The Wisest Person I Know was a Third Grade Dropout

 Growing Your Impact


LegConference-Side.pngWe live in an era of astonishing technology, instant information and rampant social networking. But despite these epic advances, which ushered in the 21st century, cultural critics argue that communication in our society has never been more shallow and based on superficial appearances. 

Dr. Rick Rigsby, former professor, football coach and chaplain for Texas A&M University, spoke about how county officials can confront this problem and extend their influence, grow their leadership and make an impact during the opening keynote of TAC’s 2017 Legislative Conference, on Aug. 23, in Austin.

During his presentation, Rigsby argued that for many organizations, appearance — or what he refers to as impression — has become the new corporate wardrobe. He spoke about what really is important and meaningful — not only in one’s professional career but also in one’s personal life. 

In his often hilarious, sometimes tear-jerking presentation, Rigsby illustrated the importance of setting an example, believing in yourself and others, working hard and never giving up. Through lessons from his parents, siblings and loved ones, he used his gift of oration — thanks in no small part to his experience as a pastor — to bring the crowd to their feet and inspire them.

“The wisest person I ever met — who taught me to combine knowledge and wisdom to make an impact — was my father,” he said. “Wisdom comes to you from the unlikeliest of sources, often from failure. That person that gets up off the couch and keeps growing, that’s the person that will grow their influence.”

Rigsby told the story of how his father had to drop out in the third grade to help his family on their farm in rural Texas. However, that didn’t mean he stopped learning. “My father taught himself to read, taught himself how to write,” he said. “He challenged himself to be the best that he could all the days of his life.”

Rigsby learned from his father simple lessons that he tries to live by to this day. Simple lessons like arriving early to appointments, being kind to others and doing the very best at anything you attempt.

These lessons, Rigsby said, are what guide him as he aspires to create an impact in the lives of others. He then spoke about the former University of California Basketball Coach John Wooden, saying his calling was to impact people. Rigsby said that although Wooden had won championships, he was still often found sweeping the basketball court himself. 

“You want to make an impact? Find your broom,” Rigsby said. “If you find your broom, you are setting an example; you are making an impact. 

“Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better, and better isn’t enough if it can be best,” he continued. Recounting how his father would tell him “Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right,” and to never settle for average. “I tell myself every day to shoot for the stars, to be the best that I can be.”

Don’t be on Time – Be Early

“If you want to grow your influence – you’d better be an hour early rather than a minute late,” said Rigsby. He believes it says something about you when you show up early. It communicates a powerful message to your brain. It says, “I am here for other people.” 

Rigsby recalled that when growing up, in his house all the clocks were set ahead. “My father had the breakfast shift,” he said. “He had to be at work at 5 o’clock in the morning. We lived 15 minutes away from his job. For 30 years, my mother said he left at 3:45 every morning.” On one occasion, she asked him why he left so early. To which he replied, “Because maybe one of these mornings one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.

“You are what you repeatedly do. Therefore, excellence ought to be a habit not an act,” he quoted with enthusiasm from Aristotle.

“But in a shallow, superficial culture,” Rigsby noted, “we make excellence an act and not a habit.”

How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything

To grow your influence, according to Rigsby, one needs to be consistent in their intentions and behavior in all areas of your life. “If you lie over here, you’ll cheat over there,” he said. Remembering a football player he coached at Texas A&M University, he told how the player went on a date with a classmate and ended up stealing her credit cards. Then, while at practice, he consistently put in less effort than his teammates, eventually getting cut from the team. 

He continued to make his point by telling a story of being at a cocktail party and meeting a former NFL player who is now a financial adviser. The advisor began pitching to Rigsby, encouraging him to become a client. He showed Rigsby pictures of his wife and kids. “A couple of hours later,” Rigsby said, “he’s huddled over there with a woman who ain’t his wife.” That was enough to convince Rigsby that he wouldn’t be letting the man manage his finances because, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” he repeated.

