By 2004 I had taken enough Spanish classes in my life that I was encouraged to become a student mentor/teacher’s assistant, and earn a college minor in Spanish.
This afforded me such delightful perks as making copies of student worksheets on the fancy language department copier at 2pm on a Thursday.
Once, during my weekly making-of-the-copies, my Spanish professor popped her head out of her office door across the hall. She is from Chile, and she’s one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I altered my schedule around so I could be her specific assistant.
“Alex, come in her for a second, I need to talk with you about something.”
This wasn’t alarming. We talked about stuff all the time. I figured she had some notes for this week’s language lab, so I paused the copier and sauntered in there. Not knowing what was about to hit me in the face.
She unexpectedly closed the door, and sat down very seriously behind her desk.
Uh oh. Is something up? Are they firing me? Have they finally found out I’ve never done all the required readings in any of my literature classes, and finally the game is over? I knew this would happen. I knew that someday they’d pull me into a room and —
“I need to tell you something very important,” she said. I took a seat, bracing myself.
She looked me right in the eyes, as serious as she’d ever been. “Never trust anyone.”
I blinked. I managed to choke out a “W…what?”
She doubled down on the serious look. “If you want to get something important done, never trust anyone but yourself. You can only trust yourself.
“Do you understand? I need to tell you this. It will help you in your life. It’s important.”
I probably looked like I had seen a ghost. “Yes, I understand.”
She smiled. “Good.” She nodded. “Okay that’s it, you can go.”
I got up and walked out of the office and started the copier going again, in a total daze. I didn’t know what to make of this, and I never got any context for it, and it’s been sitting in my brain rolling around ever since.
It was like a scene from a movie where a wise queen handed me a sword and sent me off on a mission to slay the dragon and find the treasure or something, with only an ancient vague map to guide myself with.
I haven’t ever really known how to fully interpret this advice, or whether it was the direct result of something that had just happened to her, but it stuck with me. And I’ve done the best I can with it over the last 14 years.
There’s a core of wonderful truth in it, and I hope that in imparting it in such an impactful way, that my endless fascination with the simple advice and its meaning is exactly what she meant to impart.
If something is really important to you, you have to own that whole thing yourself and see it done.
No one else is going to do your important things for you, and no one else is going to fully see how important they are to you. People are going to bail on you and you’re not going to understand why. People are going to let you down. People are going to challenge you.
You’ve got to be the motivation for yourself.
It’s clichéd, but it’s true. I lived the movie scene version of it and it’s helped me out ever since. It’s a moment I’ll carry with me always, and it’s helped me out when the letdowns come.
Also this: if you want someone to remember something for the rest of their lives, tell it to them in a weirdly mysterious and unexpected way while they’re in the middle of copying worksheets.