For a few weeks now, I’ve been volunteering at the local Boys & Girls club. I spend two hours each week hanging out with kids ranging from 6-14 yrs in age. We chat about life, school, finish homework and play games. It is such a fun time and it goes by really fast. Tonight, a couple of kids asked me to help them with their homework… not just any homework, but MATH HOMEWORK! Cue dramatic music now! Now, I was a pretty good student in school, but math was never my strong suit. I was more into the liberal arts. Social sciences and languages were, and still are, my strengths. If my dad is reading this he would totally be in agreement. Hey dad, remember when we used to spend “quality time” together
loathing, learning math? Fractions and long division and square roots and algebra and tangents and cotangents…ah, just the thought makes me cringe.
I have no clue what I’m doing, said one, and I gulped. This is too hard, I don’t know how to do it, said the other. For a second I thought about throwing in the towel and admitting defeat; confess that I’m a phony adult who can’t do eighth grade math and accept the ridicule. It felt like eternity as I stared at the paper in front of me, pretending to read the problem. Then, something came over me… Homework is the first life lesson we learn. It is about commitment and building work ethic. I handed the paper back to the kid and told her to start working them out. She gave me a blank look. I think you know how to do these. I will look them over to make sure you are not making a mistake, but I know you can do this, I said. She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes, just like kids do and mumbled something under her breath, took out her notebook and started working. She was a lot better at it than she claimed and after about the third problem she was whizzing through it like a pro. And, I didn’t embarrass myself like I thought I would. Apparently, I’m pretty good at dividing fractions. The eighth grader on the other hand was having a tough time. Pre-algebra was not having it with him and my recollection was poor at best. Hello, eighth grade was 24 years ago! Thankfully, text books come with examples and I can read. When all else fails, there is GOD, I mean Google…and so, with the help of another volunteer I was able to help him finish his homework. I must say, math is very hard… even after all these years I have no love for it.
But, this post is not about math or homework or even mentoring. I want to take a moment to comment on the process, no, the ART of learning. In school, no one waits for you to demonstrate your ability to learn. They don’t ask you to prove that you can do something. They just trust you with the knowledge. They give you homework, really tedious assignments and lots of it too, so you can work it out. As we grow up we forget what it feels like to be really challenged each and every day. We are stuck in our rat cubes doing what we know and what we are good at, never allowing ourselves to extend beyond our comfort zone. People are capable of doing phenomenal things, if you trust them to do it. Let me say that again… YOU ARE CAPABLE OF DOING AMAZING THINGS IN LIFE. It is something that every employer should understand if they want to make the most of their investment in human capital, especially in this economy. Trust your employees with the job. Give them a chance. Challenge them each and everyday and train them through experience. I guarantee you will see results.
I’m grateful for these kids for helping me articulate an issue near and dear to my heart. I keep telling myself, the lessons are all around me. You can learn from anyone, if you are open and receptive. If you are a student of life, like me, doing your homework… don’t give up. Once you get good at it, it’s magic! It’s power. It’s the bee’s knees! And, it’s the most valuable lesson you’ll ever learn in life.