Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shane's Teen Journey Story, Part Two - Amazing Luck and Hard Work

As I recounted in Part One, Shane's young life was a mixture of several kinds of adversity. He was born into abject poverty, which meant that he had to go to work at a very young age. He wanted to fit in with other boys, but he was the smallest kid in his age-group. On top of this, he had a stern, autocratic father who ultimately sent him to military school to learn discipline.

When Shane returned, he was on the eve of puberty, and two significant things happened to him, things that almost never happen to a young man and which shaped his teen journey.

First, his uncle had a “heart-to-heart” talk with him about the teen years ahead of him. He took the boy out to breakfast and for hour hours explained how easy it would be for him to get in trouble. “You’re going to want to have fun, and that’s great. That’s what sports are for. But you’ll also have temptations and peer pressure. The thing I want you to remember is that your choices will have consequences. Let’s talk about that.” He went into a lot of detail. He told Shane, “Now when you’re confronted, I want you to remember what I told you. Will you do that?” It was a conversation Shane always remembered, and he claims it helped him avoid many mistakes.

Second, his father declared he was done buying things for him. if Shane wanted clothes or any other personal items, he’d have to earn the money to buy them himself. While this tactic may seem a little extreme and even heartless to a parent today, to Shane it was a natural evolution of life as his father’s son. Instead of rebelling, he got a paper route, mowed lawns and worked part-time construction jobs. On weekends and during the summer, he helped out on his grandparents’ cattle ranch.

During his teen years, all this work had a positive effect on Shane. First, it’s hard to get in trouble when you’re too busy to be bored. Also, he discovered that he liked having his own money. And of course he didn’t take what he had for granted. In addition, all these jobs kept him in top physical condition, reinforced his work ethic, and made him a better athlete on the baseball team.

Even though he was a talented baseball player, he didn’t blossom physically until he was 16. Until then he had been the smallest boy in his age group. He had always wanted to play in sand lot games and be liked by his friends, but no one wanted him on their team. Always the last one picked, they didn’t trust him with the ball. However, his small stature didn’t limit him in baseball, and he gradually became an outstanding infielder, a leader on every team he played for. At 14 he played for two teams and coached a little league team. He told me that the need to explain the game to younger kids forced him to analyze the details of correct performance. As he learned to do this, he applied this mental skill to every part of his life, analyzing how and why everything happens.

As a teen, Shane was too busy with sports and work to get into trouble. Still, in high school he shrugged off his schoolwork. He got above-average grades, but he claimed he often faked his homework assignments. The only brush with trouble Shane could remember was a time when he and his buddies went fishing. One of them had stolen some dynamite and blasting caps from a construction site, so they decided it would be fun to stun the fish. But they detonated a charge too close to a bridge, and the bridge collapsed into the river. The boys took off and were never discovered. Unfortunately, the bridge was the only link back to Bozeman and caused hardship for some families.

He read a lot of science fiction. It fired his imagination and caused him to think of the future as a time of unlimited possibilities. The heroes of these stories usually demonstrated strong leadership. He always wondered: what would he do in situations like these?

Shane’s father was concerned about the boy’s future, which wasn’t heading in any particular direction. So midway during Shane’s senior year, his father pressed him to apply to the service academies. Remembering his own military service, he considered it a way to grow up, get a college degree, contribute honorably and earn a secure future. But Shane didn’t like the idea of attending another military school. Nevertheless, he complied with his father’s wishes and applied. To his surprise, West Point offered him an appointment. But when he turned it down, his father was so angry that he ordered him out of the house.

Shane drove away in an old Dodge and headed for Billings, where he joined a semi-pro baseball team. When the University of Montana baseball coach saw him play, he offered Shane a scholarship. The only thing Shane passionately cared about in college was baseball, and after sophomore year he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, soon after that he was also drafted by the U.S. Army. When the Army recognized his baseball talent, they sent him to Fort Carson, Colorado, so he could play on the post baseball team.

But then a Special Forces recruiter arrived to give his pitch, and Shane got excited and signed up. He was 20 years old and it was 1964. After he completed his training, the Army sent his team to Vietnam. When he returned a year later, he had a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. And he wasn’t a kid anymore.

Before the volunteer Army, enlisted soldiers had to pull KP (kitchen) duty, and having to do this irritated Shane. So in 1966 he applied for Officer Candidate School. He was accepted and immediately after he was commissioned a second lieutenant, he was sent back to Vietnam. A year later he returned with more medals and another Purple Heart.

After two tours in Vietnam, Shane had a different outlook. He decided to leave the Army and use his G.I. Bill benefits to go back to school to get a business degree. Unlike his high school years, he now had a passionate interest in learning. He became a voracious reader, absorbing insights from diverse disciplines, an obsession for knowledge that continues to this day.

After Shane earned his degree, he got married and landed a job at General Electric. He stood out among his peers. He was smart, action-oriented and a strong leader. He could be counted on to get things done, so he was quickly promoted into management. As a brand manager, he showed a knack for building a business. Over the years, G.E. gave him several opportunities to do that.

In 1989, he retired to use his entrepreneurial skills to build his own businesses. Today, accumulating wealth no longer motivates him. He only takes on projects that will make a difference in people’s lives.

Shane’s teen journey is fascinating because it’s easy to see how it shaped him. It’s the story of someone born into abject poverty, raised by a stern, authoritarian father and limited by his size until he was a junior in high school. He faced hardship and adversity that most kids know nothing about. From an early age, he accepted that when you get knocked down, you get back up and deal with it. It taught him to be self-reliant at an early age. He learned to take responsibility, work hard and stand out. He always knew that his parents loved him. His father’s love may have been tough, but Shane claims the challenges he faced as a young man prepared him for his success as an adult. He firmly believes that if his youth had been easy, the arc of his life would have been quite different.

Another teen journey story in which adversity shaped a young man...

Stories about teens who had it easy - what happened to them...

Shane's story inspired me to write this book...

Conversations with the Wise Uncle

And a similar book for teen girls...

Conversations with the Wise Aunt

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is a very interesting post, Denny. As you indicate, the teen years are SO important in shaping a human being, his/her personality, and character.

Much love,