Author Kirk Walden Rethinking Leadership

Fourteen Words

It was just another day in high school English class, that much I remember. I had no idea two sentences would shift the course of my entire life.

Two sentences.

Fourteen words.

Sitting toward the back of the classroom, I was likely bored. Hardly an academic, my thoughts were focused elsewhere, I’m sure of it. Probably, I was thinking about heading to the golf course at the end of the school day, where I believed my future would be.

As a high school kid, I was convinced my future occupation would be “professional golfer.” Since the age of 10, I dedicated nearly every day to practicing, playing, traveling to tournaments and dreaming—each night—of playing the PGA Tour, following the sun and ripping 300-yard drives in front of adoring fans. And of course, making a ton of money.

English class was simply a means to an end.

So, there I sat, slumped in my chair, no doubt watching the clock. It would be over soon.

Our teacher, Mrs. Cannon, walked up and down the rows of desks, returning our assignments, the subject of which I don’t recall. As she often did, she commented to each of us as she placed the papers on desks. She was never abrasive or highly critical, so there was no reason to worry.

Nor was I concerned about my grade. Unlike math, science and almost everything else at school, writing wasn’t much of a challenge for me. For any assigned paper I could sit down and scribble out the minimum daily requirement in just a few minutes and capture a decent grade. Would I earn a “B?” An “A?” Common sense told me to expect a B, or B+. Because I never worked as hard as the conscientious students, I figured a B was always fair.

To my left, Mrs. Cannon strolled up behind me, settling the paper on my desk. On the front page was an “A+.” Dang, I thought. Not bad!

Then came the two sentences. Fourteen words.

“You’re a good writer,” she said. “You ought to think about majoring in journalism in college.”

Up until that point, the thought of writing—for a living, no less—never crossed my mind. Sure, when I was a kid, I created a school “newspaper” for our sixth-grade class (just one issue, then we all got tired of it). Oh, and I wrote for the high school paper.

But writing for reals? Nah.

Yet Mrs. Cannon saw me as a writer. A good writer. As in, professional. The kind of writer who gets paychecks and stuff like that.

As an aside, I did not realize it at the time but paychecks for writing are quite small. I think even the numbers on the checks are printed in tinier fonts, just to make this fact painfully clear.

At that moment however, this was not important information.

All that mattered was, my teacher believed I was good enough to write professionally.

So, when it came time to decide on a major, at the last minute I decided against Business–though most of my friends headed this direction. Instead, I chose journalism. After all, I was a good writer. You want proof? Mrs. Cannon said so.

After starting college, I caught on with the local paper, covering high school sports. From there, I moved on to the police beat, college and professional sports–even politics.

Years after college, working with ministries led to creating a monthly publication which will soon celebrate 20 years. Now, there is even a weekly column, engaging (and hopefully, challenging and encouraging) servants in ministries across the country.

A few years ago, I (finally) wrote a book. I’m published! Well, self-published, but let’s not get caught up in the weeds.

No, my tome didn’t make the New York Times best seller list, but total sales are about 30,000—which ain’t bad for a writer who uses the word, “ain’t.”

Oh, and writing also led to a speaking career, another passion. This year I’ll speak at more than 40 events, mostly fundraising dinners for various ministries (that’s a lot of chicken, friends). At these events, I get to tell funny stories. And people actually pay me to do so. This is funnier than the stories.

Over the years, speaking has taken me to 49 states (still praying for Hawaii to call) and even a far-off foreign land (Oh, Canada!).

The point here though, is not about personal accomplishments—objectively, mine are quite modest–as a writer.

More important is that when I sit down to type, I’m doing something I love.

But most important? A high school teacher, going about her hectic day, took the time to speak 14 words of encouragement to a student needing direction. Words she probably did not remember until I wrote her a note to thank her . . . some 20 years later.

Those 14 words led a high school student to think differently.

Then, to make a spur-of-the-moment decision on a college major. Which led him down an entirely new path in life.

Oh, the dream of a golf career? I got to do that, too–briefly. Another story for another day.

But looking back, I’m thankful that each day, I get to open my laptop and use words to influence and encourage friends, and friends-to-be. It’s not a bad way to make a living.

The truth is, all of us wonder at times if our words have any impact at all. Let’s be honest enough to admit, sometimes they don’t.

But we never know when our word of encouragement—or 14 words–might be the key tool God uses to empower another toward a new direction, a new hope for the future.

Thanks for encouraging me, Mrs. Cannon. This one’s for you.