I grew up in Canton, MA and spent my summers at our cottage in Scituate MA. I graduated from Ohio University and achieved advanced degrees form Suffolk University and American International College.

Here are some of my memorable moments and some of the things I learned.

My Parents and Brothers. My father was very opinionated, decisive, and able to keep things simple. He was also a bit self-absorbed.

My mother excelled at building relationships and making people feel special. I never heard her complain. She was a true optimist who loved to entertain friends and relatives. My mother was my biggest fan and supporter.  

I had three brothers. We shared bedrooms, bathrooms and ate two meals a day together. I learned the importance of having dinner together and sharing that day’s experiences. They were very supportive and always there when I needed help. My older brother died in a car accident at age 29. Very sad!  Some of the lessons I learned include:  

  • Take a position.
  • I wanted to be like my mother.
  • Assume positive intent. Most people are trying to do the best they can. 
  • Optimism beats doom and gloom.
  • Keep it simple.

Prep School. I played hockey in high school. I was a good player and decided to do a PG (post grade) year at New Preparatory School in Cambridge MA in hopes of getting a Division One hockey scholarship. It worked. We had a great team with lots of talented players. Every player except one was offered a full or partial scholarship to a Division 1 college. Two lessons I learned:  

  • As you go up each rung of the sports ladder, the players get bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented.
  • Achieving success in any endeavor requires focus, lots of practice, and openness to feedback. Be coachable.

College Coach. At age 27, I was selected to be the varsity hockey coach at American International College. I held this position for four years. Some of the lessons I learned:   

  • Simplicity and repetition are the keys to learning.
  • The better job I did recruiting players and coaches, the easier my job was. 
  • I hated losing.
  • Every player on the team is not going to like you.
  • Nothing beats preparation.

Meditate. Roy Masters taught me to meditate. For the past 40 years, I have meditated twice a day. What I learned:  

  • Mediating helps me get centered and be present.
  • Forgiveness is the only way to let go of the anger and resentment.     
  • Being present—giving people your full, undivided attention is hard work.   

Teacher and Trainer. I spent over 25 years teaching college students about management and leadership. In addition, I conducted numerous seminars and workshops teaching business people how to be more effective managers and leaders. My teaching approach focused on —10% theory and 90% application. Five of the most important lessons I learned include:   

  • Teaching is an exciting, challenging, and rewarding profession.
  • I had to change my teaching approach every 15 minutes to keep people interested and engaged.    
  • Providing too much coaching, instruction, and feedback was as bad as providing too little. The fine line between too much and too little was often hard to figure out.    
  • People only remember a few things. Therefore, I had to make my big ideas stand out. Remove the clutter and unneeded details.
  • Practice continuous improvement but work on improving just one thing at a time.

Marriage. I have been married to Mary Jean (MJ) for 45 years. We have had many special moments.  

We are very compatible and share many common interests (sports, politics, leadership and family analysis). We both had management/leadership role in corporate America for 20 years and taught the same college courses for many years.

MJ is very bright, talented, and is a high achiever. She expects a lot from herself and others. She is known for being very direct and seldom sugarcoats her message. But she is also very kind and generous.   

I still love to hear her laugh. Also, it still warms my heart when she says, “You’re the best!” or “I love you!”  Some of the lessons I have learned include:   

  • Marriage is a partnership—encouragement, help, and support are important and need to go both ways. Do more than your fair share.     
  • Celebrate the little successes and big wins.
  • Being angry and holding grudges hurts you more than the other person. 
  • When you argue, stick to the current issue. Don’t bring up old issues.  
  • Say and do things that add value.
  • Grow as individuals and as a couple.   

Children and Grandson. Being a parent was my most important job. We are blessed with two wonderful children—Kate and Andy. They have been our pride and joy. Kate is a great story teller and shares her daily adventures. Andy has a big personality, a big heart, and is always fun and entertaining.

Like my mother, both Kate and Andy excel at building relationships and making people feel special.

Just listen. When my daughter had a personal problem, I immediately went into problem-solving. That wasn’t what she wanted. All she wanted me to do was —just listen. It took me a long time to realize how important it is to just listen. 

Character, values, and relationships are more important than grades. In ninth grade, Andrew came home with his first report card with a “D” in math. My wife and I were extremely upset. That night at the parent-teacher conference, his math teacher said, “Don’t worry about Andrew’s math grade. Forget it! Andy is a great kid. The teachers love him; the students love him; the maintenance staff love him. He has personality and character.”

I walked out of thinking—he’s right, Andy is a great kid. Years later, I would say his math teachers had great wisdom.  

We have also been blessed with five super-great grandsons—Owen, Noah, Anthony Dominic, and Keegan. Each one is unique and has his own personality and talents. Their curiosity is amazing. I love to hear them laugh, tell stories, give a toast at dinner, and watch them play sports.  Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

  • Just listen!
  • Focus 95% of your time on the As (strengths) and 5% on the Ds (weaknesses).
  • Character is more important than grades.
  • Discipline is not a bad thing. It helps kids learn about boundaries and consequences.
  • Having children and grandchildren give you two opportunities to relive your youth!
  • ABC–Always Be Curious

Dying and Death.  My mother died at age 92. She had two operations and other ailments over the last six months of her life. After visiting her in the hospital, I would go to my car and break down crying uncontrollably. Here is the person who had taken care of me and I could do nothing to help her. Three lessons I learned include: 

  • Emotions are extremely powerful and at times uncontrollable! 
  • Death is part of the life cycle.
  • Feeling helpless—sucks.  

Final Thought  

At the end of 2018, I retired (I don’t like the word “retire”) from my full-time teaching position at Springfield Technical Community College. I had a hard time figuring out—now what do I do? How will I add value?

After some soul searching and discussions with my wife, I realized “adding value” is one of my most important needs and values. I’m now teaching one course as an adjunct professor, writing articles, playing more tennis, having fun with my grandsons, and still learning.  

What will I learn today? Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and former college professor. His two most recent books are Precise Leaders Get Results and Leadership-Finding Your Sweet Spot (Authors Place Press). He has also produced 28 short YouTube videos on various management and leadership topics.  He can be contacted at [email protected]