Overcoming Obstacles

5th Grade Song Writing

If you are to achieve a special mission in life you will need to believe in yourself. During my elementary school years I was shy and had very little confidence. As I look back I’m surprised that I would even attempt to write an original song. It happened the summer between my 4th and 5th grade in school. Of course I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing because I was afraid they would laugh at me. However, I spent a lot of time thinking about just the right lyrics and music to go with the words. By the time school started that fall I was almost finished with my supposed masterpiece. That school year I was assigned to be in Mr. Singer’s class. Perhaps most of us have had teachers that we will never forget and he was one of those. In fact I couldn’t forget him if I wanted to. If could see him again today I would hope that I would be man enough to express my gratitude to him for what he has done for my life. That would require that I look at the big picture because for years I just wanted to punch him for what he did.  

The memorable experience that stamped his name into my mind forever happened one day at the beginning of the school year. I was sitting at my desk trying to put the finishing touches on the lyrics to my song. I’ll admit that I should have been working on the social studies assignment that he had given us to do. However, I was so close to finishing my song that I just wanted to be through. The inspiration for my lyrics came from a high school girl that I had a crush on at the time. I had only seen her a few times before but I thought she was beautiful. So the lyrics I wrote were about true love and may have been a little on the mushy side. The one thing that writing a song did for me was build my confidence.

To understand the experience I had with Mr. Singer it is important to mention that I had all A’s and A- for a yearly average in school up to that point. That of course is no big deal for an elementary school student but it plays into the story. My parents were not able to be actively involved in helping me with my school work. One reason for this was that they owned a family business and both had to work about 13 hours a day, 6 days a week. Another reason I’m sure is that neither of my parents had the opportunity to complete much formal education themselves. My dad grew up in what was called a “logging camp” in southwestern Louisiana. His father was an abusive alcoholic who didn’t see the importance of formal education. My dad only completed six years in the public school system. My mother grew up in rural Alabama and was forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade when her mother died in childbirth. She took care of her three younger siblings while her dad worked.

As I was trying to finish my love song that day I didn’t notice that Mr. Singer was going up and down the aisles making sure everyone was working on social studies. Suddenly he was at my side looking at what I was doing. Then without warning he snatched the lyrics off my desk and started walking to the front of the class. I was horrified. Just reading the words to songs is not as impressive as hearing them set to music. If you were to just see the words to a song like Twist and Shout by the Beatles it would be a totally different experience than listing to it on the radio. That is the way my song was. You would have to listen to it rather than read the words. As he read the words he began to laugh hard. Then at the front of the class he said, “Listen up class to what Randal Wright has written for us.” As he read the words the class including those I considered my friends began to laugh hysterically and point their fingers at me. My face became so red it felt like it was on fire. At first I tried to say that I had found the paper on the bus and that someone else had written them. He nailed me however by asking why the words were in my handwriting if that were the case. It was the most humiliating day of my life up to that time.

I guess Mr. Signer and my classmates couldn’t appreciate a song that was obviously ahead of its time. Maybe the song is still a just a little ahead of its time. The title of the song was, “My Pretty Sugar, I’ll Always Love You.” Do you think maybe my song is still a little ahead of its time?

I realize now that we are free to chose how we respond to situations but it was in large part because of my experience with Mr. Singer that day that: 

▪ I lost any desire to write or to even learn anything about it
▪ I lost respect for teachers and tried to avoid them as much as possible
▪ I lost any desire to participate in class or to speak in public

From that day my school grades dropped drastically. From that point on I went from a straight A’s to straight C’s because I no longer tried. The only reason I even got C’s I’m sure is because I did go to school every day. As I look back at my report cards now I see my dad’s signature on the back of all of them. His name looks a little shaky however because it was actually me signing all of them. My parents worked so many hours and had so little education they never really asked me much about my report cards. I was always careful to get the mail at report card time. After that day with my song writing career in shambles I became even more shy and withdrawn and less confident in my abilities.

I don’t share my song writing experience to in any way to say “poor me.” Everyone has had multiple things happen in life that would damage a fragile self esteem. My point is that we can either let those things destroy us or we can use them to motivate us to do better. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Many never achieve their mission in life because they let the Mr. Singers destroy their self esteem. However, we can choose how we respond to the bad experiences we have. After all of these years I would now like to thank Mr. Singer for helping me to:

- Write several books, book chapters and magazine articles
- Obtain a Ph.D. and chose teaching as a career
- Speak publicly in many states and in several foreign countries.

It took many years for me to even realize that at some point I had chosen to take a different path than the one I was on in my public school years. Life has a way of constantly giving us mountains to climb. Sir Edmund Hillary a New Zealand mountaineer and explorer who along with Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed as having reached the summit of Mount Everest made this profound statement: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Maybe one day I will be able to pull my song back out and put the finishing touches on it.    

Lessons Learned
• No one can destroy your self esteem unless you allow them to.
• There will be insensitive people you will cross paths with in life so just expect it. 
• The experiences we see as great trials may be the very things we needed to be better.
• Often the things that we think are the greatest trials in life turn out to be the greatest blessings.

Make a list of the self esteem shattering experiences that you have had in life. Then spend some time thinking about how those experiences have affected your life in a negative way and held you back. Now ask yourself how you can turn the weaknesses you have developed from you trials into strengths.  




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