Chapter Three - Part D
Central Pennsylvania, 1991 – Brons, Age Twenty-Eight
Richard bemoaned his bad luck for the umpteenth time as we got together for our semi-frequent Saturday pizza and beer lunch at a favorite hole-in-the-wall.
He was my pal and one of the smartest guys I've ever known. By day he was Dr. Richard (with a half a dozen letters after his name), a college professor who taught quantum something-or-other. By night he was a mad tinkerer who passionately fiddle-fussed in his little workshop long after his wife had gone to bed.
If one met Richard on the street, I surmise it would be hard to discern if he was a disheveled brainiac professor or a down on his luck homeless gentlemen. His salt and pepper hair seldom, if ever, saw a comb. He cut it himself by snipping locks here and there when he felt the mess became too tangled and unruly. He was tall and slender with, by his own admission, poor posture.
Richard has always been a guys guy. The kind of friend who is a master at busting your chops. To his credit he takes it as well as it dishes it out. For those who have never had a friendship like this it is grounding, keeps you honest and is a heck of a lot of fun.
Back in the early 1980s, Richard bought a country homestead primarily for the delightful workshop sitting at the end of a long, winding gravel lane. He said of the rickety workshop, "It called to me like a mermaid's siren to a sailor."
Richard paved the driveway and spent considerable money on the house as a prerequisite to the missus agreeing to take up residency.
The quaint, rustic house sat to the left of the little workshop, and a dilapidated chicken coop flanked the right. It wasn't fit to house chickens anymore and Richard, procrastinator that he was, should have torn it down years earlier.
Mrs. Richard, a CPA, purchased a brand spanking new Cadillac every three years and was fed-up with her husband's dereliction in getting a garage built to house her car.
Richard's work shop, constructed in the 1930s, sat about a foot off the ground on brick pylons. The crawl space beneath was home to critters with who the mad-tinkerer happily coexisted. But now the shop was going to have to go to make way for a new building. Richard's brother-in-law, the architect, had drafted plans for a 24'x24' garage.
There was a written estimate that included demolition and excavation of the workshop that was in the way. The budget came in at $31,500. Richard reluctantly chalked up the loss of his shop and the old pot belled stove that kept him toasty on cold winter nights to, “A happy wife is a happy life.”
We were finishing up with our pizza when I told Richard, "The bank's open till 2:00."
"Yeah, why?" he said, still chewing on a slice.
"Because you're going to have to finish your lunch so you can go get me one hundred dollars."
He looked at me with utter bemusement as he took a drink, not bothering to wipe the foam from his untrimmed mustache and beard.
"Look, Richard, let's finish our pizza so you can get to the bank and withdraw two fifty dollar bills, one for me and one for my dad, and then I'll meet you up at your place at 2:30."
"But what, why ... wait just a minute, is this some of that problem solving 'voodoo' that you and your father pull on people?"
"Yes, Richard, it's that 'voodoo' that you have so much fun ridiculing. I've patiently waited for this moment. Get the hundred dollars. I'm going to save your shop and cut ten grand off the cost of building your garage. In return, you're going to pay me one hundred bucks for some Voodoo.”
"Well, yeah, but ..." he started.
"Richard, no buts. Get the money or forget I ever mentioned it."
The fifty dollars for Dad was symbolic as the grasshopper had left the nest, or whatever grasshoppers live in, under or behind.
At the promised time I pulled into the driveway and parked about thirty-five feet back from Richard's workshop. I motioned for him to hop in the truck. It was a damp day and misting just enough to run the wipers.
Richard had the hood up on his windbreaker with a tangled mass of hair poking its tentacles from the sides.
"Okay, Richard, look at your beloved workshop. What do you see?"
"Nothing, at least the 'nothing' that will be there come Monday," he whined.
"Richard, will you soften your gaze and let it widen? Look at the house, workshop and remnants of the chicken coop," I asked.
"What? You know what I think of your country-boy voodoo, right?"
"Yes, Richard, and for that, I should double the price, but you are my ignorant and pitiful friend in need of enlightenment."
"Okay, I'll play along and I'll still have a hundred dollars in my pocket when this is over."
"Richard, why does the garage have to go where your shop stands?"
"For crying out loud, Brons, because the township building codes say we need to dig and pour a concrete footer. I know you're going to try to tell me to build the garage where the chicken coop stands, but I still would have to get a backhoe in there to dig a footer, and I can't because there isn't enough room to maneuver the equipment with the workshop standing there. The shop has to go!"
"But what if someone dug the footer by hand, Richard?"
"Who in-the-hell is going to do that? I'm not going to bust my hump on a shovel!" Richard said at about one hundred decibels laced with an indignant tone.
