I was Dave's best friend for a few days back in 6th grade. Dave was cool, popular, and athletic. While the guys were all pretty good friends in my class of 25 or so, there was a pecking order of popularity. It didn't help that I was the littlest guy in the group because being good at games at recess was important. I wasn't very good, and often got picked last. As a matter of fact, a person doesn't even get PICKED last; the next-to-the-last guy gets picked and the last guy is relegated to slinking off to whichever team is stuck with him.
But that one glorious day, Dave, the perennial team captain, for some forgotten reason, said he'd pick me first for kickball at afternoon recess! (I don't remember why we lined up the way we did for lunch that day, but I was standing beside Dave and ended up last from my class in line. That meant that right behind me was the 5th grade class and first in line And OH NO! It's her! The one with the long curly red hair and freckles! I was going to have to sit beside her on the bench for lunch! Was being Dave's friend worth this crisis??!! Everybody knew you could get cooties from sitting next to a girl like that! Of course, a couple years later, I thought she was perfect. That's a story of another kind of misery for another day. Yes, Charlie Brown, I know your pain)
Anyway, I don't remember any more about that day, just the incident with the little red-haired girl and that Dave was a man of his word and that day I did get picked first. I don't remember that ever happening again.
In 7th grade, I went out for football like everyone else. As I donned my gear for the first practice, I noticed that nothing fit very well and the shoulder pads were wider than I was tall. I lasted a couple nights then was traded to the managers' squad. I did much better there.
You might think these events would warp a young psyche, but I don't think they did, not too much, anyway, because as time went on, other strengths emerged.
I wasn't a great musician, but I got to be in the EHS marching band right when it started in the early 60's. The 24 of us weren't very good, but we were a team, and proud, and appreciated by the crowd. That experience contributed to a life-long love of music including tours of New York City and Boston with the college concert band, playing in a handbell choir at church and related festivals, and even today playing at folk music jam sessions.
When I took a psychology class in high school, I decided that was what I wanted to do. I had a serious struggle with college academics so a career in psych seemed doubtful. A set-back? Maybe, but psyche-warping? Not really, because while in college, I picked up photography as a hobby and that led to a successful and rewarding career that spanned two decades.
I decided to try something different and took a sales job with Whirley and had a wonderful 15 year career before foreign competition filled my niche markets. Another set-back and maybe a temporary psyche warp. But guess what, that job made it possible for me to return to my passion and a graduate degree in psychology. And that led me right back to where I wanted to be all along, all the way back to that 1965 goal of working in psychology.
So, do these set-backs, being picked last, not making the team, barely making it through college, losing a job, really have to be warping? OK, maybe a little, maybe temporarily, but we are so much more than our failures and set-backs. We should see ourselves as the sum-total of our experiences. And in many cases, focusing on the positive pretty much changes the impact of the negatives. The negatives become out of focus, just blurry reminders of those temporary set-backs.
So, all you people who were the team captains and who got picked first, count your blessings. And all the rest of us, those picked in the middle and even those picked last hey, we can turn out just fine too!
Gary Lester, M.S., R.T.C. is the Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.