Raise Your Children to be Great, Not to Be Your Friend

Rigsby believes that as a parent, his job isn’t to be friends with his children but to raise “great people to do great things.” He spoke about his son who is a teenager. One day he told him to go clean his bathroom, to which his son replied “How much will I get paid?” As expected, the audience reacted with groans of mutual understanding. Rigsby said he told his son that his payment would be allowing him to live another day, which caused the audience to erupt in laughter. 

He said he wanted to teach his son to be man. His own parents had done that with him and his siblings. He said every day he was met with great expectations. His father told him, “It’s OK to aim high and miss, but you better not aim low and hit,” he said.

“I hated dinner time,” Rigsby said, “because of the conversation.” His parents would ask him and his siblings hard questions about history, geography and other challenging topics. His parents were raising smart, strong and ethical children. “I tell my kids at least once a week, ‘If I talked to my Dad the way you just spoke to me…’ Do any of you know what I’m talking about?” he asked. The audience responded with a definitive “yes.” “We have to stop being their buddies and start rearing them,” he said. 

Make Sure You Are Always Kind to People

To grow your influence, you need to model behavior, Rigsby said. “In 2017 we are modeling two things: impact and impression. We’re either servicing others or ourselves.” The goal is to make an impact. Rigsby conducts a number of NFL chapel services, so he sees a lot of impressive athletic feats like average-sized men bench pressing 250 pounds 25 times, or jumping higher than seemingly humanly possible. But, he said, “What stops me in my tracks is when one of those gladiators shows some kindness.”

He gave suggestions for how to show kindness even within an average county office. Like opening doors for people, picking up discarded trash left on the floor or by merely saying “Yes, ma’am. Yes, sir.” Kindness closely parallels honesty, he said. Kindness will stop people in their tracks.

Rigsby said to make sure your service talent is bigger than your ego. “I’m here to tell you that ego is the anesthesia to deaden the pain of stupidity,” he said. He went on to say that his father understood Rigsby had some ego, so to offset it, his father required that he learn to serve. 

“Kindness used to be considered a value. Now it’s a commodity we barter with to get what we need,” said Rigsby.

No Matter What, Don’t Quit

Rigsby concluded his talk with a story about his first wife, whom he fell in love with during college. “I married the most beautiful woman I had ever met,” he said. He was shocked she agreed to be his bride. They began their lives together in California and had two boys. Their lives were great until one day they discovered his wife had breast cancer. She died six years later, leaving Rigsby with two small boys.  The crowd of county officials fell silent.

He said it was his father’s words that helped him get through those painful days, weeks and years after her death. He said, “Son, just stand.” That was his father’s last lesson to him — he died a year later. But he carries those words with him today and shared them with the audience. “There isn’t anything more profound that I can share with you folks than these words: Y’all, you great, great people, keep standing,” he said. “No matter what, don’t quit.

“Some of you are facing great challenges right now,” Rigsby said. “Some of you had to plaster on a fake smile just to come to this convention.” But, he said, you need to keep standing. That’s what he did. Two years later he said his “heart started beating again,” and he met another amazing woman, whom he married. The first thing his new wife did was adopt his two young sons because their mother, “didn’t want her children to grow up without a momma.” They then had two sons together and remain happily married today. 

Two days before his first wife passed away, Rigsby recounts her last words, “It doesn’t matter how long I live. What matters to me most is how I lived.” He then turned to the audience and asked, “How are you living? Because how you live will determine how you lead.”

Lastly, he said how he hoped they were living. “I hope you are not judging your constituents. I hope you are showing up at the courthouse early every day. I hope that you are kind to people. I hope that your serving style is far bigger than your own sense of self-importance. I hope that when you do a job you do it to the best of your ability,” he said. “I hope you remember that how you do anything is how you do everything. Great county leaders are great not because they do extraordinary things, but because they do everyday things better than anyone else.” 


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