You Choose to be Who You Want to Be

One of my favorite movies of all time is the little known animated movie, The Iron Giant.  It is a wonderful story that is worth watching again and again.  In the movie, a giant robot from space crash lands in a remote area of the U.S. in 1957.  The crash has slightly damaged the robot as is evident by the slight dent in his head and loss of memory.  Discovered first by a nine year old boy named Hogarth, the robot is hidden for a while in a junk yard.  Over the course of several days, the duo spends time playing, reading comics and exploring the woods.  During their time together, Hogarth shares many of life’s lessons with the robot.  One lesson, about making choices, is learned when Hogarth introduces the concept of Superman to the Iron Giant.  The robot immediately relates to the superhero’s abilities and using those abilities for good.

Of course, crisis comes their way as a CIA investigator is in the area to investigate the “meteor” that was seen in the sky days ago.  Upon finding the giant robot, panic ensues and a local military contingent begins firing on the robot.  Since Hogarth is with the giant robot at the time, the robot runs away only to see that the boy was knocked out (or worse) due to their fleeing from the military.  Seeing the potential death of his friend, the robot begins to behave in a way that was obviously the purpose of his designers.  The dent suddenly is “popped out” on his head and guns, lasers and missiles are fired from the Iron Giant as he fights against the military.

Soon, Hogarth wakes and gets the Iron Giant to stop firing his weapons.  The CIA agent still wants the robot destroyed, so in his panic he sends a message to an offshore naval ship to launch a nuclear missile at the robot’s location, which at the time happens to be in the town square.  Realizing that the missile will kill many people, the Iron Giant launches himself to meet the missile in the stratosphere and save the town.  As he approaches the missile, the Iron Giant recalls what Hogarth taught him and replays Hogarth’s voice in his head…“You choose who you want to be.”  The Iron Giant then whispers, just before directly impacting the missile, “I’m Superman.”

Obviously, the Iron Giant was designed to be a killing machine; however, he chose to be a savior.  What a great message for all of us.  Regardless of our life’s experiences and troubles, we can still choose to be who we want to be.  And, in the case of the Iron Giant, he had a great teacher in Hogarth who helped him to understand that tenet.

I am a believer that it is the little choices in our lives that matter.  Making the right decision each and every day, even when the right decision requires additional work, is what makes all of the bigger decisions easier.  Philosopher William James said it best.  “All of life is but a mass of small choices—practical, emotional and intellectual—systematically organized for our greatness or grief.  We must never forget that it’s not only our big dreams that shape reality…the small choices bear us irresistibly toward our destiny.”

Our power is in our choices…our little choices…that we make each and every day.  Remember that we are not defined by a college degree or a position.  We are a composite of our choices, which is what defines us…and, what defines how we are viewed by others.

Patience is More Than a Virtue

I do believe that patience is a virtue; however, in some areas of my life, I can be very impatient. One place where I find little patience is the mall. I walk so fast through the mall to get from one location to another that I imagine a security person watching me on their monitors and saying: “Joe, check this guy out. Do you think he just stole something?” I walk with purpose because I need to get on to other more important jobs! Patience does nothing for my shopping plan.

Conversely, patience is necessary when building anything of value. I remember from my teaching days when I would dig into content at a very deep and detailed level during a lesson and then expect students perform at a high level. It didn’t always work that way. Even though I taught my content very…thoroughly…, sometimes students just wouldn’t get to where I needed them to be. I learned that breaking up content into smaller parts and teaching those parts one at a time, always spiraling back and practicing those concepts, helped my students to perform at a much higher level. I learned that there were very few, if any, quick fixes for anything of significance no matter how hard I worked and how well I planned.

As an administrator, I have learned that the best programs come from ideas that grow over time. We work with people, not machines which make the tenet articulated in my title even more important. When working with a team of people, patience is much more than a virtue, it is essential to the success of everyone. Taking time and moving slowly through the team building and norm building processes will allow you to move much quicker in the future. Not only is it important to get everyone on the same page, it is important to develop a common understanding of the topic at hand. Taking the time to study together and develop that common knowledge makes all future conversations much more productive. It is not passé to develop the beliefs, vision and mission of the group. Remember, most success comes from how decisions are made, not from what was decided. Process is at least as important as content.

Like a train, big ideas start slowly as they build speed and power. Once they have gotten up to speed, they are very difficult to stop and are more easily sustained. Lay groundwork for your endeavors and continue to work toward excellence with a team. Be patient without being idle and you’ll find success down the track!