July 26 – Climbing the character ladder by helping others

“He climbs highest who helps another up.” (George Matthew Addams)

For me this quote is not just about helping someone who has fallen or stumbled, it is about anytime that I help build someone up. When I am building someone else up, and having that servant, helping mentality, I am building myself up as well, and I am climbing the ladder of life.

I owe a great deal in my life to volunteers. When I was in the 6th grade my mother got me involved in the Catholic Big Brothers. My big brother was a man in his 30s named Mr. Collins, who would spend time with me just about every week. We either would talk on the phone for extended conversations, or do some activity together. He introduced me to racquetball, taught me to swim, took me to my first play, and many other things. He also encouraged me to do well in school at a time when I was beginning to become convinced that I would be more popular if I roughed up my attitude and buffed up my body over building my brain.

When he and I met, my grades were Cs and Ds, and bordering on Fs. I regularly missed special events like field trips because I had lost my privileges due to bad behavior. This was in the middle of 6th grade. Within one year, by the midterm marks for 7th grade, I was a straight A student, and a model of good behavior. I attribute much of that turn around to Mr. Collins.

Around that same time, when I was about 12 or 13, a friend called and asked me if I wanted to go with him to join a Boy Scout troop. I had been in Cub Scouts but did not go on to the local troop because I didn’t get along with some of the boys. This friend had heard of another troop at a Lutheran Church that was a slightly longer distance away. I decided to give it a try.

There I met Mr. Ristau. He was the Scoutmaster of the troop. His son was long since out of scouting, but he stayed in for many years as a Scoutmaster. There were other adult volunteers there who similarly did not have sons in Scouting, but volunteered their time to help us. It was with their guidance that I learned to camp, met one of my best, lifelong friends, and explored career options. I didn’t rise to the level of Eagle Scout, but I did advance in rank and stature. I continued as a leader in College, and when I moved to Michigan I got involved again for many years. When I finally stopped as a leader I had amassed over 30 years of experience in Scouting.

Volunteers like Mr. Collins and Mr. Ristau took their time to work with young people like myself. They taught me much about life, gave me skills that I still use today, and helped me mature. But the most important thing they taught me was that it was important to volunteer and to give back. I have spent a great deal of my adult life giving back, and “paying forward” what they gave to me.

This service and helping mentality extends to my professional life as well. In my job I spend the majority of my time on program delivery. Along the way I have a team of people that I work with. My job is to move the group forward, and also to develop them to be better, more effective employees. About 10% of my time is spent serving on a professional development committee where I, and some of my peers, work to develop those who work for us toward future promotions and increased effectiveness. That 10% of my job is the part that gives me the most joy, provides the greatest motivation, and offers me the most job satisfaction. I thrive on the idea of helping others to succeed.

Some may read this quote and equate the “climbing” to rising up the corporate ranks, or finding some other monetary success. I don’t see it that way. I see that when I help others it is my character that is climbing up the ladder of life. When I have spent a day volunteering, or helping someone to be more successful at work, I look in the mirror and am proud of myself. Often I reflect on Mr. Collins, Mr. Ristau, and the other men and women who volunteered their time to contribute to who I am today.

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