By Ivan Misner, Ph.D.
There has probably been someone in your life – a coach, grandparent, teacher, aunt, or spiritual mentor – who’s made a difference for you. It may have been when you were young (it generally is) – it may have been recently. It may have been a positive experience or it may have been very negative. Either way, it is your “why” for what you are passionate about.
I’ve certainly had people who have made a significant difference in my life. One of those people in my life was my freshman high school teacher, Mr. Romero, at Gladstone High School in Southern California. Mr. Romero taught history and that class was the one that selected the student council representative for the freshmen. I had run for student council numerous times in junior high school and I was soundly defeated each time. The elections weren’t even remotely close. In fact, I came in dead last every time. Each election was a humiliating experience that left an indelible impression on me. So, by the time high school rolled around, I had no intention of running for student counsel ever again.
The first week of freshman history class, our teacher, Mr. Romero asked all the students, “Since we pick the freshman student council representative from this year’s history class, are there any volunteers for the position? Who would like to do it?” And nobody volunteered. Finally one of the prettiest, most popular girls in the class said, “Oh, Mr. Romero, you know, I would do it but I’m just so busy! I don’t have the time to do something like that.” Our teacher replied, “That’s okay, you don’t have to do it… But if no one’s interested in volunteering, as the teacher I get to pick. Are you okay with that?”
The students came back with cheers, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – you go ahead and pick!” So the teacher looked around the class, he paused at me and looking me straight in the eyes he said, “Ivan, I bet you would love to do this, wouldn’t you?” I replied, “Well, um, well, yeah, I kind of would, Mr. Romero.” My momentary elation was immediately squashed when the entire class, almost in unison, moaned, “Oh No, Not Ivan!” Even the too-busy popular girl stood up and said, “No, no, Mr. Romero, you know what – I’m actually not that busy. If you’re going to pick Ivan, I can do it, after all!” Of course, while she’s saying all this I’m thinking to myself – “hello, you all see me sitting here, right?” But I couldn’t actually open my mouth to speak. I just sat there quiet and embarrassed, holding my breath. Have you ever had a moment like this? Where you felt so small you just wanted to slip underneath the carpet? That was how I felt in that moment.
It’s important to put this experience in context. Today, I’m an author, speaker, and fairly successful businessman with franchises on every populated continent of the world. But remember, this was happening to me as 13-year old. I lacked confidence, I felt like I didn’t fit in at all, and I couldn’t get a chance to prove myself at something I really wanted to do. Just imagine, for a moment, how humiliating this was for me. I didn’t have the advantage of peeking into the future to know where I would end up. I have to tell you, it was a raw, exposed moment.
Somehow, Mr. Romero understood that and he gave the ever-popular girl a withering look and said, “No, you had your chance to volunteer and you didn’t take it. So I’m empowered to pick a representative, and I pick Ivan. He’s the student representative! Now, open your books and turn to chapter two”
Despite the grumbles rolling through the classroom, Mr. Romero’s decision was final. I was the Student Council Representative. My teacher believed that I could do a good job - I took a deep breath in and knew I would work hard – really hard—to prove him right. When the year-end Student Council elections came around for the following year, I decided to do something I had vowed to never do again – I ran for Student Council. That same class who loudly protested my appointment voted me in for another year, by a landslide! As a matter of fact, I won every election in high school after that – Student Council, Activities Director, Student Body President – every one. It all started with Mr. Romero seeing something in me that I had not been able to see in myself. By giving me that chance, he infused confidence in me and that made a big difference in my life. I gained leadership skills and learned responsibility by being involved in those school projects that I had to take from the beginning to the end. Mr. Romero positively influenced my life by giving me the opportunity to succeed. He didn’t do the hard work for me, but he opened the door for me. He gave me a chance to excel. To succeed. To show what I was capable of doing.
Years later, I knew this was an important experience in my life but I never realized how seminal it truly was to the man that I would become. It wasn’t until a few years ago at a Referral Institute seminar where everyone was going through their Emotionally Charged Connection to why they do what they do, that I came to realize that my entire life’s work was in fact, a reflection of what Mr. Romero did for me as a young man.
Every book I’ve written or business I’ve started has been an attempt to give other people an opportunity to succeed, to excel, to accomplish what they want to accomplish in life. I can’t “make” someone successful. Only they can do that. I can however, provide the system, the process, and the opportunity for them to achieve their dreams. I have been continuously reliving what Mr. Romero did for me and I never even knew it – until I looked deeply into my “why.”
Your “why” is the most important thing you can figure out right now. It is the reason you do the things that you are passionate about. If you don’t know that – you can never completely fulfill your personal and professional dreams.
Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder of BNI (www.BNI.com), the world's largest business networking organization. His books, including Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com.