I have been looking back into the past to understand myself. I am doing this so that I can better understand how to help those I work with. While I firmly believe that our performance while built on past experience is not governed or controlled by it and we can learn to move forward despite our past experience there are times where it is important to acknowledge that we do have a past to reckon with.
Every athlete or person I work with one of the initial conversations is direct to “Why” do you want to do what you are doing. What is your Why? Simon Sinek‘s book Start with Why is a great example of the importance of understanding your why. His book is a best seller because it demonstrates to us how it is we find inspiration to achieve our goals.
I’ve talked about my why in working with athletes a number of times. I was the athlete that kept failing at the next level, basically until there were no more levels. I lacked a good understanding of how to be a successful athlete from a mental perspective. You can read about this in my blog. A good friend Deborah Drake prompted me, as good friends often do, to think a little bit more about my why. I started to tell her a story about my father and she has encouraged me to finish the story here.
My dad was a teacher. Actually he had been a lot of things in his youth. He was a boxer , a push cart peddler, a roofer, a hobo, a migrant worker, a panhandler (someday I’ll write his story of panhandling in from of Nevada’s more famous houses of ill repute, but that is for another day. During the 1950’s he was a successful traveling salesman. Insert joke here if you want. After I was born he decided to become a teacher so that he would be home and as he said he wanted to make a difference. So he taught elementary school and coached on the playgrounds from the late 1950’s till his retirement in 1987 at age 70. He was burned out by the system. He had spent his career teaching in a lower economic neighborhood teaching kids to read and trying to keep them out of trouble. He was as I recall in the same building for 27 years. He was an institution in his school district. He was Mr. Margolies. Another reason I guess I go by Mike to everyone. If you don’t read more then you too may miss the point.
In the end, because of administrative promises, he retired from teaching. This is not a place to talk about sadness so I won’t talk about retirement here today. I want to focus on my why if you remember. So a few years post retirement I was visiting from wherever I was living at the time, could have been Colorado or Wyoming I suppose and I went grocery shopping with him as this was one of his retirement tasks that he enjoyed. We were walking in the shopping center of my youth in Monterey Park California. A youngish woman approached us somewhat shyly. She was I suppose about my age of 35 at the time. She had a kid in tow and a carriage with a little girl. She hesitantly asked if my father was Mr. Margolies. He said yes and why and the why had a bit of paranoia with it, which was unlike him. She said her name was Maria and that he had been her teacher when she was in the 5th grade. She couldn’t read then and he taught her to read, just as she was now teaching her kids to read. She said she was the first person in her family to be able to read and write and she thought of him often. She said when she recognized him she had to come thank him. She said she was thanking him more for her children than for herself. After smiles and a friendly handshake, (I got the feeling she wanted to hug him, but was afraid he would not want it), we wandered away.
When she was out of ear shot my dad asked me why she had done that. I was stunned. I had been so proud of him listening to the conversation. How he had changed at least three people’s lives. It made me think how many lives had he really touched over the course of almost thirty years of teaching and coaching. We spent the next twenty minutes with my explaining this to him. At the end of the conversation he said “Hmm”. That was it, “Hmm”. I of course retold the story when we got back to the house and a couple of other times, all in front of him of course. He really didn’t get it. He thought of his life, his working life I should say, as a failure. He was a retired teacher, almost an embarrassment. Telling the story to others in front of him only upset him so I soon stopped. He, I thought would never get it.
I would tell this story occasionally giving talks to coaches about understanding that coaching is always more about the people they worked with then about wins and losses. It helped me make a point with them. I didn’t really understand that I was talking to much more to myself as I had become the teacher my father had been before he burned out.
Post script. I mentioned that my dad’s retirement was not what I would want for him or anyone. Around 2000 he had a small stroke and that impacted him his remaining days. It brought on some dementia that greatly affected his memory. Not Alzheimer’s, where he lost his self, just day to day difficulty. The year he passed away was very difficult. He lived with us and conversations and care were harder than he deserved. I do remember one night that I want to share. I was talking about a young athlete I was helping. This was at dinner. He interrupted the conversation, as a thought came to him with great clarity. He said to everyone at the table like it was yesterday. Turning to me he said, do you remember when Maria told me I had taught her to read? He told the whole story, except the end was different. He said it had made him so proud to have been a teacher. He said if he hadn’t taught a single other person, he felt like he had been really happy to have had that chance. He had tears in his eyes. It wasn’t long after that that I lost him. It is one of my best memories understanding in the end that he got it.
This is some text prior to the author information. You can change this text from the admin section of WP-Gravatar Mike Margolies: Sport Psychology Consultants ; TheMental-Game.com Mike Margolies is a Sport Psychology Consultant, Certified Mental Trainer® (CMT), Author, and Professional Speaker. When you want to be the best that you can be and the one thing you might be missing is the right mental game - what can you do? Well, athletes from all over the country have been seeking out Mike Margolies for over three decades to help them reach their potential. His clients include professional, elite, colligate and youth athletes in every sport. They have sought his counsel and unique teaching style to learn about the game within the game, or what mental training can do to help them become the athlete they want to be. He has trained professional and elite athletes and helped guide many to world championships and even the Super Bowl. Mike has trained more than 2000+ athletes. He has taught at four Universities and completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center. His new book is called The Athlete within You- A Mental Approach to Sports and Business. He currently works with individual athletes, teams and businesses around the world, both in person and via SKYPE. Mike is based out of the Pacific Northwest. Let him encourage you to play the game within the game. The Athlete within You is waiting to come out play. Learn the rules to the mental game to help realize your potential. Read more from this author