When I returned to school as a graduate student in 2003, I was scared. The students around me were younger than I. They were smarter than I. They were better writers than I. And they had read more than I. I had no business being in their company.
That is how I felt sitting in Dr. Peter Beidler’s Medieval Comedy course in Drown Hall at Lehigh University. If you know Pete, he is one of the least intimidating people you will ever meet. I was not intimidated by him, but I was intimidated by the other students. I thought they had so much more to offer than I. They were younger. They were smarter. They were writers. I was a high school English teacher.
After two classes, I thought about quitting. Grad school wasn’t for me, and I was OK with that. I would finish Pete’s course, and then I would go back to doing what I was good at: teaching literature and grammar to high school students.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Dr. Peter Beidler would change my life.
If you’ve never watched Drew Dudley’s TED Talk entitle Everyday Leadership, you should. In it he mentions “lollipop moments,” life-changing moments. Lollipop moments are those interactions that have changed us for the better–transformative moments where someone’s actions or words steered us down a different path or made us think differently about ourselves–the moments that have helped us be brave.
At the close of my second class with Pete, he asked me to meet with him for a few moments in his office. I instantly started to sweat (He probably saw the little droplets form on my upper lip.) and all of my shortcomings zoomed through my brain.
“He’s going to tell me that he knows I was scouring the Internet for good ideas to look smart in class discussions.”
“He’s going to tell me that Lehigh is not the school for me.”
“He’s going to tell me that I can’t handle grad school while working full-time.”
“He hasn’t read anything I wrote yet, but I’m sure he’s going to tell me that my skills are not up to snuff.”
I was never more wrong about anything in my life.
When I reached Pete’s office, he said, “I enjoy having you in class. You have a more experienced perspective. I think the other students can learn from you.”
What???? This guy is crazy. He’ll soon find out that I’m a fraud. Right?
In his talk, Drew Dudley quotes Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” How true. I expected Pete to tell me that I was incompetent or incapable. I did not expect him to tell me the opposite. Why? I had never thought of myself as auspicious. I was familiar with, maybe even comfortable with, failure. But I was not comfortable with happiness, self-acceptance, or success. Whatever success I had achieved must be fortuitous, the result of good luck.
At first, I thought that maybe he sensed my reticence about grad school and offered encouragement because he felt obligated, out of sympathy, to help the struggling student. He didn’t really mean that I had influence.
My first of many visits to Pete’s office is one of my greatest “lollipop moments.” In the end, his words, the few minutes he took to speak with me, were enough to propel me through grad school while working full-time as a teacher. I became more outspoken in class discussions. I was still nervous about sharing my writing with others, but I overcame the feeling of shame that accompanies thoughts like “I’m not good enough.” I began to believe I WAS good enough. I graduated from Lehigh University with a Masters degree in English in May of 2006. It is the one accomplishment of which I am most proud.
In his TED Talk, Drew Dudley points out that we often don’t tell tell the leaders in our lives the transformative power that they had. We keep it to ourselves, but we shouldn’t. We should tell people about these “lollipop moments.” I have shown Pete my gratefulness for his guidance; however, I haven’t ever clearly expressed to him how that moment changed my life. I will now.