What are you special at?

 Last night, I watched a TV programme called Safari Vet School with my teenage daughter. The show features a group of young vets helping to protect endangered animal species in a South African game reserve.

Whatever panics and dangers they faced, the local Head Vet, Dr Will Fowlds, exuded an extraordinary air of calm professionalism. At the end of the students’ two weeks, he took them for a moment’s quiet reflection overlooking miles of unspoilt, distant African landscape.

This view has been here all my life. And it was here, one day, that I realised something very important and I hope you have learnt too: it is very difficult to interact with people around you or achieve your full potential until you understand who you are and what your weaknesses are; what you are good at and what you are special at.

These words, together with the tribute to my father in my last post, reminded me of a Memorial Service I attended some years ago to celebrate the life of a man who had taught my father Maths in the 1930s and me in the 1970s. Mr Wort.

Eulogies were given by former pupils from the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s. It is this last one I remember most. It went something like this:

“The months before I met Mr Wort had been the most worrying in my life.

For it had been announced, at the beginning of the summer holidays, that, at the end of the summer holidays, my father would drive me from our home in the West Country to my new boarding school nearer London.

This was a terrifying prospect. In my whole life, I had never really spoken to my father and the thought of a sharing a four-hour car journey with him filled me with fear.

The day came and, after three and a half hours of stone cold silence in our rickety old car, I felt I should say something. After all, this was mid-September and I wouldn’t be seeing my father until Christmas. Surely we should talk?

So I asked my father a question. I admit it was a stupid question for not only did I know the answer, but I knew he knew I knew the answer. I asked him:

Father, did you go to this school?

Of course I did‘, he replied. 

More silence.

As we drove through the school gates and unloaded my bags from the car, still quivering with fear, there was one question I thought I really must my father before saying goodbye: 

Father, did you enjoy it here?

Of course not. It was a dreadful place‘, he replied and drove back to Devon.

At this point, Mr Wort came up to me and said:

Hello, young man. Welcome to your new school. Tell me, what are you good at? Maths? English? Art? Music? Sport?’ 

I’m not good at anything, sir.

Oh yes you are. I have been at this school for many years and I know there is something you are good at, something that makes you special. In fact, I have a feeling there is something you are better at than anyone else in this school, if not the whole of England. You may not know it now – and it may not be what you expect it to be – but, over the next five years, it is my job to find out what it is. Will you help me?

I knew then that I had made a friend for life. And I am honoured to pay tribute to Mr Wort today.”

So am I.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
This entry was posted in Blog posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *