Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fear and Change: My Story: Elementary School (Part 2 of 4)

illustration of a boy punching a heavy bag.
Read Time: 3 minutes

My early childhood, as I’ve described in Part 1 of this blog series, was tumultuous — I had three mothers by the time I was six months old. Childhood isn’t easy, and many of my generation experienced the fear and shame of post-war trauma. But even those who were born into more stable homes, or later generations, have experienced fear and change.

I’ve experienced the fear that comes from change. I bet you have, too. And I’ve experienced the boredom and depression that happens when there is no change. There’s nothing heroic about this stuff. It just is. And we all feel it.

Here’s what happened in my life after my mom went to work and placed me with other families for elementary school.

Fear, Trouble and Loneliness

In Third Grade, I was placed with a woman named Mimi. I stayed with her for two years, through the Fourth Grade.

During those early grade-school years, I got in trouble repeatedly. I was easily led into trouble because I wanted to be part of the gang. I can still remember the school principal telling me it was like baseball, three strikes and you’re out, meaning that when I was sent to the principal’s office the third time, I’d get paddled. I got paddled a lot.

boy in principal's office

I don’t remember having any after-school friends, probably because I wasn’t in any place long enough to develop any. I had long periods by myself. I was often lonely, bored and depressed. The bright spot was drawing. In the second grade, I was recognized for my drawing skills. From then on, I concentrated on my art and got lots of recognition.

I learned that art was a strength that brought positive connections and I could lose myself for hours doing it to balance out the loneliness.

Ashamed and Afraid

I was reading below grade level and had to repeat Fourth Grade. I now know that I have dyslexia.

I was deeply ashamed of flunking Fourth Grade. I suppose I felt unworthy and unloved. It put a real mark of failure on me, and with all my classmates moving on to Fifth Grade, I was afraid to show my face on the playground.

I still remember the shame of flunking and the blame for not measuring up with real pain. I also remember a bunch of playground fights with various class bullies who, I suppose, recognized my vulnerability. I was small, ashamed and an easy mark. I wasn’t much of a fighter. None of these fights ended well, and I learned to tuck in and keep from attracting attention, except with my art.

The fights did inspire me to take up boxing. With the lessons, my confidence increased and the schoolyard fights somehow just quit happening.

I also focused on improving my reading skills. I remember knowing that reading was an absolute requirement for success. With comic books and science fiction, I learned to love reading.

I learned that confidence comes from taking action. I wasn’t a better fighter, I just carried myself with more confidence. And I became a real reader and have been ever since.

By the time I finished grade school, I had learned how to take care of myself — and I even had an idea of what I might do with my life. In my next post, you’ll meet the mentor who gave me the tools to make it a reality.

Catch up on Part 1 of My Story. Read on to Part 3 High School and Part 4 Burnley and Beyond.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts about your own experiences with me as well — just use the comment box or send me an email to ted (at) tedleonhardt (dot) com.


  • Gail says:

    Thanks, Ted, for writing these posts. I bought your Creative Live workshop about negotiating, and what drew me was how honest you were about the special problems you had learning how to deal with bullies and angry people, and your insights into why a creative person can struggle in the business world, and often discount their value. The interesting thing is your creativity is also what got you through. What an amazing story, and great insights that are helpful to me and I’m sure to many others. I’m eager to read the next installments. Thank you.

  • Hi Ted, I’m really enjoying this series. Incredible vulnerability. Thank you for your courage in sharing this with the world. It’s made me think about so many different topics (my childhood, my daughter’s childhood, how I respond to fear in life and business, etc.) I would love to be Tweeting out these articles. I’m curious if you’ll have social share options in the future? Or if it’s deliberate to keep it closed?

    Again, mad props to you.

    All the best, britt

  • Ted I have been following your emails of recent activity. It is a pleasure to observe–over the years–your arrival at a sense of triumph, freedom and dominion. The reflections on your childhood show success to be about the lessons learned from obstacles encountered along the way, and the value found in overcoming of them–rather than the lock-step plan of a predicted career path and material success. I didn’t know you were a boxer! So was my grandfather–a flyweight champ. As an old commercial jingle said it: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Congratulations on a life well-lived.–a friend from one of your many pockets of past joint history.

    P.S. There is a sweetness to your “give-back” work with SOAR for Youth.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I like that your focus is on human vulnerability as it pertains to careers and business. This is a much needed approach that is useful and refreshing.

  • Thank you for sharing part of your history, Ted. I really appreciate you.

Join the conversation, leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *