On management: A letter to a grandchild having trouble in school

I hope you will read this. It is sent with love and belief in you, but I wouldn’t blame you if you tossed it because I should have tried to make a better connection with you long ago.

The next couple of paragraphs are about my high school and college days, and we share some striking similarities so stick with me for a few lines and see if you agree.

I had to be one of the worst high school students in Buffalo, N.Y. Somewhere near the beginning I just quit doing the work. I got nothing but Cs and Ds for four years, but I really didn’t care.
There were no drugs in those days back in 1953, but I discovered beer at an early age. And I had a paper route for pocket money. I used to go door to door on my bike when I was 16 and collect for the paper. Then I would bike to a place called “Augie’s Bar Fiesta” and drink with my friends. At that time the drinking age in New York was 18, and I thought I was passing for 18 while my bike was parked out back, but Augie knew all along.

I wasn’t dumb, but I was not interested in school, and I barely got out of high school. I was having problems at home. I thought my father hated me because all he did was tell me how screwed up I was, how bad my table manners were and how I would never amount to anything. And he drank a lot, and I disliked him even more when he was loaded. Then
I started to be a big beer drinker, too. Go figure.

A couple of teachers tried to get me to care. I got pushed around by them a couple of times. One guy got so frustrated telling me I was wasting my life that he hit me really hard a couple of times (broke my glasses). But they couldn’t get me to be interested. Probably the reason I graduated from high school was that they had given up trying to help me, and they wanted the room for somebody who actually cared about his future.

I did the same thing for most of college. I loafed through, playing pinochle every day in the student union with money I didn’t have, doing just enough to get my Cs, Ds and now a few Fs. I repeated some, but I didn’t care much.

Somewhere around 20 I realized I was about to either graduate college or get kicked out, and I didn’t know anything except pinochle. For some reason that’s when I got interested in myself. The dean told me I was failing. I said I would pass. I worked really hard and made the dean’s list that year of 1957 and graduated.

I had just exchanged one set of problems for another. Now that I was more interested in education I discovered that I had burned important bridges. For example, I simply had not gotten enough education to be a doctor. And nobody in the world cared now except me.

I had an opportunity to go to grad school for a Ph.D. in physics. Although you may have heard me make light of it, I basically washed out because I hadn’t gotten enough education in the previous eight years. I was truly sorry about that failure.

I’m telling you all this ancient history to make a point. While for some passing into adulthood seems to be a piece of cake, others of us are dealt a difficult hand that we can’t seem to figure out so we just let it play out. But at the end of the day we have to figure it out for ourselves. We have to pick up the pieces on the day that we say, “I’m going to take charge now!” and do the best we can because nobody else is going to change very much to accommodate us.

My experience was that life sucks until you find direction and start to work at it. So find something you want to be and work at it and give respect to everyone else you meet who is trying to take control of their life. That’s one of the most important lessons I have learned in 75 years.

Life is a minefield while you are getting to be 20. Find your dream and get to work on it, and the rest will fade into the background. You will be happy!

Love, Grandpa
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