Figure It Out

Today I was dashing back and forth between teaching classes at the National Cat Groomers School and overseeing the production going on at the new Chubbs Bars factory. While sitting at a stop light, impatiently awaiting the change from red to green, a swirl of thoughts running through my head, I had to chuckle to myself. How on earth did I get here?
I’m 44 years old and don’t have an official high school diploma. I did finish high school. In fact, I finished it ahead of schedule. But the reason for the UNofficial diploma is the fact that I was homeschooled back in a time when it was illegal in the state in which I resided during those years. And when my parents first pulled me (and my siblings) out of school and declared that we would from that day hence be schooled at home, I was not a fan of the idea. In fact, it made me mad.

And something else that made me mad was being made to memorize a poem by Edgar. A. Guest entitled “Equipment.” It was a favored poem by the late and amazing Dr. George Washington Carver, a remarkable man who lived a truly inspiring life. And it was my mom and dad’s all too frequent answer to an “I can’t” or an “it’s too hard!” from one of us kids.
But that was a long time ago, and I have since changed my mind about all of that. The teaching I received at home from Mom and Dad contributed greatly to the dashing back and forth between school and factory, ideas swirling about in my head.

Instead of taking an algebra class in high school, I was set to work each morning by my mother to figure HOW an algebraic equation concluded with its correct answer. Once I figured out the “how” I could finish each lesson, reaching the correct answer for every math problem.

Mom also assigned a lot of writing work during those high school years – all manner of creative, persuasive, informative, journalistic, narrative and other types of writing. I enjoyed most of the writing assignments and am deeply grateful for having to learn all of them. The formation of the Catty Shack during the early years and the continued growth of the NCGIA I attribute to an ability to communicate effectively through written word. (Thanks, Mom!)

Instead of taking chemistry in high school (which some fretted over, thinking somehow I would never make it in life if I didn’t take ALL of the state-required courses) I was taught HOW to figure out what I didn’t already know. At 44 years of age I have learned more about chemistry than I could have ever possibly retained from a class some 20 years ago. And all that figuring out led to the creation of my very first Chubbs Bar degreaser shampoo for pets a couple of months ago. Why? Because I wanted to know how it could be done and was determined to make it happen. My husband can tell you that it was no small endeavor, and there were many times I wanted to give up. And every time I told him that I was giving up, he just hugged me and said nothing, knowing me well enough to understand that I wouldn’t and couldn’t give up – that tomorrow I’d be back at it, needing only myself to push me harder.

So I write this post today as a bit of a tribute to my parents who taught me how to figure it out for myself. I like where all that figuring out has led me thus far. It has been a unique and interesting journey with many twists, turns, bends, bumps, and potholes. Thanks Mom and Dad, for going against the flow and giving of yourselves so that I could learn the more important substance under the surface of mere requirements. It has made all the difference.

(On a side note, when my parents homeschooled their children it was extremely unpopular, illegal, and mostly unheard of. One of the many criticisms received was the ruinous socialization effect it would have on us kids. We were most likely going to end up as fearful misfits, socially maladjusted without the “normal” interaction with our peers. It’s a wonder I turned out to be a public speaker. Definitely not fearful. I guess the critics were wrong.)

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say “I can.”

Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.

You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: “I can.”

Edgar A. Guest
A favorite poem of Dr. George Washington Carver

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