, he ended the conversation.

"No one can define you other than you" I told myself. A friend Robert Koelsch and I drove home that night together. Just for a moment I was 17 years old, a little scared, quietly defiant once again.

As I said in my title, Kinkaid, I love you, but for very different reasons.

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