By Paul Peterson
This is a story about how an individual’s actions can have an immense impact on others.
Let’s be real, as a white male with blonde hair (albeit getting darker with age) and blue eyes, I am one of the least diverse people in my office. The only time I may get a second glance at being diverse is after a bad sunburn. So for me, I want to take the opportunity to share with you a period of time in my life that shaped me and provide you with a better understanding of why I am passionate about the underdog and supporting those who are oppressed. During this impressionable time, I learned that regardless of what I looked like on the outside, the actions of the person judging you and what they see and think of you definitely impacts how you feel on the inside, ultimately driving your actions.
My middle school years were pretty torturous, especially in the first two years. It all began shortly after the first day of 6th grade, when the more popular guys, some of which I had been friendly with, started picking on one of my closest friends. This group threatened my loyalty to him by turning me into a victim as well. When it became too obvious for our parents and the school to ignore, a meeting was called but you can bet it didn’t stop the bullying. It led to a change in the tactics from bullying in public to a form of terror. You wouldn’t know when or from where it was coming and it was always when no one else was around to report it.
As if dealing with the bullying from my peers wasn’t difficult enough, I had to endure an overly aggressive and abusive gym teacher. Having the abuse come from both sides was traumatic and led me to distrust authority and rebel shortly after. I must admit at the time, all of my rebelling felt right. I enjoyed it, but I knew deep down that I was lost.
The light at the end of the tunnel was my supportive family and bonding with the other guys that were going through this with me. In fact, I am still great friends with two of them today. But, the person I credit with saving me from spiraling further downward was my 8th grade soccer coach.
My life changed the day I stepped on to the soccer field to begin my time as a player for Coach Schumacher, a former Marine. He saw something special in me and he pushed me to get every ounce of it out. I didn’t realize it then, but he never spent much time with me on the technical aspects. Instead, he was constantly stretching my character. He was teaching me how to believe in myself. During the last ten minutes of a game, I could hear him yelling to me, “Don’t let anyone out-run you Peterson…work hard!” He worked on making all of us tough. Our practices were tougher than our games. I would have run through a wall for him and still would to this day.
Coincidentally, during one the darkest periods in my adult life, I went to a local high school track to run and clear my head. As I ran around one of the curves and towards the straightaway, I noticed an older man standing along the fence, watching a younger kid throw a football. As I approached and noticed who it was, I immediately stopped and started walking towards him. I said, “Coach, it’s Paul Peterson.” He responded, “Paulie Peterson, it’s great to see you.” I got teary eyed as I embraced him. I was able to reveal the impact of his tough love on my childhood when no one knew I needed it the most.
I look back on this period of time, as unpleasant as it was, as the time that shaped me the most. Before my experience with Coach Schumacher my confidence and self-worth were measured like a tire with a nail in it… seeping away slowly. Yes, there were times when I felt good just like your tire would after filling it up with air, but unless the nail is removed and the hole patched, it’s just temporary. This Coach yanked that nail and patched that tire. What an amazing power one person’s faith and belief in you can have on shaping the course of your life and transforming your spirit. It’s a lesson I will never forget.
As Managing Partner, Paul Peterson leads the Firm’s long term strategy and helps cultivate an environment where our people can flourish in servicing our clients. If you would like to speak with Paul, you may reach him at 973.994.9400 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.