I was a lazy high school student who rarely did homework, rarely studied and merely got by on excellent test scores. Some of my teachers appreciated my ability to kill their tests so they let me slide on the work. Others decided I needed to learn a lesson about work ethic and hit me hard for not putting in the effort. I walked into college thinking I had academics figured out, but I had no idea what was about to happen to me. Object lesson number one: Dr. Tom Auffenberg.
Auffenberg was a short, round, jolly man who made fast friends with everyone he met outside the classroom. He had an easy, infectious smile and a demeanor that immediately set you at ease. I first met him in an office call prior to the beginning of the semester and I immediately liked him. I walked away from that encounter knowing that his History 101 class was a slam dunk for me. I was in for a rude awakening.
Call-me-Tom from the hallways of Ouachita Baptist University’s history department turned into Dr. Auffenberg, Esteemed Academic once I crossed the threshold into his classroom. He still had a very engaging teaching style, but business was business when it came to academics. He handed us a syllabus the first day of class that looked like step-by-step instructions on how to build an airplane from scratch and I knew instantly that I was in trouble.
First, there was the reading. Just so…much…reading. Our textbook was at least three inches thick and when I say it was about history, I mean it was about ALL of it. I took AP History in high school, so I decided to ignore the book and coast through the lectures. The first test I took was a complete bomb. I mean, an F. I actually tried to study, too—a little, anyway. The rest of the semester went about like that with Auffenberg and I was awarded with an F for a semester grade.
I retook that class two years later thinking I was grown up and more responsible. I was doing much better in my other classes so I had some well-earned confidence in taking on The Berg again. Same class, same professor…same result, and this time it wasn’t from lack of effort. I was still missing something at age 21 that I couldn’t put my finger on. I retook that same class with a different professor the next semester and got an A. I was just glad to be done with Auffenberg. Or so I thought.
Military service conspired to keep me out of school until I was 30 years old. At that point, I had chipped my degree plan down to just a few classes, and among them was a senior-level history course. As it turned out, the only class available was taught by—you guessed it. My stomach churned, my scalp broke out in a sweat, and my hands began to tremble. I wasn’t a kid anymore, but I still expected failure.
Textbooks in 1995 gave way to laptops in 2006, but I read every word of assigned text. I took every quiz, turned in every paper, and got extra credit for never missing a day of class. The tests were still 70% of the grade that semester, though. When it came time for the first test review, I looked around the classroom and realized I was the only student in there over the age of 21, so I decided to try a leadership technique I learned in the Army. I raised my hand, and when called upon I asked Dr. Auffenberg if he could provide a study guide for us to organize our notes around while preparing for the test. He stared at me, dumbfounded, as the other 23 students in the class all turned in their chairs to get a better look at the old dude in the back of the room who had the nerve to ask such a question.
The Berg scanned the mixture of shocked and hopeful faces around the room, gave me that big Call-Me-Tom smile that I had not seen since the first time we met 12 years earlier and said, “What a splendid idea, Frank!” I instantly went from Old Pathetic Dude to Campus Hero. I also used that study guide—and the others that semester—to go from Auffenberg Flunky to straight-A student.
The obvious point here is “if at first you don’t succeed…” The less-obvious one, though, is that sometimes we require a little more seasoning in life before taking on monumental goals. I realized through my growth process that Auffenberg was not the code to be cracked in order to succeed. I was.