For a short while when I was a kid I lived in a place called Schuler, a tiny village somewhere in the prairies about an hour outside of Medicine Hat, Alberta. I often describe Schuler as a proverbial one-horse town; only 100 people called it home, you could walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes and local businesses included an ice rink, a curling arena, a general store/post office and an auto garage. It was the type of place where everyone knew each other and it was probably one of the most interesting places I’ve ever lived.
The school had 75 students which, as you can probably imagine, didn’t all come from Schuler. Many of them came from Hilda, the next town over that had lost its school when a tornado tore the roof off (or so the story went). The school janitor was a character of a man named Buzz and the students loved him. He was the kind of guy that seemed particularly disinterested in acting like a grown-up and had an air of rebellion about him that the kids couldn’t get enough of.
For a couple of months during one school year, Buzz had to take some time off for medical leave and was replaced by an interim janitor named Dave. Soft spoken and probably well into his 60s, Dave was pretty much the opposite of Buzz in just about every way and for that reason the students didn’t care for him. I thought he was great though. He had a grandfatherly vibe to him and I thought it was a shame that the other students wrote him off just because he wasn’t Buzz.
I was in the younger half of a 5/6 split class that year and I was wrestling with, what was to me, a very real fear of growing up. One day, rather than going home straight home after school (which was no big deal as we lived right across the street) I opted to loiter around the playground. Dave found me looking rather forlorn on the swing set and asked if he could join me.
“You look like something’s bugging you,” he said.
With a quivering lip I told him about how every day I watched as the 6th grade class discussed subjects that were completely foreign to me. They were covering ratios in math class and I had no idea what that meant! I was so afraid that was going to get to the next grade and promptly fail everything. But my worry didn’t stop there! When I would overhear grown-ups talking about things like taxes and the legal proceedings of divorce I had started panicking a little on the inside because none of it made any sense to me.
“What am I going to do if I grow up and don’t know how to do grown-up things?” I asked him.
Looking back on that conversation now I can imagine him thinking that this was the most endearingly absurd thing to be worked up about, but he handled my fear gracefully:
“No one expects you to just know everything. The kids in grade 6 know about things like ratios because they’re learning about them in class, just like you will when it’s your turn. We learn the things we need to know as we grow. Give it time. You’re going to be just fine.”
It seems so obvious now, but as a kid this was a huge deal. Dave’s little piece of wisdom made me feel better instantly and has continued to for years since.
To this day, I still recall that conversation on the swing set when the pressure of the future and not knowing how to proceed starts to freak me out. I’ll remind myself, just as Dave did, that nobody has all of the answers and not knowing something doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, just that it’s a lesson you still have to learn. So take a breath, give it time, and know that this too shall pass.
What about you? What’s the best piece of life advice you’ve ever gotten? Have you ever learned something incredibly valuable from an unexpected source? What were you worried about as a kid? Tell me about it in the comments!