I’ll never forget seeing Michael take charge that evening.
It was our Fall Open House for potential Discover Year applicants. The date was November 2nd, 2016 – two months into the start of the program’s inaugural year, and Michael - one of our inaugural students - was welcoming guests, telling jokes and making everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
The joy and pride that this sight evoked in me is the reason that teachers, coaches, social workers, psychologists and many other “helpers” get out of bed every day: the immense satisfaction that comes from supporting people in the journey toward their potential.
It chokes me up just writing about it.
More on Michael in a minute. First let me set the stage for that evening.
I had been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions of late, to say the least. We had been working toward the launch of the program for a year and a half, and we were now finally operational. That summer, we started with eight students in Discover Year. Not a bad start for an un-funded, grassroots private educational program. It felt pretty good.
By that night of the Open House in November, only four students remained.
50% of our students in the inaugural year had quit the program within two months.
That felt pretty bad.
To say that I was having doubts about the program would be akin to saying that people had doubts about the Jamaicans’ ability to enter a bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
In other words, a gross understatement.
Was our approach misguided? Did we recruit the wrong students? Did we miscommunicate the program? Are people ready for this paradigm shift? How can we keep the program alive?
These are just a handful of the questions that peppered my brain over the course of those first two months.
Then, the Open House - and a multitude of other examples – began to reinforce our mission and vision.
For those who don’t know Michael, his behaviour that evening may seem like no big deal. You may, for instance, imagine Michael as a gregarious, out-going young man oozing with self-confidence. In that case, his actions that night would not have made much of an impression upon me
However, Michael was (is) a man of few words. When he completed his admissions interview for the program, we had to follow up with his references, as we were unable to judge whether he would be a good fit for the program.
In 30 minutes, he simply hadn’t spoken enough words for us to properly evaluate him. Suffice to say, he was nervous, not to mention shy.
We admitted him on the strength of his written statement and the vigour with which his references supported him.
Thank God we called his references.
It would be a mistake to say that this transformation from meek and nervous teenager to confident and charismatic young man was thanks to the lessons we imparted at Discover Year. It was not.
Rather, it was Michael who created this opportunity and growth for himself. Our community simply served as the nurturing flower bed within which he could blossom.
He is a young man of incredible kindness and generosity. For that, we certainly cannot take credit at Discover Year. It can be accredited to the values instilled in him by his family and his support system throughout childhood and adolescence. That, and, as most psychologists would argue, at least some degree of genetics.
What we can (and will!) take credit for at Discover Year is providing a community within which Michael could begin to understand how he can make use of his gifts to create a significant life for himself, thus improving his situation and the situation of those around him.
Michael – like the rest of our graduates - went on to learn many lessons and grow in many different ways over the next 10 months. He walked 500 kilometres on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and came home with a new perspective, and some new skills to boot.
Among many other things, he learned to cook, and to appreciate cooking (much to his mother’s delight).
He came to understand the importance of planning and preparation – so that he wouldn’t end up with terribly sore feet and no place to sleep in Barcelona upon his arrival the next time around.
He witnessed, first-hand, the power of connecting with different people from diverse cultures and regions. He was able to implement some of the lessons in communication and leadership he had learned at our Discovery Days leading up to his trip, and left with some lifelong friends from across the globe.
Most importantly, he came home inspired to, as he says, “find the same sense of purpose in my career as I had felt every day on the Camino, where I learned that I can work harder at something than I had ever before realized, when the activity speaks to my authentic motivations.”
Before leaving for Spain, he had HEARD and READ descriptions of what it meant to live with purpose.
Now he UNDERSTOOD what it FELT like.
That, as they say, makes all the difference in the world.
The best part is that the growth I witnessed at the Open House was just the starting point. As Michael heads off to university this fall to begin his education in business, he has a much better understanding of the fundamental principles required for leading a significant life, and he has learned important skills to implement these principles.
As he says, “I now feel empowered to discover what is best for me, and to keep searching for the rest of my career.”