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The Real Secret to Success

January 10, 2017

Something people don’t know about me is that I struggled with school and as a result, was a bit of a late bloomer. In fact, I didn’t even complete the high school degree that would have led me to university. If not for music, I probably wouldn’t have even stayed in high school long enough to complete the diploma that would grant me access to college.

After a year of selling shoes, my girlfriend of the time told me that if our relationship were to continue, I would need to get an education. I attended a community college and took audio-visual techniques, which really meant learning about photography and video equipment.  During that first semester I learned the basics of writing an essay, something I hadn’t learned in all of high school. I also took an elective in psychology. I found less interest in my major and more interest in the psychology course.

As a result, I parlayed community college into an admission to university as a mature student. Now I was at York University with a major in psychology.

My first essay in university earned me a bright red “D” and the comment that I had a serious writing problem.

I asked the professor for help. He suggested I read Hemmingway and copy his style of short sentences (mine were all run on). Not one to turn away good advice, I did as suggested. My marks quickly improved to a “B” and at times “B+”.

In second year university I was taking a course in psycholinguistics (the study of language development in children). I was quickly failing, not because I didn’t understand the psychology part, but because I didn’t understand the basics of language, grammar to be exact.

I approached the prof (Dr. Robert Fink). He was a great guy who made me feel comfortable. I explained my problem and he loaned me a grade 10 text book on grammar.

I dutifully went home to read. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t make sense of what I was reading.

Somewhat embarrassed, I returned to Professor Fink the following day and explained my situation.

Without hesitation he took down another grammar book from his shelf. This time it was a grade 8 text with a maroon cover called “Grammar is Important”. This was a very basic instructional book. It had two-word sentences like “John runs”. It explained that John was the subject and runs was the predicate. The book went on to explain the basics of grammar like nouns, verbs, subject, object, etc. It was as if I missed grade 8 grammar and without that basic knowledge, I wouldn’t have passed his course in psycholinguistics. I think I got a B+.

I graduated university with a Specialized Honours BA in Psychology. I managed a B+ average. I loved psychology and so applied to graduate school to become a psychologist. I applied to 5 schools of clinical psychology and was rejected at 5 schools of clinical psychology.

I got a job in a group home instead. I was working with severely developmentally compromised youth. It was there I met the social worker. I had never heard of social work before. She explained her role working with families. To me, it sounded like my dream job.

I applied to only one school of social work and that was at the University of Toronto. I was granted a conditional acceptance. I was missing a prerequisite that if obtained, I would be allowed entry into the school.

The course I required was in Canadian political science.

I applied to York University for an entry course and was accepted as a part time summer student.

I was expecting lectures on the Canadian parliament. I thought I would hear about the three political parties of the time. I was dead wrong.

The lecturer had an interest in Marxist-Leninist theory. My eyes glassed over during that first lecture. My mind wandered to my conditional acceptance. I saw it slipping away.

I approached the professor after class. I explained my attendance in his course. I asked his permission to alter the course requirements. Instead of two essays on the established course content, I asked if I could address the politics of social services in Canada. I promised that if he granted my request I would never become a political scientist, but that I would become a good social worker.

He was amazing. He agreed as long as I would also sit the final exam. I needed to get a B+ in this course to use it to receive my conditional acceptance to the social work program at the University of Toronto. I was grateful and I was petrified about the exam.

I wrote the 2 essays as negotiated. I attended every class and read all the material. Neither the classes nor the materials sunk in or made any sense to me. I sat the final exam. I froze.

I know I wrote basic gibberish in answer to an array of essay questions. There is no way I could have passed. I saw my conditional acceptance drift away.

I eventually received my grade for that course. I received a B+.

Since then, I became the social worker I sought to become. Courts in Ontario have deemed me to be an expert in Social Work. As for my writing difficulties, I have since authored more than 500 columns for our city newspaper, some 300 articles, some 200 blog posts, 2 books and chapters in several books.

I feel successful in my endeavors.

I credit my success to only one thing: Asking for help when help was needed and accepting the help that was offered. That is the real secret to success.

I continue to ask for help and accept help that is offered to this day.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

If you found this blog of service, please share it with the links below.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships

  1. Amazing!
    Funny how life works out for people.

    Love reading your posts.

    Brian Power

  2. Happy New Year Gary.

    Thanks for sharing your struggles.

    I have a similar story of going back to graduate school. I went back as a mature student from a foreign country. The style of education was different from what I was used to. I could not understand basic issues that other students picked up with alacrity. My first semester mid-term in statistics saw me with a D grade. I was so clueless about the grading system that this did not even make sense to me till a fellow student explained how bad it was.

    So I went to the Undergraduate Library and trailed my fingertips along the spines of Introductory textbooks. I found one which had large print and so appeared easy to read. I took that home and started from Chapter 1. I gradually pulled up my grades. After the semester ended, I returned the introductory book. But I decided to purchase that for myself. I never did open the books that the professor prescribed. They remained in the cellaphone wrapping. But I read my introductory book faithfully and devoured the professor’s class notes repeatedly. Today I have 2 journal publications with statistical analyses that I have developed from scratch. There is a Number 3 on the way.

    When I went to the second year, I had to do social psychology. Again I had high-level journal articles which were dense and difficult to read. So I approached the professor – a world renowned social psychologist whose work is often cited in basic texts – and asked her to recommend a basic undergraduate text for me to read. Very surprised, she never the less complied and I purchased a basic text which I read alongside every paper. This kind of scaffolding helped me to cross the initial classes till I found my footing. From those early days of difficulty, no one was more surprised than myself to find myself holding a senior government technical position where this knowledge was of critical use.

    I still hold one of those text books. I carried it back to India and I treasure it.

    I also tell my students in my research classes of the difficulties I faced in clearing my prelim exams before moving to my PhD dissertation. I also had tremendous difficulty in expressing myself in good research language. It was only timely help from my teachers who helped me move past these difficulties.

    They made me a firm believer in giving people the assistance they need to succeed.

    • Many thanks for sharing your story.

      Like yourself, I still have that maroon covered grammar book. It sits on my shelf as a reminder of my experiences. I take it down from time to time to share the experience with clients who are struggling.

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