"Maybe guys did that in the 1930s and 40s but not anymore!" His voice even louder.
"Look again, Richard."
"LOOK AT WHAT?"
No matter how hard I tried, my friend couldn't see what I saw from the first day I stood at the end of the same driveway listening to Richard mourn the pending death of his greatest joy. My academically neglected neurodiverse brain was easily picking up and processing information that Richard's brilliant, well-educated neurotypical mind wasn’t even detecting. I was connecting dots that Richard was not seeing or sensing. That’s not to say that I’m smarter than Richard. I was just seeing the problem differently than my professor friend.
Sitting in my truck, I asked Richard, "Why is the roof of that old chicken coop smashed down?"
"Because a year or so before I bought the place a tree fell on it in a windstorm. I should have torn it the rest of the way down long ago, but I haven't gotten around to it."
"Well, Richard considering all that damage, why do you think that entire chicken house is twisted and smashed beyond repair and yet the sill plates at the bottom of the framed walls are still as straight as an arrow?"
Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding, Winner Winner Chicken Coop Dinner, Halalua, Richard connected the dots!
"Oh my God, Brons, of course, there is a concrete footer under the chicken coop, and it has a concrete floor! It never entered my mind! It’s big enough a garage! My God, they must have dug it by hand back in the 40s! You bastard! You knew this all along? We've been talking about this for months. Why didn't you say something sooner instead of waiting until the last minute? You're a bastard, a real bastard!"
"Yes, I'm the bastard who just saved your shop. You owe me two fifties, Richard, and an apology. Not for me, but for my dad’s sake. Pay up and say you're sorry."
"I'm sorry and thank you, but you're still a manipulative bastard!"
"Thank you, Richard. On behalf of my father, I accept your apology."
The next day I creased a fifty between my thumb and index finger and handed it to my sixty-five-year-old father.
Whoever dug and poured that chicken house footer all those years ago did a great job. The architect/brother-in-law determined it met code and the concrete floor didn't have even as much as a crack in it.
Richard dispatched the neighbor, a sledgehammer, and several pry bars to dismantle the remnants of the coop. Some new blacktop was rolled to accommodate the slight modification to the driveway, and the Caddy’s new nighttime digs was built right on top of the recycled footer.
The first time I ever heard the word "wheelhouse" was in the very early 1970s. I love words, probably because I automatically liked anything my dad liked.
Doc was talking about a baseball game and said that so-and-so had thrown the pitch right into so-and-so's wheelhouse. Neither Dad nor I had any interest in professional baseball, but when Doc said "wheelhouse," we both looked up from our breakfast. "Wheelhouse" was a new turn of phrase for us, and we both liked it. That was made obvious by our expressions. It soon became part of our vernacular. When I think of Difstypros, I think of what we do well. I think of those things that are in our "wheelhouse."
A School Of Our Own Making
It is a school of our own making. It exists only as a state of mind. If it were a brick and mortar school, the sign out front would read “The Difstypro School of Trial and Error.” The curriculum consists of trying “this,” and if "this" doesn't work, try "that." Difstypros can be a determined lot, and many of us keep trying until we discover what works. You might remember that I mentioned earlier in the book that academic types refer to us as Experiential Learners.
Often perceived as repeated failures worthy of scorn by the untrained eye, trial and error style learning is the difstypro/dyslexics classroom. To avoid the harsh criticism of the unenlightened, self-taught students may resort to learning in secret—or worse yet—dismiss this style of learning at the consequence of their happiness, well-being and ultimately their contribution to society.
I'm Not Sure if Edison Actually Said This, But It Makes for a Great Story!
Edison and his electric light bulb may be the greatest example ever of Experiential Learning. After 10,000 workarounds he finally came up with a viable prototype. As the story goes, someone asked him how it felt to fail 10,000 times. Edison supposedly replied: "I have not failed. I've found 10,000 ways that won't work." Most historians believe Thomas Edison was difstypro/dyslexic.
Failure is the Difstypro's Wheelhouse
Failure, trial and error, the workaround or experiential learning, call it what you want, it's the difstypro's wheelhouse.
I know that I must look terribly pathetic to those around me every time I fail, and I do it often. I've enjoyed a wonderful life as a speaker, author, and entrepreneur, not in spite of, but because of being difstypro.
I have a big cardboard box filled with plaques and certificates as reminders of my achievements. I tell myself I should hang them on a wall near my desk, but I'm waiting. I'm still waiting for a citation or acknowledgment for my greatest accomplishment of all: "Repeated Failures." Just like I embraced the gas station as one of my best teachers, I have embraced the “gift of failure” in the same way. I would proudly hang an award for Repeated Failure on a wall in my home.
