By Ella Koscik

If you were anything like me as a teen, you probably didn’t think selling Christmas trees or yearbook ads would teach you critically important life skills like accountability, but you might be surprised. I just realized that recently when I was honored as a distinguished alumnus of my alma mater, Plum High School in Pennsylvania. While I might have earned straight A’s in socializing, who would have thought that all those C’s on my report card would one day put me at the podium as a guest of honor? As I thought about what to say to the current graduating class about my own high school years, three things stood out in my memory.

In-School Suspension or Never Be Afraid to Ask for Help; People Want to Help

The first thing is what my Dad remembers from my high school years: my in-school suspension. Can’t recall what I did to deserve it (although I’m sure it had something to do with talking too much in class), but it meant an entire day stuck in a windowless room. So, I went to the Vice Principal, Mr. Ratesik, to ask for his help. That little chat didn’t get me out of detention, but it did get me out of that windowless room. I spent the day sitting outside his office. Every time he had to get up from his desk to attend to something, I was his shadow, following behind him.

The lesson I learned? You should never be afraid to ask for what you want or need. People want to help you.

Cashier Calamity or Never Be Afraid of Your Failures: It’s Where You Learn the Most

My second memory was about a job I had during the holidays. I was hired as a cashier at Pool City. Not a problem for most people, but I am dyslexic and really struggled with this type of job. Despite the fact that my first day as a cashier was pretty much a disaster, I really loved working. The next day, I expected to be fired on the spot, but the store owners saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there. They quickly took me off the register (never to return to that job again, thank goodness), handed me a clipboard and put me out on the floor to sell artificial Christmas trees. Turns out, I sold more trees than anyone else. In the process, I learned that you should never be afraid of your failures. You sometimes learn more from your failures in life than from your successes.

The Missed Runway or Learning to Live with Disappointment

My last high school lesson is about what Mom remembers from those days. She recalls how hard I worked to sell yearbook ads and how disappointed I was when I wasn’t selected for the prom fashion show. If you sell enough yearbook ads, you get picked for the fashion show and walk down the runway. This was a HUGE deal in my school, and I was the only one out of my mom’s 6 kids who did not receive this honor. The experience taught me that it is possible to survive disappointments. We all have them, lots of them, in fact. Once you are out in the world on your own, you have to know how to deal with disappointment.

The Meaning of Life

To achieve success in life and be a strong leader, you need to be part of a team. And I have a great one. For the past 20 years, I have led MDI Group, an IT staffing company with revenues of over $50 million. MDI Group represents less than 3% of the businesses that succeed, and I firmly believe our success is largely based on the principle that we are a great place for great people to work. Life to me has always been about HAVING FUN! It still is today. I’m long away from high school, but I’m definitely still having fun.

Final Lesson

As it turns out, I learned that an A in socializing can actually lead to a great career, as long as you follow your passion. I am living proof of that.

So what did you learn in high school that applies in your career? Anything worth sharing? Anything worth sharing that won’t get you in trouble today?