So last week I was at my neice’s grade 12 convocation service. Of course, I was very happy, pleased and proud of her accomplishments and the fact that she was able to stick-it-out to graduate from grade 12. Over the years I have been to many of my neices, nephews and cousins’ grade 12 convocations and I have been just as pleased and proud of them all as I am for my latest neice. The first of these events we attended more than 20 years ago, my husband said something to me then that I found to be very profound. At these events he’s always commented that completing the elementary to secondary years of academic learning is the longest investment a person will ever make to accomplish any goal- in their entire life. I never thought about the pursuit of the grade 12 certificate from this angle until he pointed it out to me.
This journey of more than 13 years- that started from kindergarten and ends with the big grade 12 convocation is truly a long and remarkable journey. For the many graduates who were able to make it through I truly applaud them. I applaud the parents, teachers, support staff, friends and community members- without whom these graduates would not sustain this long journey of tempering. This is what my post is really about- Tempering. The process of turning iron- a naturally occurring element- that in its natural state is impure and can’t be used for what us humans would like to use it for- into useable products. The process of tempering is too, a long and often messy and challenging process, but done right will bring forth a product- most well known- steel, that is tough and performs under great strain and pressure.
This is how I see the journey from kindergarten through high school- a tempering process that brings out the greatest and purest qualities in those who are able to withstand the long process. The saying, everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten is true. It is these formative years that help shape who we are today as members of our society. Kindergarten prepares the students for the many relationships they will encounter over the next 13 years. Imagine that? The type of worker you are today, the type of spouse/partner you are and the citizen you are today- were all shaped by your tempering which began in Kindergarten. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the comparison between the actual process and how it relates to your work and personal relationships: There are 3 major processes involved in classic tempering process.
First, the ore is taken and heated to super high temperatures up to 2000 degrees celsius. This process changes the core property of the ore, making it more durable and flexible. Having to leave the comfort and safety of your home at age 5 to be with other children and teachers at school, could be seen as a way of making you more durable and flexible for later things to come. Think about your first day on your first job. You were probably a bit scared, uncertain of yourself- but you also knew you could withstand the ‘pressures’- simply because you showed yourself for the first 13 years of huge changes you endured that you can weather the storm of being the new kid on the block at work. And so you shine at work. The same is true for your first real serious intimate relationship.
Second, The newly durable and flexible ore is now quickly taken to super cold temperatures ranging as low as -120 degrees Celsius. This quick cooling step ensures the iron develops the property of being hard, resist staining and corosion. This is you in junior high school. Preparing for the transition between no longer a young child but still not an adult. You will have to withstand the pressures that this plunge between the worlds of childhood and adulthood- you are in neither world but must navigate it. You will have to be hard enough to resist the temptation or lure of stains such as drugs, early sex and the myriad of other things junior high school students must navigate. Unable to do so will turn out a student possibly stained and prone to corosion.
Think about your workplace and all the potential ‘stains and resulting corosion’ you will have to navigate to avoid, reduce and or eliminate. Being the employee who thinks about what’s in it for me versus what’s in the best interest of our team? Being the employee who participates in gossip and complaining about the organization that puts bread on your table and clothes on your back versus the employee who asks, how can I help? How can I make a difference in my co-workers’ lives? How can I best advance the team? These kinds of attitudes toward work and your co-workers require tempering.
Third and final step in the tempering process is to take the metal back up to super high temperatures of 365 degrees Celsius. This is done to relieve any stress that might remain in the metal brought on by the extreme hardening and cooling process. This results in a product that is flexible, has overall good structural toughness, and the ability to hold a sharp edge ( if made into swords or knives). This step is equivalent to the high school years. We all know these last 3 years of the 13 year journey have a lot riding on them. Now you are caught between the world of no longer a child for sure but not quite an adult- yet faced with adult responsibilities- working for many, relationships for many, mapping out a career path, living with or without parents etc.
Think about this final preparation phase and who you are as a worker. You are no longer looking for a job but seeks a career where you can truly make a difference in the lives of the customers you serve. You are no longer looking for what a career can give you but are interested in a career that gives you the opportunity to create and build on the values and principles you hold dear. You are no longer interested in being the star but sees the team as stars and finally, you have come to know that at the end of the day- it truly is not the paycheque that makes you get up and go to work and do what you do. You know it is every bit the people.
And this is why I encourage my clients to truly embrace and celebrate the challenges they face as they go through their work and personal journeys. I remind them they are simply being tempered to become who they were meant to be.