By Laura Stack
Continuing our series on Johnny’s most important values, he listed his fourth value as Enthusiasm. It probably won’t surprise you to learn it’s one of my personal values as well. I make much of my living as a professional speaker on the topics of productivity and time management, and without enthusiasm, I couldn’t do my job well. If I’m not excited about my work, why should anyone else be?
When I attended the University of Colorado (waaaaay back in the late 80’s), I had a professor whom I swear was a robot. Seriously! His presentation was as dry as dust (as if it hadn’t changed in 10 years), and he spoke by rote. Have you ever heard speakers or teachers like this? Not very interesting, were they? By paying attention very hard, I learned more about the subject (although I can’t tell you what it was), but I didn’t leave the course with more enthusiasm for the topic. By contrast, I had an instructor who was happy to be teaching her chemistry class. She enjoyed the topic so much that her cheerful, energetic enthusiasm was infectious—even though I was a business major—her energy affected me. I left with a positive attitude toward chemistry!
An infectious enthusiasm brings everyone up; and it not only buoys you, it can help bring new attitudes into being. While hard work will always remain very important, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once pointed out, “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success… Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
Typically, dictionaries define enthusiasm as an intense enjoyment for something. Johnny defined it as:
“Approaching every obstacle or situation with the utmost of optimism and cheerfulness.”
Johnny’s co-workers at PetSmart commented that he always had a smile on his face. So, enthusiasm isn’t necessarily boisterous or energetic; in fact, it’s often quiet, even understated. It’s clear that Johnny understood this, because he chose Fred Rogers as his role model for enthusiasm. That’s right: the quiet, super-polite host of the famous children’s TV series Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The protagonist of It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a biopic about Fred Rogers, called him “the nicest man in the world,” and he touched generations of children’s lives for 31 years from his modest studio in Pittsburgh, PA.
As Johnny points out, his show was “chock full of life lessons,” which were essential for Johnny’s personal development and for learning a positive outlook on life. Like Mr. Rogers, you don’t have to be big and showy to display enthusiasm. Johnny practiced his sense of enthusiasm in simple ways:
“Reminding myself that sometimes wonderful things can come out of meager situations, doing my best to have a smile on my face, and thinking positively even when it’s not the easiest thing to do.”
Many adults have become jaded to the point of boredom with their lives, so they ignore the idea of enthusiasm. They’re too tired for it, or they’ve had a bad day/week/year. Only idealists or fools maintain their enthusiasm long-term, right? But they’ve forgotten who they are, letting baser emotions drag them down. I like Johnny’s take on this:
“We literally are our headspaces, and emit different energies based on our moods and perspectives. These energies are contagious, and how you behave could potentially impact someone else around you… Enthusiasm is essential to practice, because if you enter into a situation where you’re thinking negatively, the outcome will also most likely be negative.”
A sense of enthusiasm is vital when you’re feeling battered by the world, stressed, and depressed. While it won’t fix everything, it can help pave over the cracks in your emotional world, and make you feel better about yourself. Doing something you’re enthusiastic about, whether it’s fixing a car, painting, singing out loud, or even cleaning the house, can lift you out of a bad mood and put you back onto a brighter path, making you feel like the important person you are.
Johnny had a huge enthusiasm for learning. He was scary smart and creative and curious and philosophical and loved to debate topics that were over my head. He always hated it when I bragged about him, but he got a perfect score (800/800) in the math section of the SAT. Regarding his score of 34 on the ACT, he complained about the poor wording on some of the answers in the English section. He tutored our neighbor’s daughter in math over one summer, and she was able to test out of an entire year of math. He went to a camp at Stanford for a week to learn game design. He went to chess camps, robotics camps, and IDTech camps to learn various programming languages. He loved these experiences. He exceled in video games and was the highest rank in one of his favorites, CSGO. In high school, his GPA was so high that after nearly failing the last semester of his senior year with four D’s when he was caught in the grip of drugs, he still graduated with high honors.
Johnny always knew his intellect was his superpower and maintained his enthusiasm for learning right up to the end. Even a few days before he died, he was still asking me to buy him books. Believing in yourself and what you’re doing is essential for true enthusiasm. You can’t make any values work for you until you truly believe you’re worth it, after all. Your life matters. Your family’s lives matter. Your children’s lives matter. Please enthusiastically remind yourself and them every day they matter!