Jack Bailey was a freshman when I met him. A student in my Bible class, he always turned his work in on time. He was a fine student. But my, oh my…that boy had the messiest, sloppiest handwriting I’d ever seen.
I’m not one of those “pencils only” or “blue ink only” teachers. I tell my students on the first day of class that God made all the colors and they are free to use any of them. (Except yellow. Even people with two eyes can’t read yellow ink on white paper.) “If you write it in pink, I’ll grade it in purple”, is what I tell my beloved pupils. Encouraged by this, most of them show up to class with a veritable bandolier of multi-colored gel pens.
I’d be at home, lounging in my recliner, grading papers. When Jack’s worksheet made it to the top of the stack I’d have to stop, put my pen down, lift my hands to heaven and pray. Asking God for a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit and a supernatural ability to decipher that boy’s pencil marks.
I remember writing a comment on one of his worksheets. “Jack, I don’t know how you’re gifted but you may as well decide right now to be a doctor because you’ve already got the handwriting for it.”
This went on for months. Until one day I’m grading and Jack’s worksheet pops up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I rubbed my one good eye. Then I rubbed my plastic eye.
The handwriting. It wasn’t just legible. It was perfect. God had done a miracle in this boy’s life! Every answer was pristinely printed. I graded the front with joy. I graded the back with greater joy.
And then I noticed. In the far bottom-right corner of the worksheet were these words, “Mr.T – I know you can’t read my writing. So I did the homework and asked a girl to write down my answers.”
He got an “A” for getting all the answers right. And I gave him bonus points for the smooth move with the girl.
Jack’s a smart guy. No surprise, he’s at the United States Naval Academy as I write.
A huge part of success in life is understanding and accepting what we’re not good at. After all, half of being smart is knowing what we’re dumb at. Only after we honestly acknowledge our respective strengths and deficiencies can we effectively and efficiently move forward toward our purpose.
A mistake made by too many human resource departments and company managers is telling their employees to focus on improving their weaknesses instead of doubling down on their strengths.
When Ellie Employee walks out of her quarterly performance review with three “Meets Expectations”, two “Exceeds Expectations”, and one “Needs Improvement”, too often she will be made to feel her focus for the next quarter should be on moving that “Needs Improvement” to a “Meets Expectations”.
Yet time spent on one thing is no longer available to be spent on another thing. If Ellie’s effort is focused on becoming marginally better in a weak area, her strengths will remain static. Which pretty much guarantees the next performance review will be largely unchanged.
What if Ellies’s employers are smart enough to recognize what Ellie is great at and they encourage her to double down on improving her strengths? And then go hire someone who’s really great at what Ellie’s not great at?
Jack Bailey was smart enough to find someone great at what he wasn’t great at. He solved the problem. He got the “A”. And in the process, who knows? He maybe gets the girl.
Be like Jack.
Be smart enough to know what you’re dumb at.
Todd A. Thompson – One Eye Out