Stick to Your Guns. Unless Your Wrong.

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As I get older, I can tell that I am getting more forgetful. It’s come to the point where I have to make lists to remind myself to check previous lists.

Don’t even get me started about Post-it Notes. My budget for those colored pre-cut scraps of paper has tripled in the last 2 years.

By the way, who was the genius who decided consumers would pay for these scraps of paper?

We like to brag on ourselves for sending people to the moon, but the Post-it Note marketing department are the real heroes.

While my memory continues to fade on a day-to-day level, it seems to get more focused on remembering situations from my past.

I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I just “think” I remember my past. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me as I age. Maybe I am blinded by the bright light of death as I head towards it.

In my present job I have the honor of making decisions.

Or the burden.

I can’t decide which.

Sure it sounds fun. And sometime it is. Other times, not so much.

When I find myself in a difficult spot, I always remember a lesson my elementary principal taught me.

This conversation took place over 30 years ago, but somehow it seems like just yesterday.

But it didn’t.

If it had taken place yesterday, odds are I would have forgotten it. Unless I had written it down on a list or Post-it Note.

My life was forever affected because our 6th grade teacher had a doctor’s appointment.

She had to leave school 30 minutes early, so the principal subbed for her.

I remember this fact very clearly. Because when the principal walked into our classroom he was complaining about teachers being absent and how they should schedule appointments for after school.

The one thing that always struck me about him was his height. He was a tall man. Really tall.

To a 6th grader he seemed 10 feet tall. But everything seems bigger to a kid (if you don’t believe me go back to your elementary school and I guarantee that you will feel like a giant).

In fact he was about 6 feet tall, with a deep voice, and a commanding presence.

As he came in to our class, he started asking questions.

I don’t remember what he asked specifically, but I do recall what happened when it was my turn to answer.

I gave him what I believed to be the correct answer. And more importantly, I answered quickly. He was not known to have a great deal of patience.

He was known to have a large wooden paddle that hung on the wall behind his desk.

A tall man with a paddle. I sensed there wasn’t a need to bother him any longer than absolutely necessary.

As soon as I answered, he said “Are you sure?”

And that’s when it happened.

Even though I thought my answer was correct, I made the mistake of changing it. That is what I call… a bad idea.

Now he had me right where he wanted.

I gave him a second answer. My luck was going from bad to worse. And his patience was going from little to none.

He stood up and walked over to my desk. I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to end well. For me.

It was at that point he taught me a lesson. Which is a lot better than a paddling.

He said “Stick to your guns.”

Being a slow-witted slightly frightened 6th grade boy who was on the verge of wetting his pants, I had no idea what this meant.

He must have sensed this from my glazed-over slightly frightened look on my face. Or maybe it was how I had tightly crossed my legs so I didn’t make a mess on the floor.

For some reason, he seemed more patient than usual.

He took his time and explained this to me.

Always go with your first answer, right or wrong. Don’t question yourself, even when others do.

Stick to your guns.

Then it made sense. I was relieved (but not on myself… that would have been awkward for me and the janitor).

Then he prefaced his lesson.

Always stick to your guns. Always go with your gut. Your first answer is usually right.

But be open to changing your mind as you gain more information.

So when I find myself in a difficult situation, I always remember the day my elementary principal taught me a lesson about decision making.

Stick to your guns, but don’t be afraid to change your mind.

This has served me relatively well over the years. I am thankful for both his thoughts and patience on that particular day.

Most of all, I am thankful the janitor didn’t have to get involved.

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9 Responses to “Stick to Your Guns. Unless Your Wrong.”

  1. Sharon Elin
    on Mar 8th, 2009
    @ 10:35 am

    You have such great comedic timing, but important things to say. (It wouldn’t be worth the laugh otherwise.) Sticking to your guns as an administrator projects strength and confidence as well as upholding the Law of Intelligent Responses (“your first answer is usually right”).

    I also appreciate your corollary, that sometimes it’s appropriate to change your first answer after getting more information. I’ve known and worked for pigheaded admins who couldn’t ever back up and change their minds when it was clearly the right thing to do.

    I’ve also known the opposite, which is what I think your principal was trying to keep you from becoming: the wishy-washy flimflam leader who goes along with whatever someone scary says. I’m glad you choose the stronger path but also have the higher strength to review and revise when it’s necessary.

    If I were in the classroom as a teacher again, I would wish you were my principal.

    Thanks for a good read!

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  4. Kelly Christopherson
    on Jul 6th, 2009
    @ 3:33 pm

    I think you’re right. Then, maybe, you might not be. It’s like the John Mellancamp line “I’m pretty good at first impressions but sometimes I’m wrong.”

    Like you, I’ve had a number of lessons from a great many people but, also like you, I can’t remember who these people were. Sometimes I can’t remember what exactly they said. When this happens, I go with “My grandfather once said to me…”

    My grandfather is dead. No one argues with a dead grandfather. It’s not polite.

    Being an administrator, I fully appreciate how one needs to stick to your guns no matter what. Unless you are wrong. Then you need to have enough brains to know that you were wrong and correct things.

    Because I have spent a great deal of time sticking my feet (yes both of them) in my mouth, I know how important it is to make sure that when you do unholster your guns, you are do so after much thought. Not only does it make it difficult to walk with both feet in your mouth – at least with one foot there you can hop – you can’t say a darn thing which might be a good thing since you already have two appendages jammed in your mouth. However, you end up looking rather stupid which is never a good thing in this line of work.

    Having had to scuttle around looking like Wiley Coyote with dynamite glued to hands and feet, I’ve come to realize that even more important to sticking to your guns is making sure your guns are pointed in the right direction.

    And if you aren’t sure, don’t get into a shootout. You will lose.

    It’s tough having to make decisions, especially tough decisions. The advice I received from my grandfather (see note above) is sometimes we have to make tough decisions. When that happens, make sure you only have to do it once!

    Many people don’t fully understand what a person goes through when they are faced with making a tough decision – maybe they need to watch more NCIS! That’s why there are fewer people wanting to sit in the administrators chair – there is always fallout no matter what the decision.

    Like Sharon, I’ve met my share of the “my way or the highway” types and the “jellyfish undeciders” to know how important it is to be someone with a conviction about what is right. It’s not easy. Sometimes you aren’t liked – well, much of the time you aren’t liked by someone. But, it’s necessary to be seen as someone who has the ability to make a tough decision and, if needed, be able to butt-scuttle to set things right.

  5. Doris
    on Jul 29th, 2009
    @ 12:31 pm

    Typo in the headline. Should be “Stick to your guns unless you’re wrong.”

    Michael Smith Reply:


    I’m glad you reminded me.

    About two weeks ago my wife pointed that out and I forgot to change it.

    The downside is… if people start pointing out all of my errors in the use of the English Language… I am in deep trouble.


  6. Sean Hannagan
    on Aug 6th, 2009
    @ 2:48 pm

    Sounds a lot like the principal I used to have as well…everyday was a lesson in life.

  7. Bruce
    on Aug 27th, 2009
    @ 1:52 pm

    Hmmm…why are you using “Your” instead of “You’re”?

  8. Everett Lupton
    on Nov 27th, 2011
    @ 4:09 pm

    Work – the curse of the drinking class.

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