I went to an all-boys college prep high school. We were to assume leadership roles in government and industry. I'm proud of my education at this fine institution.
In my sophomore year, I took Civics taught by our football coach, Mr. Balaban. It was an afternoon class, right after lunch. I sat on the right side, about a third of the way back. That way, I could lean my head against the wall. It was an easy "A" class. Not a shining beacon of my education … except for one short impactful lesson. I guess it was related to civics and good citizenship. I can see his massive form as he delivered this character-building sentence:
"Men, it's better to be Outstanding than Standing Out."
Have you ever felt like you were just left standing there?
I thought of all the times I was the last one picked for teams on the playground. There I was, Standing Out. I thought of the parties in high school that I wasn't invited to. Standing Out.
I was painfully shy in grade school and high school. So much that I dreamed up my personal brand as I walked through the school corridors: Invisible Strength. As classmates brushed by without a hint of recognition, I repeated the phrase: Invisible Strength. This was my coping mechanism. I convinced myself they just couldn't SEE my amazing superpower. As a coping mechanism, it worked.
Unfortunately, though, it didn't make me Outstanding. In my Invisible Strength, I continued to Stand Out. Standing out of the crowd. Standing out of the flow. Standing out of my responsibility to put my talent in the world and SHINE.
Have you ever felt like you were Standing Out as opportunity passed you by?
I graduated 6th in my high school of 285. I had great grades. But, other students with lower grades got the 4-year scholarships to top tier schools. They tested well on national tests. I did not. Their resumes were chocked full of character-building and leadership roles. Mine was not.
Once again, I was Standing Out.
I entered Freshman year in my chemical engineering program with a new life objective. I was no longer going to be the guy whose superpower was Invisible Strength. The guy no one noticed. The guy people would brush by on campus, unseen.
My new objective and strategy: Go to as many parties I could and talk to the prettiest girl in the room.
I bet you're smiling now. "Go Get 'Em, Patrick! Woo Hoo. What courage! You've Got This!"
Nope. I was HORRIFIED.
I'm not sure you can imagine being the shyest person ever, going to a party, scanning a room of all the girls. Each one looking like a lioness, ready to kill. Just their steely stares could drop a charging rhino! Target identified. I walk up to her. Lump in throat. Sweat pouring out of my body. Words bumble out of my mouth in a whisper that barely sound like English.
That was my experience.
And I would try again.
The path was tough. I cried myself to sleep some nights. But I stuck with it.
By the end of first semester Freshman year, I had honed the talent. I could now talk to the prettiest girl in the room. And Mr. Balaban's instruction rang in my head. I was no longer Standing Out. <And the crowd cheers!!!> I joined the pack of most normal young men. Yes, normal is the right word. I had joined The Norm.
And the path to Outstanding lay before me.