I hate to be a braggart, but I'm really, really successful at failure. As a matter of fact, I don't know anyone who's a better failure than I am! I can't think of any achievements I've enjoyed, even the very things I'm known for doing well, that didn't first come without experiencing the awful humiliation of having my face rubbed in the gritty, disgusting, foul-tasting muck of failure. I see it as the cost of doing business. I seldom get anything right on the first, second or third try! I’ve embraced the painful and difficult challenges of the last two years in that regard as well. My successes are most often a direct result of that thing inside me that compels me to spit out the muck, endure the taunts, laughter and doubts and then try again. I assure you "that thing" is inherent to being a difstypro.
An award for "Failure" would remind me of how truly appreciative I am of the Experiential Learning Style that comes naturally to me as a difstypro's birthright. Acknowledgments of success and accolades for accomplishments are nice, but the crucial role that failure has played in so many of humankind's triumphs goes unnoticed as we “ooh” and “ahh” at the end result that the world touts as a big success.
There has been a lot of talk lately about "grit": who has it, how'd they get it, how do we all get it—and most importantly—how do we teach kids to be "grittier?"
While I wonder why it took so long for the rest of the world to get around to recognizing the value of grit, I'm just happy people are talking about it. They may be late to the party, but thank goodness they're here.
In my world, the realm of the entrepreneur, we have always talked about grit. Grit by any other name is still grit: i.e., drive, determination, guts, tenacity. You get the idea, right?
We use phrases such as, "It's not the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog," or "when the going gets tough the tough get going,” and "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."
Grit is often gained through the benefits of failure: getting knocked down, having your face rubbed in the mud of failure and getting back up to have at it again. In the process of getting back on one's feet and going for another round, something magical happens. The person righting themselves to take another shot increases their ability to achieve exponentially. It's what I have long thought of as the common denominator: it is grit!
When I learned to read and write, in my early thirties, I took up the study of great achievers throughout American history: the Wright Brothers, Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and many others. The one thing they all had was this common denominator of getting knocked down and having the grit to get back up.
The study of grit is complex, complicated, contradictory and convoluted. I like to compare the definition of grit to the definition of food. What is the definition of food? "Something" we eat. Now, what is the definition of "something" as it relates to food? There are millions of different "somethings" under the category of food, not to mention combinations of "somethings" in a recipe. Grit like food comes in all shapes, sizes, flavors, textures, and recipes. In that regard, grit is just as unique as the person who possesses it. No two individuals are the same, nor are any two gritty souls.
TOWARD AND AWAY FROM MOTIVATION
As the story goes, a teenage boy had been badgering Socrates to share the secret of success. Finally, Socrates instructed the chap, "Meet me tomorrow at sunrise on the beach." The next morning Socrates met the young fellow and asked him to wade into the water with him. When the water got chest high, Socrates grabbed the boy and forced his head below the surface. A great struggle ensued, and just as the young man started to turn blue, Socrates released his hold. The poor lad, starved for air and in a panic, could think of nothing else but replenishing his body with air.
Socrates asked, "What did you want the most when you were under the water?"
"Air," the young man replied between gasps.
"Well, there you have it," said Socrates, "You will find success when you want it as much as you just wanted air."
That story, in a nutshell, is the very definition of Toward Motivation.
When one wants something, anything, as much as that boy wanted air, that person will run headlong toward their goal with little or no distraction.
Away From Motivation is Just as Powerful as Toward Motivation.
I'm careful not to put words in the mouths of others, but I can’t help but think that Oprah Winfrey owes much of her success to Away From Motivation. Oprah has been very vocal about the pain she experienced as a child due to poverty, prejudice, and sexual abuse. I would venture a guess and say that just as many people become masters of achievement by fleeing a bad situation (Away From Motivation), vowing to find the security necessary to never return to such hardship, as become successful due to Toward Motivation.
Then you find the grittiest people of all. These are the folks who are unstoppable, not only in the quest toward the goal line, but in their fear driven determination to move away from a bad situation.
In these cases, people combine the engines of both Toward and Away From Motivation and zoom into the status of legend.
I believe grit may be difficult to teach but pray there are people who know how. I think of it more as a gift that one either comes by through life experiences, opens themselves up to receiving through awareness, finds through hardship or develops through unbridled fear and/or desire. With all that said, there is no doubt the gift of grit is one of the most valuable attributes a person can possess.
In the world of academia, a delightful young woman named Angela Lee Duckworth, a professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the charge for all things gritty. Her goal is to figure out how to teach grit; God bless her, I'm rooting for her!
