Evanston RoundTable, Nov. 30, 2017
There were two boys who were schoolmates and best friends. But they were very different. Bobby seemed to have it all: smart, good-looking, and athletic, he was quarterback of the football team, dated the most popular girls, and had top grades. Plus his family had a lot of money. Kasheem wasn’t much of a student but he was good with his hands, had an aptitude for fixing things, and loved to tinker with cars.
When they graduated high school, Bobby went to an Ivy League school where he planned to get an engineering degree. Kasheem went to work as a trainee at a local auto dealership.
As often happens, they lost touch, and it wasn’t until 20 years later, at their high school reunion, when they reunited.
“What have you been up to?” Kasheem excitedly asked his old friend after they greeted each other with big hugs.
“I’m doing OK,” said Bobby, a little less excitedly. “I’m working in a big software firm. But I’m stuck in a lousy job, and frankly, I’m ready to quit. And unfortunately, I’m twice divorced. Guess I’m unlucky in love. What about you?” he asked Kasheem.
“I’m doing good,” Kasheem replied. “I’m head of sales at the auto dealership where I started after high school. The president says I’m in line for his job when he retires. And I have a wonderful wife and two great kids.”
“Wow,” said Bobby, a little surprised and even deflated. Hadn’t he had all the advantages, the smarts and the family wealth? “If I may ask, what’s your secret?”
“Well, I don’t know if it’s a secret, but after I started there the president assigned me a mentor, someone who would show me the ropes. And one day, kind of frustrated, I said to him, ‘You know, I’m just not making it here. I don’t think I’m smart enough. I think I’m ready to quit.’
“And he said, ‘Let me show you something.’ We were sitting in the cafeteria, and he took two drinking glasses, different in size. And he poured water to the top of the small glass and just a little water in the larger glass.
“’Here are two people,’ he said. ‘Each is a different vessel, with different potentials and abilities. But that really doesn’t matter; it’s what they do with those abilities that counts.’
“I must have looked confused, because he went on, ‘The water represents what we put into those vessels. Notice the smaller vessel has the most water. That vessel—that person—worked the hardest to fulfill his or her capabilities.’
“That’s when I got it. I started working harder, went to night school, volunteered to do all the jobs no one else wanted to do. I worked my way up. And now I’m in line to be president.”
Bobby laughed and high-fived his friend. “ Maybe I’ll take your mentor’s advice,” he said, “and start applying myself more.”
“Why not?” said Kasheem. “It can’t hurt.”