As we go through life, we’re given many pieces of advice. Those that are most truthful tend to survive the test of time, and the best advice brings enduring happiness and a sense of peace.
At an orientation social before I began my first assignment as a young teacher, I sang a song for an appreciative crowd. I had the audience roaring in laughter as I did my unique rendition of the 1966 hit Wild Thing by The Troggs. If you dare to search my name and the title of the song on YouTube, or go here, you’ll get an idea of the performance they saw.
More significant than the song was the reaction of Fergus O’Grady, the man I had left Toronto and moved to northern B.C. to work for. He seemed to recognize something in me because he took the time that evening to give me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten. He said simply, “That was really great. You have a gift. Make sure you use it for good.”
I knew that he wasn’t talking about my musical talent, because it was sorely lacking. I had moved to Prince George to teach and his statement meant a great deal to me as I struggled through the demands of my first years in the profession. I knew I had a gift and that it needed to be used to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
As I worked for O’Grady, I realized that he had a very unique impact on people. Everyone smiled when he walked into the room. He not only used his position of leadership to do good, he also empowered everyone around him. We recognized that there was indeed something special in each of us and we were inspired to do our greatest good.
Though he died in 1998, O’Grady’s influence continues to have a significant impact on my happiness, not only in my profession but in every aspect of life.
There are two key components to his lesson. The first is to recognize and celebrate one’s giftedness. We’re all unique. Some are good with people, some are good with numbers. Some are great teachers, some are wonderful artists, some are gifted builders and some are talented in business. Some abilities we’re aware of and some we have yet to discover. It doesn’t matter what the gift is, as long as it brings us joy.
The other point is that we need to use our talents to do good. When we do, we make our world better, we empower and serve our neighbours and we can go to sleep peacefully each night knowing that we’ve made a positive difference in the world. This may be reward in itself but it’s also true that when we do good for others, good things tend to happen in our lives as well.
As I’ve moved forward in my career, I’ve realized how important it is for me to be like O’Grady. My students certainly need to know that they’re gifted and that they have a positive contribution to make. It doesn’t stop there, however. This is something that everyone I encounter needs to be reminded of, whether they be colleagues new to the profession, school administrators, custodians or cooks. Something powerful happens when we speak these truths to one another.
We’re all born with a unique and inherent capacity to do good. There’s also great peace and satisfaction in knowing that despite the troubles around us, we’ve done our best to brighten the lives of others, even if it just involves singing a ridiculous rendition of Wild Thing.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.