Life Lessons from a Pep Rally

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Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…


Click the play button to listen to Francis Pass tell this story.

I was junior in high school, sitting in the top row of Dongola’s tiny gymnasium. Little did I know I was about to learn a life lesson.

Mr. Edelman was our school superintendent. He was a big, strong, educated man. I worked for him on his farm after school and on the weekends hauling hay and other odd jobs.

Mr. Edelman would stand at the gymnasium door so he could say goodbye to the students as they left for the day.

One day, we were having one of those pep rallies. I happened to be sitting next to a senior whose name I will not mention. Nor will I repeat the off-color phrase that this senior yelled out during the assembly. But, at that age, I think I was just a little too big for my britches… so I laughed and played along?

After the Pep Session, Mr. Edelman motioned for me and this other fella to come talk to him.

As we walked across the gym floor, I felt like a prisoner on his way to the firing squad. Before we knew it, we were standing in front of our “executioner.”

“Alright, boys, this is Friday, so there’s a ballgame tonight. I want you to go to the game and have a good time. But on Monday morning, come see me in my office bright and early.”

What he said next changed my life forever.

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“What do you boys expect to do with your lives? You boys need to know what your goals are for when… and IF… you graduate this high school. And you’re gonna let me know those goals Monday morning in my office, and the door will be closed.”

I gulped a big gulp. Back in those days there was a paddle on the wall of every superintendent’s office, and they were not averse to using them.

When I got home I asked dad what it would take to be a successful businessman. He said, “I don’t know, but you know the most successful businessmen in town is Lowell Smoot.”

Mr. Smoot was a Shell Oil distributor and owned a few Shell Gas Stations in the surrounding communities.

Dad asked why I wanted to know, so I told him it was for a project I was doing at school. I didn’t have the guts to tell him what had happened, and, in all fairness, it was a project.

“Why don’t you call Mr. Smoot and go talk to him? After all, he’s your customer on your paper route.”

I called Mr. Smooth and explained that I would like to interview him for a school project and that my dad had told me that he was one of the most successful businessman in town.

He said, “I don’t know about that, Francis.” He called me Francis. “But come on down after dinner and I will meet with you.”

At 6pm sharp, I arrived at the Smoot house and entered through the back door where I delivered a newspaper every evening. Mr. Smoot wasted no time getting right to the point.

“One of the things I do is I pay my bills on time and I take all my discounts. Last year, all of my discounts added up to twenty-eight thousand dollars.”

My gosh that’s a ton of money, I thought. Back then, that seemed like a million dollars to me. He told me that he saved around 2% by simply paying his bills on time, all the time.

“Always pay your bills on time and establish a great reputation for it. People will trust you and you’ll get opportunities the ordinary person wouldn’t.”

Then he talked about how he managed his fleet of delivery trucks and the gas stations. And how he would look at his numbers every day. He would always know when his pumps needed filled up, ahead of time. Mr. Smoot knew what he had to do to stay ahead of the game because he clearly defined his goals every day.

Boom. Lesson learned.

Monday morning in Mr. Edelman’s office, my foul-mouthed classmate was first in the hot-seat. Thank goodness. Ol’ Mr. Edelman must have laid into him because he came out with tears streaming down his face.

Then it was my turn. Mr. Edelman said, “Well, what do you have for me, Francis?” I told him that, after talking to Mr. Smoot, I had decided to be a successful businessman.

Mr. Edelman said, “You interviewed Lowell? That’s admirable. But do you know how you’re going to be a successful businessman?”

I said, “No, I do not. But I’m going to use what I learned from Mr. Smoot, and I’m going to go to college.”

He was impressed. But there was still the matter of the outburst at the pep rally. After I apologized for my involvement, Mr. Eldelman finished by saying, “The people you associate with will influence your success or failure in life.”

Boom. Lesson learned. Again.

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You don’t need a New Year resolution to make a change. And don’t wait for a life-altering event like a heart attack, losing a job, or saying goodbye to a loved one.

Start today. Set some goals. Measure them. Have a plan on how to make them happen.

And surround yourself with people who share your passion. Support their dreams, too. Mentor some younger folks. Be the person you wish you had known when you were starting out.

Thank you, Mr. Edelman. Thank you, Mr. Smoot.

And thank YOU for listenin’/readin”………..

Francis Pass

P.S. – A thought is not a goal, it’s a dream. It becomes a goal when you write it down. I wrote my goal on a green spiral notepad with a brown line down the middle. I tore off that sheet, put it into a protective plastic bag and carried it from that day on. I even carried it with me in Vietnam. I had that note until it was lost in 1986. Gone, but not forgotten. Don’t lose your dreams. Another lesson learned.

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