The best piece of advice I was ever given first turned out to be the worst piece of advice I was ever given. However because the discover challenge this week is about bringing out the positive I can also say that the same piece of did actually came back full circle.
When I was a teenager my mother told me “treat other people as you wanted to be treated” but of course as a rebellious teenager whose only goal in life was to do exactly what I was told not to that piece of advice was often ignored. Or worse still, when it was heeded it was heeded for the wrong reasons.
Although her intentions were good fancy telling a kid whose first reaction was always to lash out, to break the rules, to ignore authority that you needed to treat others the same way you wanted to be treated. At sixteen I wanted to be left alone, therefore did that not mean I had mum’s permission to leave others alone? Apparently not, apparently a teenager who just wants to be left alone all the time is not a good thing, they need to go outside, they need to interact with others and above all they need to learn how to adapt in society.
So in the interest of getting some peace and quiet at home (yes even at sixteen I understood there was a need to conform at times, I just didn’t like doing it) I decided to take mums advice on board and see where it lead me.
I started off with my elder brother, who in hindsight might have been the wrong choice but was definitely the closest to home and easiest starting point. There was only two years between us but he was an out and out shit to me, I was his punching bag (not always physical), I was his source of amusement and I was his scapegoat. So with mum’s advice in my mind I started to treat my brother the way I wanted him to treat me. I offered to do things with him and I offered to do things for him, but to him I was just his annoying little brother so all my efforts were in vain. Thanks mum!
It took me another twelve months of rebelling and being a typical ‘metalhead teenager’ before I had another go at mum’s advice and you could have knocked me down with a feather when it worked. Suddenly I’d gone from the doubter who’d tried treating others the way I wanted to be treated and getting a kick in the head for it to someone who realised mum’s advice really was good.
I disliked school, I knew I needed school and I knew I needed good grades to get somewhere and I was probably extremely lucky that school did come easy to me and I didn’t have to try very hard to waltz through school with A’s and B’s in most subjects. What I didn’t realise until I was seventeen and entering my last year of school was that the impressions I was leaving with teachers, teachers whose reports would be read by future employers, could so easily affect my life.
I still don’t remember what it was that stopped me treating teachers like the enemy and started treating them as humans but I was glad I did because for that last year of school not only did things start getting easier but the teachers started to react better toward me.
One such teacher, my automotive teacher, I’d had nearly every year of secondary school and although he always gave me good grades his comments about my manner, effort and behaviour were always honestly poor. I’d been a right shit to him in year nine, and I’d barely improved in year ten but by year twelve when I asked him for a reference to help me get my first job as a motor mechanic apprentice he didn’t even hesitate in saying yes. When the reference arrived and it was beyond glowing I couldn’t help but wonder why. Of course I wanted a good reference (no one gets a bad job reference) but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why it was glowing.
After about a week I finally got up the courage to ask him why he’d given me such a glowing reference when even I knew I’d treated him and his class like crap for the best part of five years. His response floored me.
“I could easily have focused on five years of bad, but the change in you over the last twelve months has been dramatic. You’ve gone from the class clown, the class disturbance to being the class assistant. I know this class was an extra for you and that it won’t go towards your final high school grade. But above all I know that since the start of this year you’ve voluntarily come into my class and treated me with respect, treated me like a colleague and treated me like a friend. So despite any water that may have gone under the bridge before I treated you exactly the same way.”
So there I was ready to leave school and although mum’s advice didn’t work the first time it had definitely worked the second time and worked in such a way that it not only shaped my future it gave me a friend for life.
This story took a bit longer to reach this point than I thought. There is another full circle story where this one single piece of advice helped shape my life. Maybe if I get time before the weekly challenge ends I’ll write that second and hopefully last chapter. I say last chapter because hopefully by now at the age of forty five I’ve finally learnt that treating others as I want to be treated really was the single most important piece of advice anyone ever gave me.