By now, I am sure you have read at least part of the transcript from Obama’s now infamous speech that happened to contain both the word business and the phrase “you didn’t build that”. If you would like to read the speech in its entirety, you can find it here.
There was one section of the speech that really struck a chord and as social entrepreneurs I am sure you can relate to it as well, regardless of your political leaning:
Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own… I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.
I definitely had help. And I’m a long way from being able to call myself successful. When I look back, there are a few people and opportunities I had early on that stand out. Who knows if I would be a social entrepreneur without these opportunities lending me a helping hand.
Old Colony Montessori School
From the ages of 3 to 5, I attended Old Colony Montessori School in Hingham, MA. Montessori schools operate differently than most other schools.
Children explore their environment through independent work and free choice, while being guided and challenged by the teacher in their classroom.
You can basically do whatever you want all day with the exception of a couple formal lessons in subjects like music and foreign language (I studied German). The classroom is stocked with activities that enable you to learn independently. This model doesn’t work for everyone but for a naturally inquisitive and analytical kid like myself, I thrived. I became fiercely independent. I learned what you get out of something depends on what you put into it. Instead of spending my day finger painting, I chose to learn to read. I loved any activity that involved counting and numbers. I developed a passion for learning that would stick with me the rest of my life. When I left to attend first grade at a public elementary school, I was way ahead of my peers in reading and math.
4th Grade Teacher: Ms. Sweet
I was a big Roald Dahl fan growing up. James and the Giant Peach was one of my favorite books. I was in 4th grade when they made the movie. I had also started participating in community theatre the year before. Inspired by the making of the movie, I decided to put on a play. I used the book to write a script. I asked my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Sweet, if she would let me organize and direct a class play. She agreed if – and only if – I could get my classmates to rehearse during recess. I was nervous about this stipulation. Recess was a big deal in 4th grade. Much to my surprise every single one of my classmates agreed. The next day I went to school armed with a manilla folder full of scripts. We held formal auditions. And we started rehearsing. But it was short lived. One of my classmates pulled the chair out from another and we were banned from using the classroom unsupervised during recess.
Though it never came to fruition, that was a big moment for me. Ms. Sweet had enough confidence and trust in me to let me use a classroom unsupervised to put on a class play. That’s a lot of faith to put into a 10 year old. I also learned that if I decided to lead, people would actually follow. And that my ideas were solid. I was always a quiet kid and I didn’t have a lot of self confidence. This helped me get over those fears and doubts.
Future Problem Solvers of America
In 5th + 6th grade I was part of a Future Problem Solvers of America troupe.
Founded by creativity pioneer, Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) stimulates critical and creative thinking skills, encourages students to develop a vision for the future, and prepares students for leadership roles. FPSPI engages students in creative problem solving within the curriculum and provides competitive opportunities.
We were given problems that we had to solve as a group. The first year we attended a regional competition for the state of Massachusetts. Prior to the competition we were given a problem. We spent weeks coming up with a solution and creating a skit to demonstrate it. I don’t remember too many of the details except that I played a wizard. The wizard was a key component of the solution. Our skit won us first place in the junior division. We took home a plaque with our names on it.
The program was specifically designed to enhance your problem solving abilities. It also allowed you to suspend reality. Of course a wizard wasn’t actually going to solve the world’s problems. But it’s important to allow kids to dream and dream big. Think of how many things we have today that would have been deemed impossible even a couple of decades ago. Sometimes the impossible turns out to be possible after all.
I learned so much from that experience. I learned to take a creative approach to problem solving. I learned that you don’t need to set boundaries. I learned the value of teamwork.
We often give credit to the people and opportunities that influenced us to become entrepreneurs later on in life. But these early experiences from preschool and elementary school were just as valuable. They helped guide me when I needed it the most. They helped me become the person I am today. And yet these are the people that we don’t usually get to go back and thank.
So, Jackie, Ms. Sweet, and the FPS coach whose name I wish I could remember, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for lending me a hand and helping me take my first steps along the path to becoming a social entrepreneur.
We’ve all had help along the way. Who helped shape your life early on?