PMP158: Why Telling Your Own Story Matters

A few nights ago I was sitting in a theater with my wife watching the movie, Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

Photo by Oana-Maria Sofronia – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to say I was completely affected by the nostalgia and its focus on the legacy of Beatles music. In fact, it brought back some vivid memories of two great men I admire and whose love of music influenced me – both who died prematurely. One was my oldest brother, Harvey, and the second was a veteran teacher colleague, Brooks Walton. I’d like to share some reflections and memories from their stories that may influence how you think about your own story:

Memory #1 : Learning Guitar

There is a scene in the movie where the main character, Jack Barth (played by Himesh Patel), is given a guitar as a gift after his was destroyed in a bus accident that almost killed him. When Jack opens the guitar case and pulls out his gift, he begins playing the iconic single, “Yesterday.”  It’s a poignant moment in the movie, but it also brought reminded me of my first guitar lessons.

When we were boys, my oldest brother, Harvey, found a guitar that had been gifted to another sibling who had never used it. He tuned it without knowing how and taught himself make-shift chords. One day a friend of his heard Harvey playing and taught him how to correctly tune it, and he learned chording all over again.

Later my brother taught me to play, and music has been one of the most important constants in my life. Even in junior high, I remember thinking if I had to lose a limb, I’d prefer not walking to the loss of my hands because of how much I enjoy playing piano and guitar.

In 2009, my oldest brother died of a heart attack. He was only 46-years old. The morning after his death, I was sitting at the old piano in my parents’ living room. I tried to pick out a melody but the sound of the notes reminded me of all the music we had played together: the long nights of jamming with friends, sitting around with family for sing-alongs, listening to one another share songs we had written. It was the moment when I cried the most bitterly that he was gone – not because I didn’t believe I’d never see him again in eternity – but because the world still seems lonelier and less spectacular in his absence.

Memory #2 : Using Music to Teach History

The second memory that came to me was of a teaching colleague, Brooks Walton, who passed away shortly after his retirement while I was principal at Skiatook High School. Mr. Walton was a legend among students and the entire community. He taught U.S. History, and for several years, he taught an elective on the 1960’s that was one of the most popular classes in the school.

Brooks Walton taught students that history has meaning, and he introduced many of them to that meaning through the songs of the Beatles. Each year he took students on a field trip to Dallas, Texas, where they toured the 6th Floor, a museum located on the very corner of the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

At his retirement party, Mr. Walton hired a live band. I’ll never forget seeing him in his T-shirt and jeans, hands in the air, leading the entire room in “Hey, Jude.” When he died two years later, our school board changed the name of our newest building to the Brooks Walton Activity Center. His funeral was a standing-room-only event with friends and students whose lives he had so richly influenced.

As I was watching “Yesterday,” I kept thinking about these men: these important mentors in my life. Music has a way of drawing us together. In a world that often seems so disconnected and hostile, it is good to be reminded that people still make a difference when they share their best with others.

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The Haircut Image: What You Cannot Delegate

Last week, I was reminded of this same lesson when I heard a talk from Dr. Tim Elmore, the Founder of Growing Leaders and author of several books on generational trends. During his talk, Dr. Elmore shared an image of boy having his hair cut. He asked the question: Is a haircut something you can delegate to another person? The obvious answer was no.

Then he asked a follow-up: What are some important areas in your life, like a haircut, that you should take responsibility for because no one else should own those areas for you?

Here are some answers shared by others in the room:

1. Your attitude.

No one can control your attitude as you can. When you choose your response to people and situations, you become a person who sets the temperature of the room you’re in instead of reacting to the temperature set by others.

2. Your marriage (or significant relationships).

Your most intimate relationships only thrive when you are present. Time spent equals relationships built. You want to be the one your partner relies on as your soul-mate. You can’t delegate that to anyone else and still have a healthy marriage.

3. Your parenting.

Parenting requires intentionality. If you’re a parent, that means targeting (and scheduling) time for your children. This also means being emotionally present so they trust you when they need you most.

There is one other response I wanted to add to the list:

4. Your story.

You have been given a unique perspective, experience, personality and expression. To hold onto that experience and not share it with others is selfish. And you’re the only one of you who can share your unique story and expression with others.

