You’re Just Going To Have To Try Harder

“One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.” – Ziad K. Abdelnour

Every person has a moment in their life that defines their true character. A moment so vital to who they are today that if never experienced they would be living a completely different life. This is the story of my transformation; a moment in time that forever changed my life.

I was fresh out of high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to be in life.  What careers suited me best. Just like most kids, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was an average student in high school.  I obviously neglected my education with that astonishing straight “C” average.  I was your typical lazy high school kid when it came to my education.  All I wanted to do throughout high school was play sports and chase girls.  I put much effort into both and was pretty average at that too.

Well, I enrolled in my local community college with no career goal in mind.  I was tempted to join the military but decided community college was the best route for me.  In retrospect, however, the military would have served me well.  I started out taking the core requirements: English composition, college algebra, physical education, etc.  I did okay in English composition. I was failing college algebra.  I had a “C” in physical education.  I was an athlete throughout high school.  I was always in the gym or playing sports, and I had a “C” in physical education.  Apparently, this college thing was not working out so well.

My blue-collar grandparents raised me.  Neither went to college.  They were very supportive of my education due to their blue-collar upbringing.  My grandfather worked as a Lineman for an electric company for years.  In retrospect, I believe he wanted me to get a good education so I wouldn’t have to work as hard as him.  He was a smart man, and if formally educated I believe his life would have turned out much differently.  I believe he wanted me to pursue my education so I wouldn’t struggle through life with physically demanding jobs.

My first year in community college was turning out to be a disaster.  I had to drop college algebra because I was failing.  I enrolled in intermediate college algebra and began failing that too.  And for some reason, I continued with my “C” average in physical education.  I was lost.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had no direction or plan.  At the time, college did not appear to be the answer.  I was failing and decided that maybe college wasn’t for me.  So, I decided I would drop out of school.  I didn’t know what I was going to do, but school didn’t appear to be the answer.

I made up my mind.  I was dropping out of school.  That’s it, I thought, no more school for me.  That part was simple I thought.  Now, I just had to get the courage to tell my grandfather, who was working his ass off to pay for it.  I remember going over and over in my head how this conversation would go.  In my head, I countered every argument.  I planned for the yelling.  I planned for the stern lecture.  I even planned for the “it’s your life” conversion.  I worked out every possible scenario in my head.  I had everything covered, so I thought.

For approximately two weeks, I kept going over those scenarios and how I would counter his arguments.  I had them mastered.  I was preparing myself to be a proud college drop out.  Finally, I worked up the nerve to tell him.  I was so scared but confident it would go my way.  I had everything figured out, right.  I said, “Dad, I’m going to drop out of school. It isn’t for me.”  He looked at me with no emotion on his face and calmly said, “No. You’re just going to have to try harder.”  He turned and walked away.  No yelling.  No countering.  No lecture.  He just walked away.

My jaw literally hit the floor.  I had no counter to this response.  His response floored me like a Mike Tyson right hook – he’s right I thought.  He’s absolutely right.  I was not trying hard enough.  I started going over every assignment in my head.  He’s right.  He’s absolutely right.  I was not trying hard enough.  Well, I thought, dropping out was no longer an option.  I had no choice but to try harder.  So, I decided to approach my assignments differently.  I studied.  I mean I actually studied.  I really put in some long hours; I was learning how to be a good student.

From that moment on, I started making good grades in school.  Up until that moment though, I felt as though I wasn’t smart enough.  That event redefined who I was at the core.  I was lost.  I was stuck at a fork in the road and didn’t know what direction to go.  I had a million excuses why I should drop out of school.  Making excuses was easy.  Changing who you are at the core was challenging.  I had to drop all preconceived notions about my abilities and start all over.  Who knew a simple statement would clarify everything for me.

“You’re just going to have to try harder” will forever be burned into my memory.  I will never, ever forget that statement.  That moment in time forever changed my life.  When things get tough, I always go back to that statement.  I go back to that statement every time life throws an obstacle my way.  It reminds me to keep pushing.  To put forth my best effort.  That event forever changed my life.  I could have easily just quit, regardless of what my grandfather said.  My life would be completely different today; I might be living on the streets or in prison.

You are probably wondering why I’m sharing this personal story.  I honestly felt compelled to tell this story in the hope of my grandfather’s message reaching someone else, as it did me.  His simple message changed my life, and maybe it will alter the lives of others as well.  I am currently wrapping up my MA in Organizational Leadership with a 4.0 GPA.  I went from nearly being a college drop out to completing a master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA.  I never told him how much that moment impacted my life and he has since passed on.  Maybe this is my way of saying, Thank You!


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