Psyched Online


by Wayne Dominowski

Who would have thought I’d make it? Forty-plus years ago when I graduated from high school I ranked 170 out of 177. According to the test or tests I took back then, I could look forward to becoming a tool and die maker. I could be happy about that, I was told, because I would make “good money.”
Well, I wasn’t interested in money. I wanted to go on in education – maybe become a teacher. “Hmmmmm,” the evaluator posed, I just didn’t have the scores for that, he told me. So, being stubborn or stupid, I enrolled at a university. I dreamt of being in academia and being a part of it. In school, I loved what I saw – knowledgeable professors, educators, growth. It sure beat what I had been brought up in between Division Street and Damen Avenue in Chicago.
failed miserably. I didn’t know how to study, how to take notes, listen, read, or how not to take myself so seriously and probably a lot of other things. I had entered college on probation and lasted three glorious semesters and flunked out. I immediately enrolled in a junior college part-time, did well, then received my draft notice from the U.S. Army.
Anyway, to make this short, I often tell kids that had I listened to everyone who told me I wouldn’t make it, they would have been right. Instead, I learned. I learned from a lot of people, many of whom were good, some of whom were, well, bad. I learned how to tell the difference, and this is what happened: Was Honorably Discharged from the Air Force, where I served for four years. I earned a BA in English and became a teacher. Coached three varsity sports. I returned to the military via the Guard/Reserve. I went from corporal to captain overnight without ever being an NCO (sergeant) or a second or first lieutenant. I earned a post graduate degree from the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College. Held a Top Secret Clearance and worked in the Pentagon’s Army Operation Center. Earned every educational certificate in military intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College and other related organizations. Earned four rows of medals – the highest being the Meritorious Service Medal. I earned advanced diplomas in Infantry, Adjutant General, Civil Affairs, Military Intelligence, and Psychological Operations. Retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

&nbspI worked in radio, television and newspaper, and successfully owned and managed my own weekly newspaper. Through that paper, I experienced so many journalistic awards that I lost count. After 10 years, I sold the paper for three times what I originally paid for it.

&nbspI became development director (fund raiser) at a private school and in nine years earned over $6-million including a $2.3 million capital campaign. Before I left, I worked with and acquired a $1,280,000 personal gift – monies not earned by any other private school in Iowa.

&nbspWhether in the military or civilian life, I worked with young people – young women and young men. I saw many advance in career choices that I had the honor to work with them, often individually. In between, I earned a certification as a personal trainer, and later earned the distinction of Master of Fitness Sciences. I also became a specialist in performance nutrition.

&nbspAt age 61, I earned a Master in Education/Counseling.

&nbspI have been married for 35 years and have seen each of my three children graduate from college. Today, I have four wonderful grandchildren. My grown children return home often to visit.

&nbspNow all this sounds so wonderful, but none of this is what I consider “making it.” What makes all the difference to me is the many, many great and wonderful individuals I have had the opportunity to meet and know. What is an astonishing, thrilling experience, is that every one of these young men and young women have impacted on my life.

&nbspWhether it was the boy who lived on the edge growing up and is now a school principal, or the girl who wondered if she would ever be happy and is now studying to be a physical therapist, their lives touched mine. Just as the group of boys who are attorneys, engineers, coaches, accountants, sales reps, architects, soldiers, military officers, or pilots – or the girls who are now counselors, managers, business owners, directors, teachers, or medical professionals – they are my greatest accomplishment in life.

&nbspAnd what do I get out of this? Either personally, over the telephone, emails or traditional ‘snail mail,’ it’s hearing from each of them, visiting with them, and learning from each of them. What has made this even more incredible is I never expected it. Just as each of them approached me out of nowhere, they appear now. It’s an endless stream of wonderful faces. “Hey, Colonel.” “Mr. D, how are you?” “Coach D, thought I’d stop by and say hello.” “Yo, D, whasssss up?”

&nbspI have marveled at them all, and afterwards – after they have left to continue on their life’s path – I cry. I cry with joy. I am so happy for their success, their accomplishments, everything, but most of all happy just to have had that one instant in my life with each of them.

&nbspSo, back to ‘making it.’ I am now a guidance counselor – the very position of the evaluator who told me I just didn’t have the scores to do what I thought I wanted to do. I won’t lie. Yes, I look at scores, but I refuse to let what I see in figures lead me to believe this is all the latitude a student has. “What do YOU want?” I ask each of them, and I listen. No matter what anyone of them says they want as a possible career, my response is the same: “What are you willing to trade to have it?” They all know what that means. In other words, to get what you want, what things could or should be eliminated in order for you to obtain your goal? Too much television? Procrastination? Friends? Jobs? Telephone? Internet games? They know the list. They also fully understand what I am talking about.

&nbspThe next thing is skills acquisition. Do you have good study habits? Do you know how to read, comprehend, remember, retain, and if not, are you willing to learn? Listening skills? Communication? Reading? are you willing to read in order to grow mentally? Working with others? Following directions? Understanding what your strengths are, and yes, understanding your weaknesses? Behavior and what this says about you?

&nbspIt doesn’t matter whether you wish to be a surgeon or a plumber, I explain to students, you need to think about these things and reflect upon them. Doing so, I point out, will only help you be more effective in whatever you choose to do.

&nbspMost importantly, I tell each student, each is special. Each has qualities that haven’t even begun to sprout, develop, and expand. Accentuate the positive, I encourage them. Look at the things you have accomplished, whether it was learning how to use a water hose for the lawn, or putting in a spark plug in your car. Look at your achievements with pride because it took an effort on your part to learn how to do this and you did it. Look at what you’ve done and then think about what you can do. The only limitations you have, I tell students, are the ones you impose on yourself. Give yourself a chance, and if you fail, so what? Go at it again, but maybe from a different angle.

&nbspBe open with yourself. Be honest with yourself. Be responsible. Don’t ever allow yourself an excuse. (Excuses, I learned, are nothing more than reasons to fail.) Bite the bullet. Balance your life. Evaluate yourself regularly. Be considerate. Be kind. Be respectful to everyone. Be professional. Think. Listen. Smile. Be understanding. Work with facts. Disdain gossip. Be gracious. Compliment honestly, but compliment even the seemingly littlest accomplishment. Be humble. Walk away from arguments. Encourage discussion. Pat yourself on the back for doing something well. Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s OK to hug someone and be hugged. Help others. Be gentle. Be loving. Understand you are not perfect. Pray. Believe. Live every day.

&nbspWhen I look back to my high school days, and I think about my being told I just didn’t have the scores to do what I wanted, I wonder what would have happened had I been told what I just expressed? Could I have been a psychiatrist (as I secretly felt I wanted), or a surgeon (which I was told would be too hard for someone like me), or maybe an astronaut, or a hospital administrator, or college president, or a college or pro football player? I think about that and now believe that maybe the paths were always open but I just didn’t know it. I didn’t know it because no one took the time to tell me.

&nbspSo, yes, I explain to students, what is it YOU want? What are YOU willing to trade to have it? When I visit with each of them, and when I start the process of assisting them on their personal exploration, I see how much better this is than closing doors. I just think of the possibilities and it’s exciting. Isn’t it?