Why is this important? I think it’s important because I so often see others, even school leaders, “selling themselves short” on the value they are providing for others. Most work involves processes, functions, deadlines, and outcomes. That’s the nature of work. But the longer you work, the easier it is to believe you are simply accomplishing tasks – checking items off your to-do list and reaching goals.

But for work to be meaningful, it must also involve providing others with your own unique perspective, gifts, insights, creativity and skills. In other words, the way you work, not just the outcome, makes a huge difference in the effect it has on others.

Let me give you an example. In the book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, the author provides data on why doctors are sued for malpractice. Gladwell explains: 

“The overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. Patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care  – and something else happens to them.”

He continues…

“What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.”

In other words, people care as much about the solutions you provide as much as they do about the attitude and attention you provide in the process. The “human element” you provide – the unique signature you place on moments with others – you cannot delegate.

Let’s Wrap This Up

When the movie “Yesterday” ended, I had a difficult time gathering my emotions. When I finally made it to the car, I began crying. It was a long time before I could finally talk. When I did, I told her the memories that were coming back to me of my brother and my old friend. I’m not sharing that experience with you for sympathy. 

I want to make a point. It is the unique, one-of-a-kind, poignant moments that people create in our lives that stay with us for years to come. My brother and Mr. Walton were both teachers. But it was not the act of teaching, their work, that I remember most about them. It was their unique flavor – their own stories that inspired others and me.  

They did not delegate those stories to anyone else.

Perhaps that’s another reason I love music so much. Music requires you to see life from the perspective of someone else’s story. When you serve and lead others from the heart, you give them a part of yourself.  So don’t be afraid to be yourself in your relationships, your work, and your leadership. When you do, you may be creating music for those around you that they’ll be singing for years to come.

Now It’s Your Turn

What is one way you can reflect on your attitude as you serve others? How can you provide meaningful outcomes and meaningful experiences at the same time? Who is someone whose story has touched your life in an important way? Can you reach out to them or celebrate them with others as an act gratitude?

P.S. Principal Matters Update: We keep growing!

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As I wrap up this week’s post, I wanted to share some Principal Matters “family” updates: As this school leadership community learns together, we have thousands of readers and listeners, not only around the states, but also in countries around the world. These are women and men who teach or lead in schools of all grades, sizes, and demographics. Here are some quick stats as of July 2019:

  • To date, 2,497 readers subscribe for weekly emails updates (These include educators in North America, Australia, Africa, Asia and European nations).
  • More than 3,000 podcast episodes are being downloaded each week (3,871 podcast episodes have been downloaded by listeners this week alone).
  • 280,791 podcast episodes have been downloaded in total since launching in November 2015.

Even though we have a relatively “small” online community compared to other platforms, think of this for perspective: 

  • 5,000 Principal Matters readers/listeners are regularly listening, reading, learning and growing in school leadership each week.
  • These leaders serve students, teachers, and communities. Assume this represents schools of 200 students each (although many of you serve thousands).
  • At least 1 million students are being touched right now by our collective work!

Share the Learning!

It’s exciting to think of the collective experiences we all share. Do you know other education leaders who would benefit from these lessons? If so, please forward along this post and invite others to subscribe for this free content.

In fact, if you know any education leaders in South America or Antartica, I’d love to include then and cover all 8 continents!

New Offer: Masterminds for Education Leaders

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As I think about the 2019-2020 school year, I am planning on offering a Mastermind for Education Leaders. What is a Mastermind? This would be an exclusive weekly virtual meeting for school leaders who want to have one-hour of focused learning, feedback, and mentoring. Each member will be hand-picked to join the mastermind community.

To participate in a Mastermind, you would commit one hour a week to our online group meeting and another hour a week to personal development and leadership exercises. If you’re interested, applying is the first step. After reviewing applications, I will reach out to qualified candidates for an admissions phone interview. There is also a monetary commitment to be a part of this exclusive community.

Interested in a Mastermind? Before launching this portal or application on my website, I wanted to hear from any listeners or readers who may be interested. If that’s you, please email me at Just include the subject line, “Mastermind”, with your contact information. You’ll be the first to know when this option is live and available for application.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker