Originally published March 19, 2014.
Revised and republished April 13, 2016 after a web host transfer.
Seeing opportunities for serendipitous success in people
who are different from you because you understand that
your success is connected to their success
Freelance writer Louise Tutelian became a volunteer for Literacy Volunteers of America. She wrote a “Viewpoint” column for Glamour Magazine about the experience of tutoring middle-aged Tom to read. Tom had been sickly as a child, had missed months of school at a time, and since his school apparently didn’t help him catch up, quit at age 12.
Tutelian began the sessions with the expectation of “imparting some of the fruits of my knowledge to someone less fortunate than I.” She had to overcome the “glare from my halo” before she could recognize equality and start practicing smart success.
Tutelian did teach Tom to read, but much slower than she expected. In return, Tom taught Tutelian persistence. She had so much trouble getting her new computer to print out a chart she designed that she considered giving up and making the chart by hand. Then Tutelian remembered Tom persistently insisting that she drill him on sounding out the “m” and “n” sounds until he knew he could pronounce them correctly no matter when they appeared. Tutelian slowed down to Tom’s speed, “carefully reread the instructions”, and printed out her chart.
Tom also taught Tutelian to forget about focusing on big successes right away. Through Tom, Tutelian learned to be happy with the small successes that would eventually make the big successes possible.
Finally, Tom taught Tutelian to be grateful for everything she had taken for granted. Tom worked as a sanitation worker who had to drive trucks even though he could not read road signs. He had been cheated by his ex-wife because he couldn’t read insurance forms. He bought the wrong food at grocery stores because he could not read the packages. Tutelian easily read road signs to get where she wanted to go, read legal documents as she needed to, and brought home the food she wanted to eat. Tom needed to learn to read for survival. Tutelian stopped bringing in sports stories to teach Tom reading comprehension. Instead, she focused on the road signs and food packages Tom needed to read for survival.
It’s obvious to me that Tutelian learned a fourth lesson from Tom:
Effectiveness begins with satisfying basic needs.
Tutelian’s late blooming smart success left her feeling less “noble”, a feeling that hadn’t done her any good anyway. Recognizing her equality with Tom brought her serendipitous opportunities to benefit from what Tom could teach her about success.
“Teaching an Illiterate Taught Me Plenty”
March 1988, page 32
Paula M. Kramer
Resource Rock Star (See websites below.)
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Recognize when other people are choosing failure for you.
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