Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fear and Change: My Story: High School (Part 3 of 4)

Read Time: 3 minutes

When I look back at my early life, high school stands out, because I had a mentor. My earliest years were filled with kind people — mostly women — who meant well, and even helped me discover my talent and prepare for the future. But it was in high school that I found the person who would be my touch point for years to come.

Read Fear and Change: My Story (Part 1 of 4) and Fear and Change: My Story: Elementary School (Part 2 of 4).

Fear of Failure

Entering high school, I had a strong vision of success. I knew I was smart even if I wasn’t knocking down the grades. I hung my vision of success on my art, but I had no idea how it would work. I was afraid of failing in life, but not so afraid of school. I dressed cool, smoked (naturally) and envisioned myself the artist.

Some smart administrator put me in art for both homeroom, where we started every day, and for actual art classes. Frank Fujii was our teacher. Mr. Fujii was cool. He played jazz every day in class while we worked. He was a real, professional artist connected to the downtown advertising and design community. For four years, I had Mr. Fujii twice a day, every day. He talked about humility, jazz and his work. I was enthralled.

At the end of my senior year, Mr. Fujii steered me to the Burnley School of Professional Art. At this point, thanks to him, I had some sense of what a professional artist did. And I’d had enough work as a janitor and cleaning houses that I knew that I had to get into Burnley or my life was not going to be good.

Burnley required a portfolio to enter. I slaved over that work, driven by my fear of failure. I still remember the day they looked over my work while I stood nervously by, fear churning my stomach and sweat running down my back while I waited for the verdict. I passed the test and was in. I felt like I was really on the road to escaping the Leonhardts and into my adult life.

Although failure was possible, I learned that there was a place for me, and that fear was an incentive to focus and make good things happen.

Catch up on Part 1 of My Story, Part 2 Elementary School.

I want to hear if you’ve ever had a teacher/mentor like Mr. Fujii, or another teacher who stands out in your memory. Did she or he change your life — by consciously helping you achieve your goals, or by challenging you to do something no one thought you could do? Share in the comments or send me an email to ted (at) tedleonhardt (dot) com.

Read on to Part 4 Burnley and Beyond.


  • merrill mcadams says:

    I too had the pleasure of being in Mr. Fujii’s class. Like you, he directed me to Burnley School of Professional Art. Mr. Fujii had that unique ability of working with us hoodlums back then and making us appreciate art. I was on the Tolo committee and we got him to do the cover of our Tolo and also add several cartoons inside the Tolo.

    It is with a heavy heart that I understand Mr. Fujii recently passed away. I so enjoyed him back then and had the opportunity to visit him at his home on Mercer Island many years ago. Rest in Peace Mr. Fujii Merrill

    • Ted says:

      Hi Merrill, Sorry I’m so late in replying. I went to Mr. Fujii’s memorial service. More than 500 people attended. Norm Rice, the former Seattle mayor, was one of the speakers. I talked to a few of the other attendees and found that the helping hand he extended to me was just the way he was. Thanks for your comment. Best, Ted

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