Kid, you are not a rock, Speak! 

Damn, that was good advice. From one of my life’s most authentic and impactful characters. From someone who got it – you know, that thing where you balance delivering what someone’s prepared to hear with what they need to hear? And not only that, but without pissing them off, alienating them, or totally discrediting yourself?

Yeah, that it. It’s called being a mentor – and it requires leadership, listening, and impeccable guts. Which is why it’s rare, or at least rarely used well. And so, needless to say, when I encountered this it, I really listened. Another rare occurrence.

To be clear, what this person really meant was for me to stop sitting in the back of class, intentionally sabotaging my work, and – here’s my favorite part – finding a million and one people to blame for my own pigheaded failures.

He had seen more than his fill of that foolishness and wasn’t letting me keep on any longer. With seven little words, he handed me my pride, gift wrapped with a pretty little bow. Not by telling me all the things I already knew – but by giving me exactly what I didn’t deserve – a platform, a voice.

Kid, you are not a rock, Speak!

Huh? I didn’t know what to do or say. I stood there – staring at this person for what felt like hours, as my cheeks flushed and my eyes welled. You mean, you want to LISTEN to what I have to say? You mean, you’re saying that I have something to say AT ALL? And that I might actually have to form opinions, to think, to be accountable for the effect my actions have on other people? Oh, shit.

I was not ready for that. And I knew it. And he knew it. We both know it. Which is exactly why he brought it up.

Either way, regardless of what I had to say (or didn’t), I was no longer going to get by being a complacent smart-ass, my sickeningly obvious “ennui ennui look at me look at me” sending me nowhere. Sure, I was getting noticed. But for all the wrong reasons. And if I just stopped with that foolishness, stewing in the back of class while all “the good stuff” happened to “other people,” I might actually, you know, go places in my life. Do something. Be someone.

Long story short, I was in my own way. And I knew it. And he knew it. We both knew it. He was just ready to confront it more than I was. Which is, you guessed it, exactly why he brought it up.

To be fair, I was 16. And to be honest, I see a lot of adults who still don’t get that basic message. Pause, rewind, start over. They’re fully capable of getting the message, they just don’t want to get it. Because like 16-year -old Ryan, in some way, shape, or form, they’re not ready  enough – or maybe brave enough? – to be constructive in the face of challenges.

I get it. Their choice isn’t really irrational. In many ways, life’s easier that way. Not taking ownership. Path of least resistance. Letting things stay – unhappy as one might be – as they are. Yada Yada etcetera amen. But bless them – they just have no idea know what they’re missing.

So for anyone who’s in a slump, a rut, an anything worth saving (newsflash: that would be everything),

for anyone in classrooms, in board rooms or bored rooms, in all rooms or no rooms,

for the sake of yourself, and for the sake of everyone else, listen –

You are not a rock, Speak! 

Ryan Vale McGonigle

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