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Great Change Begins with Self-Change


I was nineteen years old, a college dropout, and no clue what to do next.  To say I was struggling would be a huge understatement.  I knew I was in trouble. I was lost and desperately trying to figure out what to do next when I decided to interview for a sales position with an insurance company.  That experience would change my life in so many ways that thirty years later I still feel as though an angel was sent down to find me in my moment of great despair. His name was Randy, a passionate leader who lived each day with purpose and loved his job. Randy was a wonderful mentor and friend who expected excellence from his team, but more importantly, he expected it of himself.  We spent countless hours together in those first few months and along the way he reinforced the many values that were instilled in me by my parents, specifically a commitment to hard work and the importance of always expressing your gratitude.  Six months later Randy and I were at a recognition banquet for top sales teams when he received the news from the company president that he was being replaced and he no longer would be leading his team as regional manager.  He was devastated as was I.  The company he loved more than anything, just like that, was cutting him loose in favor of an up and coming young salesman who had been setting regional sales records on a weekly basis.  Regrettably, that young man was me.

As you can imagine, I was heartbroken and torn.  I was given less than two weeks to decide whether or not I would be accepting my new role.  Once again, I didn’t know what to do. I reached out to Randy to seek his advice but never received a response. I didn’t blame him. How could I? Then one day I received a card in the mail and inside was a small note with this quote –

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” –  Theodore Roosevelt.

I believed that Randy had sent it to me. Randy and I have talked several times about me returning to school, but each time I would tell him that school wasn’t for me. He understood that school had broken me and had taken almost every ounce of confidence from me and now Randy had helped me reignite my sense of purpose.

Every year in schools across this country we have teachers and school leaders finding themselves at a loss of what to do next.  They are exhausted, frustrated, and in some cases, on the brink of walking away from a profession that needs us most. Most educators I have come across in my work as a principal or when I am on the road speaking at conferences or school districts I have found care immensely about children and are passionate about their work. Even educators who seem to have lost their way I know didn’t always feel that way. I’ve always believed one of my responsibilities in my role as a school leader is to reignite others in order to  move them beyond their current place of status quo and do whatever I can to inspire them to return to that place where going to work no longer feels like a job, but a life’s purpose. But at the end of the day we all must recognize one thing……

Great change begins with self-change!

It is critical that we keep the faith and continue to strive to model the very aspiration for greatness that we as teachers expect of our students and we as school leaders expect of our teachers and staff.   If we lose our desire to do so or don’t believe that it is possible to cultivate a school culture where everyone wants to be a part of it, then I am not sure what any of us are doing here. No one can change our current way of life. We certainly can be inspired and moved to want to change, but ultimately that desire to change and the act of changing must come from us.  All change begins with self-change.

The other day I was thinking about someone I had just met at the Model Schools conference in Orlando that was attended by over 5,000 energized and I mean energized educators. He seemed focused on controlling aspects of his work that he knew was sucking the very life out of his own being, but forgetting that the most critical piece to that puzzle was his own ability to bring about the most important change….his own attitude. I felt bad for him because I knew ultimately that unless he was able to see that he was the reason he was feeling miserable, then he was never going to be able to bring his best to his students. So, for all of you out there who are struggling today to make the impact you want to make in the work you do every day, here are a few things you can do right now to help boost you back in the right direction.

  1. Make excellence your attitude
  2. Surround yourself with excellence
  3. Make hard work your passion
  4. Remember that the only barrier to your learning is your own unwillingness to learn
  5. Spend less time focusing on your own accomplishments and more time serving others so they can experience their own successes.
  6. Never let anyone take away your excellence
  7. Expecting excellence from yourself is a choice. Striving for excellence each day is a lifestyle.
  8. Be grateful. You can never express your gratitude to others enough so keep sharing.

I never saw Randy again.  For years I felt the guilt of having done something to hurt my friend. I knew in my heart I would never be able to accept that regional manager position. I knew all along what decision I needed to make and that was I needed to return to school, my beloved University of Iowa. I was just scared to return because I had lost confidence in myself. But with Randy’s belief, support, and guidance, he was able to help me develop my skills and re-instill that sense of confidence that I could be the best and whatever I chose to do and that was to become a teacher and ultimately a school principal.  And thankfully, to recognize the most important piece of all for which I will always be grateful for…

That great change begins with self-change!







  • Brian Childres
    2 years ago

    Thank you Jimmy! Because of your decision to make great self changes and expect nothing but excellence, You have given me a passion and drive like never before! I remember attending the conference and watching you skip around the room, immediately leading me to believe you were crazy. It didn’t take long for me to realize your “craziness” was 100% passion for what you do. You were my favorite speaker at the Model Schools Conference by far! Please continue your passion even if it includes skipping around to your lame ass playlist. Lol! Thanks for all you do bro!

  • Aiyee
    2 years ago

    Thanks for reigniting my passion to reach my potential.

  • Maureen Judge
    2 years ago

    Passion is really the number one ingredient for success in everything!

  • Linda Subia
    2 years ago

    Thank you Jimmy for the inspirational message! You made my day! #westyoumatter

  • Troy Kemp
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story. I think the more vulnerable we are and put ourselves out there, the more connected we get. It is our connections that will allow us to do great work TOGETHER! Thank you once again for sharing and making the choices that lead you here today.

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