Sunday, 12 August 2012


This is a short story about the need to take personal responsibility in our lives.  It is also a true story.

Michael's Mistake

Michael was idling away his life at school.  He had a good brain but like so many other boys of his age, he was distracted from school work by television, music, computer games and because he wanted to go out and socialise with his friends.  His homework would often be started the night before it was due and often completed the morning it was to be handed in.  When tests and exams came around, he made the effort only to pass and not to excel.  Average grades were acceptable with minimal effort.  When he was 11 years old, Michael was one of the brightest in his school and he was eager to learn.  Now, at 16, the grades had slipped and with them any prospect of a bright future and a place at university.  As the summer term came to a close one year, the teachers spoke to the Michael's parents and told them that he had to work very hard during the summer holidays, otherwise he would surely fail his finals the following summer.  Michael's parents spoke to him and gave him this message, with an ultimatum: work hard and concentrate on your school work, or you will have to go and find yourself a job.

Michael was, like so many other boys of his age, a rebellious teenager.  To him, this was an opportunity to rebel further and to really hold a middle finger up to his parents and show them that he was the boss.  So, one day before his 17th birthday, Michael commenced work at the largest factory in the town, on the production line, helping to assemble refrigerators.  One week later, as his friends returned to school at the end of the holidays, he also returned to school, but to formally declare his intention of leaving.

In the beginning, life at the factory was good.  Michael met new people, made new friends and saw some of the other boys from school he knew that also worked at the factory.  The tasks that he had to perform were never interesting, in fact they were incredibly dull and repetitive, but he could manage to do them, which was lucky for Michael, since he had to repeat them over and over, more than a thousand times each day.  After just a few weeks, the initial thrill of being out in the big world of work faded and the monotony of standing at the production line for nine hours each day, doing the same task over and over again took over.  It began to dawn on Michael that he had made a mistake.  He realised that this wasn't proving anything to his parents, that being here, in this factory was now his life, and that the only person that had suffered as a result of his decision was himself.  

It was now too late to return to school, as he was now too far behind the other students and school life seemed another world away, so Michael decided that he would look for more suitable employment.  Michael had always been good at mathematics, so he applied for positions as a clerk in the local banks of the town and he applied for junior and trainee accountancy positions.  Like everything in life, when we first start something, we are full of hope and expect quick results, and so it was for Michael.  He imagined that with his very first application he would be successful.  However, this was far from the reality.  Each Thursday he would eagerly buy the local newspapers that carried that weeks positions vacant section and he would apply for vacancy that seemed suitable.  Letters were carefully written, folded, placed into envelopes, stamps were licked and then they were walked down to the postbox and dropped in.  Each letter that left the hand of Michael was accompanied on its journey with a prayer.  And then the waiting would begin. 

Some days, when Michael returned from work, there were envelopes waiting for him.  Envelopes with an official company logos were eagerly and expectantly opened, always with the hope of good news.  It was only ever necessary to read the first line: Thank you for your application but we are sorry...   Many times this occurred and each time Michael felt a small piece of hope disappear.  Occasionally though, there were letters that requested Michael to attend an interview.  The interviews would always go well because Michael tried to be relaxed and calm and he had prepared some notes and questions to ask.  However, during the interview process, the same question would come up: why had he left school without finishing his studies?  To this question there was no satisfactory answer.  The truth was that he had quit, he had given up because he could not be bothered to work hard and put in the effort.  He had taken the easy route.  There were no mitigating circumstances.  And so, each of the job interviews gave the same result, thanks but no thanks.

As time passed by and the rejection letters kept on coming, Michael began to realise the depth of his mistake.  He asked himself why did my parents let me leave school and not try to talk me into staying?  It was obvious to Michael that his parents had not cared what happened to him.  To him, it seemed that they were happy that they no longer needed to read poor school reports and didn't have to face the embarrassment of seeing teachers who would tell them that there son was failing.  They could have done something to stop him from leaving school.  They could have talked him out of it. They didn't care about him.  It was their fault he was in this mess.

Five months passed.  Michael had begun being absent from work one or two days each week, claiming minor illnesses, because he really could not bear the thought of going to the factory every day.  Being absent from work also allowed him the time and opportunity to look for other work and attend interviews.  On one such day, he browsed the job vacancy cards in the local government operated work seekers centre.  He browsed the cards in the Accounting and Book-Keeping section and noticed a position existed in an accountancy department at the factory where he worked.  He took the card to the desk and they telephoned and arranged an interview for him.  The interview would be the next day. 

Michael went to work on the production line and he informed his foreman that he would need to be excused during the afternoon to attend an interview at the Personnel (HR) office.  So, during the afternoon of that day, Michael found himself sitting on the opposite side of a desk, wearing a dirty pair of jeans and t-shirt, because the production line was filthy from the grease that lubricated the moving line, looking at the man who was going to interview him.  When the man opened Michael's employment record file and produced a stack of white absentee clocking cards, Michael looked at them and felt a sinking feeling in his chest.  He looked at the cards and felt embarrassment.  Here was something else he would need to explain, in addition to the usual problem of trying to explain why he had quit school.  It looked like he was a hopeless case.  A quitter.  A truant.  A waster.  But this day, something was different.  For the very first time, Michael spoke honestly about the situation that he found himself in, the mistake he had made in leaving school, how he had been trying to find alternative and better employment, how he needed to be absent from work on occasions to attend interviews.  He spoke from his heart and he spoke the truth without trying to excuse himself for what he had done.  Whatever the reasons, the kindly man on the other side of the desk gave him a chance and offered him the job.  Michael would always be grateful for the hand that was offered him.

A few years later, as Michael, now a man, looked back over his short life, he thought about the mistake he had made by leaving school and beginning work in the factory.  In a moment of clarity, he realised that the mistake had become an opportunity and that everything that had followed after could not have happened without it.  He also became aware that his parents were not to blame and could not be held responsible for his actions.  It had been his decision to leave school and only his.  He now knew that even if his parents had spoken to him and tried to persuade him from leaving school, it would have made little difference.

"The decision was mine and only mine", he said to himself.  "I am responsible for my life, for the decisions that I make, for the actions that I take, and for all of the consequences of those decisions and actions, wherever they lead me."  He also realised that although they may not have meant it, his parents had done him an enormous favour in letting him make his own decision.  Because now and forever, Michael had learned one of the most important lessons in life:-

That each and every one of us, needs to take personal responsibility for our own lives.  We cannot give that responsibility to anyone else.  By accepting that responsibility, you begin to feel the empowerment that can only come from knowing that you are walking your own path, your own way.  And that everything that manifests itself in your life, is of your own doing. 


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