A few weeks ago, I was hanging out in the kitchen with my friend, Kate, and her two children. When I asked her what the best part of her day had been, she said, “My coffee.” 

It wasn’t the first time Kate referred to coffee as the best part of her day. Concerned, I asked, “Why not find a job you like?” The story that followed broke my heart, for Kate and her two daughters. Here’s what she said… 

“Several years ago, when I was complaining about my job, my husband asked me what I really wanted to do for my career. I wanted to be a medical technician,” she shared, as I leaned in. “With his encouragement, I signed up for a math class at the community college.” 

“And then what happened?” I asked, remembering back to an experience I had with math more than twenty years. 

“I went to the class, didn’t understand a thing the teacher was saying, left, and quickly unenrolled. I decided I would just have to deal with having a job,” she said. 

Damnit, I thought! Damnit! 

I wanted to rewind the clock to the day before her first math class and tell her my math story. Afterward, I would remind Kate of her dream to work in the medical field, supporting and encouraging her every step of the way. I would have told her that most people enjoy helping, and that all she would need to do was ask. 

But this story had unfolded nearly twenty years before, and she had already given up on her dream. Maybe there’s still hope for Kate, but that day in her kitchen wasn’t the right time to share my math story. So, instead, I’m going to share it with you. Because maybe you haven’t quite given up on your dream, or maybe you are soon to meet someone who needs you to continue along their journey to their dream. 

It’s one of my favorite stories. Enjoy and pass it along!    

More than 20 years ago, I walked into college algebra class, sat down, and took notes (because everyone else was). Then, after all the other students left, I approached my teacher and asked, 

“A pie… don’t you eat those? An integer… What is that?” 

Once she realized that I was serious, she asked if I had taken the math placement test. 

I had. 

“You need to go to the community college and take the very lowest math class… you have no foundation for this class,” she insisted. 

I knew she was right, but I also knew that I Needed to prove that they hadn’t made a mistake by accepting me to this university. 

So, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Ma’am, are you a teacher?” 

“Yes,” she said, studying me. 

“Well, I’m a student. Will you teach me?” I asked, a little cocky, but more pleading (somehow, she understood). 

While I didn’t know her answer would go on to shape my life, it did. Her answer, along with her actions over the next three months, set the tone for what I would come to learn as possibility in the following decades.  

“You will be at every one of my office hours,” she demanded. (For the record, that was fifteen hours of math, my least favorite topic, every week.) Before I could respond with, “Yes, ma’am, anything ma’am,” she continued, “You have one weekend to learn your times tables.” 

No, I didn’t know my timetables. I didn’t know what a pilgrim was either. I didn’t know what social studies was. I could go on and on, but you get it… it was a miracle that I graduated high school. 

I had no idea how I was going to learn my times tables in one weekend, but I did. Hours and hours of math, and a whole lot of patience on her end, netted me my first little-big success outside of sports. My request for help, and her agreement, let me see that I wasn’t as dumb as some had suggested, but just that I needed a good teacher.  

That little-big win led me to more little-big wins, which ultimately landed me two undergraduate degrees, a master’s degree, four published books, and dozens of other successes. That little-big win… it changed my life, and it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for a woman who saw the hunger in my eyes. Thank you, Jan Stapleton. You made a significant impact in my life. 

The Jan’s of the world give us courage to face monumental challenges (which is exactly what algebra was for me) because we know that they have our backs, believe in us, and will do everything they can to help us succeed. If there is someone like Jan in your life, tag them (or simply include their name) in the comments section below. 

Here’s to your greatness, 

Misti Burmeister 

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com