Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nobody Ever Asked Me To:

#3: Help adolescents scale incredible heights

The young lady, a college sophomore, stood there looking up - way up - at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He shook her hand, while she shook all over. You see, she had only seen celebrities on TV or in the movies. Not live. Not like this. Never actually introduced to one of the biggest.

And I had a major role to play in that moment.

When I was hired a number of years before by a large, national youth development organization, my duties were basically entry-level management of scholarships and grants.

Little did I know that in just a few years I would be introducing a young college student to The Terminator.

See, at the start, the job was not at all exciting. But in those early days, I looked around the place, got to know some people and started understanding what the other jobs there entailed. After a couple of years I found myself part of a team which trained teens to meet with and tell their stories to high-level corporate CEOs, as well as become national role models for the entire youth program.

And it was a whole lot of fun. How? Two reasons. 1) I developed and presented the public speaking and story-telling trainings, and 2) the teens were fantastic, bright, energetic, fascinating and a joy to work with. They made our team proud, because they all consistently rose to meet the challenges we tossed their way. And they were always incredibly grateful to us for the opportunities to do some pretty amazing stuff.

Like consult with some of the biggest CEOs of corporate America. Like speak to audiences of 2000 at a time. Like play tennis against the President on the White House courts.

And meet Arnold when he was Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

The youth organization recognized my efforts and rewarded me for them. Actually, no. That's not true.

The organization basically ignored that part of my job at performance review time. I got raises, but they were based on the other, more managerial parts of my job. My boss even once told me "I let you do the other things because I know you have a good time doing them." Not, I heard him intimate, because I show any aptitude for it or deliver a much-needed service to the organization.

In fact, a couple of us were criticized for what we were trying to do with these teens at the national level, as they thought it brought too much attention to ourselves. I came to realize that, if you show you're having too much fun in your job, people will resent you for it.

However, nothing, not even money, can replace my memory of that college sophomore, shaking (but smiling), looking up at Arnold that one afternoon - and the story she took back to the rest of the office.

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