When I met Mr. Jim Lemon, I was a sixteen-year-old freshman at Houston's Jackson Junior High and the chances of my finishing high school were slim. I was a troubled teenager with an attitude, living in a neighborhood that fostered troubled teenagers.
Mr. Lemon taught American history and it was clear from the first day that his classroom was not going to be disrupted. It was apparent, very quickly, that Mr. Lemon was quite different from the other teachers I had known. Not only was he a disciplinarian, but also he was a great teacher. He would never settle for my usual standard of classroom work. Mr. Lemon pushed and prodded and never tolerated the mediocrity that had become my standard.
On the occasion of our first semester report cards, Mr. Lemon called me aside and asked how it was possible that I was a B student in his class and a D and F student in the rest of my classes.
I was ready for that question. I passionately told him about my divorced parents, the local gangs, the drugs, the fights, and the police - all the evils that I had been subjected to. Mr. Lemon listened patiently and when I was through he responded, Theres a problem with your list Mr. Phillips, you are not on it.
Then Mr. Lemon explained that the only person responsible for my situation was me. And the only person with the potential to change my situation was me, and that when I personally accepted that responsibility I could make a significant change in my life.
He convinced me that I was failing not because I was a failure, but because I was not accepting the responsibility for my results in those other classes. Mr. Lemon was the first teacher I had who made me believe in myself. He inspired me to become a better student and he changed my life.
Ten years later, I spoke to him again. I was preparing to graduate from Chaminade University in Honolulu.
It had taken weeks of telephone calls to find him but I knew what I had to say. When I finally did get Mr. Lemon on the telephone, I explained what his brutal honesty had meant to me, how I finally graduated from high school, and how I was a proud staff sergeant in the Army. I explained how I had married the most beautiful and wonderful woman of my dreams and how we had a beautiful daughter.
Most of all I wanted him to know that I was about to graduate magna cum laude after going to school for four hours a night, four nights a week for three years. I wanted him to know that I could never have done any of these things if he had not been a part of my life.
Finally, I told him that I had been saving money for two years so that I could invite he and his wife to come to Hawaii at my expense to be part of my graduation. I'll never forget his response. Mr. Lemon said, "Who is this again?"
I was just one of hundreds of students whose life he changed and he seemed genuinely surprised of his impact.
Perhaps none of us realize the impact that we have on other people nor do other people have any idea how much of an impact they have on us. How much, then, should we be aware of our influence on others to make sure that it is for the best? And how much more should we tell those who have had a positive impact on our lives?
Copyright © 2010 Rick Phillips
Rick Phillips, a veteran of three decades of sales and management, founded Phillips Sales and Staff Development in 1984. His core training philosophy is that much of the training being offered in American business was at best inadequate or woefully misplaced. "People are still taught to memorize words and techniques...instead of understanding the principles. Principles are constants that don't change."
Rick has been a featured speaker at the international convention for the American Society for Training and Development. He is a past winner of the ASTD Training Program Design Award. Rick has received Toastmasters International's highest earned honor being named Distinguished Toastmaster and was a featured presenter at their international convention. As a member of the National Speakers Association, he served as president of the Louisiana Chapter and has been named Chapter Member of the Year.
Share a comment or thought about this story with us: