Chapter 1 Be An Original I got off to a bad start in school. When I arrived for my first day, inside was a desk that had an index card on top with my name on it. I walked over and sat down. Lots of kids were milling around. The 8:00 bell rang and the others made their way to their seats. My teacher, Miss Robinson, a rotund woman with grey hair tied up in a bun, gazed sternly as she sized us up. She clapped her hands and called for attention, which didn't work well. She shouted for quiet. The students near the windows kept jabbering. With a formidable glint in her eyes, she raised something in the air: a thick, metal-edged yardstick, covered with dents, probably from the backsides of the disobedient. She began striking it on the edge of her desk. It was then that I gauged the distance to the door. The first thing we did was review the rules. Sit still. On your bottom with your back straight in the molded plastic chair. No speaking unless spoken to by the teacher. No gum chewing. No spit balls. No curse words. No looking cross-eyed. No funny faces. No burping. No laughing. No questions except during Question Time; no answers except from her. Know your place in line. Don't get dirty or grass-stained during recess. Ask permission to go to the bathroom. Don't get too excited. Don't tell jokes. Never get out of your place in line. Do everything in sequence. The most important thing was the report card, which she called the key to "having a good life." After about fifteen minutes, I knew this wasn't for me. I imagined my younger friends outside on that sunny September day, playing in the turnaround at the end of our street. I knew they would be getting ready to start a ball game or hike off into one of the nearby wooded parks on some adventure, watching frogs, searching for ghosts, or saving lost dogs. To my young mind, this felt like the key to life, not a report card. I rose and went for the door. "Sit down, Robert!" ordered Miss Robinson. All eyes turned to me. I hesitated for only a moment. She was rounding her desk, yardstick in hand. I bolted for the door. The room erupted with shouting children. "Stop!" she yelled. By the time I had cleared the edge of the playground and jumped the fence, I encountered a group of safety patrol members, fifth and sixth graders, returning from guarding the street corners, on their way to class. "Stop him!" shrieked Miss Robinson from the doorway. My shoes were laced tight with double knots. I never looked back. The exact distance from the schoolyard to the side door of my house was three and a half blocks. My four-year-old friends, who were indeed playing ball in the turnaround, cheered wildly as they saw me running up the final steep hill toward home, chased by someone twice my size with a white belt across his chest and a silver badge. He never got within twenty feet of me. If Everyone Else Is Doing It, Don't I began my school life on the wrong foot. But at least it was my own foot. I have always wanted to learn how life could be and how the world really works. Those things are not always emphasized in school curricula. One of the unwritten codes I came to believe in was, "If everyone else is doing it, don't." Through the years I have learned that when using this approach many individuals in all walks of life have been able to call forth more of their best. When we suppress our originality, we lose touch with the source of our vitality and initiative. The greatest learning and achievements come not from standardized group work but from the unique efforts of individuals. In this regard, the human spirit has its own set of rules. In many ways, it is rebellious. The imperative to live life differently, on our own terms, keeps building until it breaks through the surface. It is then up to us not to let it fade away. WCooper, Robert K. is the author of 'Other 90% How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life' with ISBN 9780812932874 and ISBN 0812932870.