Professor Duckworth became fascinated by the study of grit when she noticed that students with great grades were not necessarily the same students who graduated and set the world on fire. It was often her lesser performing pupils who were making a difference in the world, and she wanted to know why. She took a great interest in these former students and studied their techniques. She saw the common denominator of grit.
Only one problem, she remains somewhat perplexed as to how to teach kids to be gritty, but she strikes me as a gritty person who won’t give up.
McAlisterville Turns 200 Years Old
On a hot summer day in 2010, there was a festival to celebrate the bicentennial of my hometown.
My former wife went along back with me to that magical place where I was a boy, and we participated in the parade down Main Street.
Floats, the high school marching band, dignitaries, antique cars, and businesses ready to show their hometown pride were staged at the far end of town in a lumber yard. It was a process of hurry up and wait.
Perhaps the most cheer-worthy and beloved dignitary of all was just two cars behind us. Seventy-something Donald "Dutch" Smith was a local legend simply for being himself, the lovable Dutch Smith. He was quick-witted, the grittiest of the gritty, and a local entrepreneur with his fingers in everything. With his gregarious smile and a full head of white hair, he owned the hearts of towns-people.
Dutch and I hadn't seen each other in years and the sight of him again, well, it was like seeing a favorite uncle.
My old friend skipped the pleasantries and got right to it.
"Brons, I've wanted to talk to you in the worst way for years but you disappeared on me, and I didn't know how to get ahold of you," he said in a low voice as he dragged me by the arm to where no one could hear us talk.
I knew what was coming next. I always knew, but it's not a topic one just brings up. At least, I wasn't going to be the one to broach the subject with Dutch.
I had been a twelve-year-old kid in 1975 when I first met Dutch.
Many of the boys at school were talking about fox-trapping and selling fur; I thought I wanted to get in on the money.
"Are you sure about this, Nelson?" Dad asked.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"Okay, we'll try it, but I have a feeling you won't like it," Dad said.
He took me to see Dutch at his sporting goods store. It was necessary to be outfitted with all the proper gear.
Bing, bang, boom, Dutch fixed me right up with everything I needed. We were in and out of the busy store in thirty minutes. In that short period, it was as if the three of us had convened as travelers from a distant galaxy. We spoke the same language, finished each other's sentences, read each other's thoughts, and communicated with gestures. We were a brand of beings with brains wired by the same engineer.
I got back into the truck and looked at Dad behind the wheel.
He glanced over at me and knew what I was about to ask.
"Dad, Mr. Smith is like us?"
"Yep," Dad said without further explanation.
It was a surreal moment as I realized we were not alone in the universe, made even more surreal by the realization that neither Dad or I had any clue "what" we were or even "why."
Dad was right, though, I didn’t like trapping and quit the first day.
In the years that followed, I did what I did best: I made Dutch Smith part of my cast. I studied him, his story, what made him tick, his motives and why he was so successful.
In our conversation before the start of the parade, Dutch struggled to hold back the tears and find his words. "Brons, I think I have that 'dyslexic' thing that everyone is talking about you having. I can't read, and I can't write," he admitted.
"I know, Dutch, I've known for a long time. What do you want to do about it?"
"Nothing, I just want some pointers."
"Okay," I took a deep breath and thought about Dad's voice. I started with one.
"One, read with your ears, Dutch. Get books on tape from the library.
Two, you have always been a delegator. Keep delegating to the people you trust.
Three, most importantly, above all else, depend on what you've always depended on: your gift of grit."
The Pivotal Role of Grit
Q. Why do some difstypro/dyslexic kids grow up to be so successful and yet others sink into a miserable existence?
It almost seems that a subset of difstypro/dyslexic kids have the market cornered on grit.
We return to work of Dr. Angela Duckworth and the question of how we teach grit.
I would ask that you read everything Dr. Duckworth has written on this subject and also be so kind as to consider my following suggestions regarding grit.
1.) In this attempt to understand grit, start with the people who have it in spades. That is to say, make a study of successful people with a difstypro/dyslexic mind.
2.) Tell stories that inspire kids. Tell the stories of people who have been knocked down and have gotten back up to great achievement.
3.) Make sure your kid gets to bed every night with his/her self-esteem intact.
4.) Encourage your kid. It may be the violin this week, soccer the next, and robotics the following week. That's okay; they're searching without knowing they're searching. Encourage them!
5.) Most importantly, it is likely that you won’t find the gift of grit, the gift of grit will find you. Do one through four, and I have a hunch it will increase your difstypro/dyslexic kid's chances of being a grit magnet.