This story is a case study in how to be memorable, no matter your endeavors in life.
It was fall 1987. The first day of my senior year in high school in Olathe, Kansas. The bell rang and as students we slid into our desks. It was seventh hour, our final class. Since that room bordered the front face of Olathe North High School, with windows filling the entire wall, it was as though the outdoors were calling us to finish the day.
Our teacher, Doug Clark, was not yet in the room.
This was odd. It was our first day back at school. It was seventh hour. The anticipation is always great for students as they go to each class for the first time, but especially this late in the day. Who else is in the class with me? Is the teacher just like you heard he or she was? Will I get homework on the first day?
Finally, a full minute or two into it, Mr. Clark burst into the room in a rush. These were the first words out of his mouth:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
What in the world is happening?
Teachers don’t do this.
In an instant, one man had captivated a class of 17- and 18-year-olds with a poem we’d never before heard. We were mesmerized. He could have taken any number of traditional teacher’s approaches to seizing control of the classroom.
He could have been aggressive or demanding. I had some teachers like that. We all have.
His approach could have been sensitive and thoughtful, as he gently introduced himself and told us why he loved teaching and what we would be accomplishing that year as a group.
He could have been pragmatic and shared his background, as well as the texts we’d be studying and what he hoped to teach us, if we would be good listeners and participants.
He did none of those things.
He just started teaching. Purposefully.
Mr. Clark was what Seth Godin would call a ‘linchpin.’ (See Seth’s manifesto here as a PDF.) He was unlike any other teacher I’d ever experienced. How he made me feel about learning something new was powerful and compelling. And this all transpired within a matter of minutes.
It was entirely unexpected, but completely respected across the classroom.
As the year went by, several of us had a Dead Poets Society-like reverence for Doug Clark (that movie wouldn’t hit the theaters for a couple more years).
Countless more poems would be permanently etched in our memories before the end of our high school careers finally arrived in May. I can still recite those lines from Wordsworth and several of Shakespeare’s sonnets without any nudge, a full 30 years later.
I’m sure he didn’t think one thought about it at the time, but Doug Clark was giving us a masterclass in how to be memorable.
I’m not a teacher. But I often think about how Mr. Clark took charge of that class in such an inspiring way, and how I can apply that lesson to my life. He made us instantly care about new material we may not have been otherwise interested in, ever.
But he didn’t do it by drawing attention to himself. He did it by presenting what he wanted to teach us in a non-traditional, engaging, human way.
It was utterly memorable. Literally unforgettable.
I think about how any of us in our chosen professions could do the same, with just a little more conscious thought.
We could create some pretty outstanding customer experiences if we cared enough and put ourselves in others’ shoes. We could re-position entire companies, re-energize employees, sell our products and services in a whole new way, break down departmental silos, unwind longstanding and unnecessary policies.
We could create art that stirred souls.
We could probably accomplish more important things, too. Like impact children’s and students’ lives.
This post is not about ‘how to be memorable’ for the sake of being memorable
The title of this post doesn’t really do justice to what I wanted to write about today. It’s not about being memorable so you are remembered. It’s about doing something memorable so that your message sticks, so that minds are opened, hearts are touched — maybe even jolted, and new actions are taken.
That’s the secret here.
Doug Clark’s impact on me has been lifelong. Hopefully I’ve told the story of my experience with him reverently enough that it’s provided some food for thought for you too, dear reader.
In the short term, for me, it resulted in taking an abundance of literature and writing classes at the University of Kansas, though I didn’t do anything with it for years and years. Fiction writing, poetry, I took it all.
I ultimately majored in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing.
In the long term, it resulted in me creating two past side projects that required me to publish thousands of words every month. It won me business as a sales professional in my career. I believe it earned me promotions I would not have otherwise earned, had it not been for a desire to find the words, while appreciating big ideas, deeper thoughts, and eternal principles.
I don’t think many of these things (any of these things?) would have happened had Doug Clark not burst into that room that warm afternoon in Olathe, Kansas.