There are times people say a few words forming a phrase and the phrase stays with you for a lifetime. The first time I heard “Attitude determines Altitude” was in my senior in high school from my English teacher. At the time I thought it referred to how well I would do in their classroom and my grade. Several years after graduation I realized the phrase, “Attitude determines Altitude” referred to how we handle the challenges life brings our way. I taught this phrase to my children. It was not until my oldest son’s senior year I really saw the strength of these three words in someone’s life.
I was working fast food, along with my oldest son. One of the young men working there was a classmate of my son. Although their only interaction was at work. After Christmas break, this young man’s mood changed, he became depressed and saw himself as a loser, and was talking about just dropping out of school. I being his shift manager, said why drop out you are almost done. I learned that he was failing math, a class required to graduate. Unless he passed math, he would not graduate and did not see a solution to his challenge.
People are stereotyped and being stereotyped is more prevalent in small towns. He stated that no one at the school would help him understand math. I told him I would help. He questioned me, why would you help me, you do not know about me and my family. He was referring to the incident involving his older brother, who did not graduate, and because of this the older brother’s girlfriend broke up with him. The older brother followed her to college, held her hostage in her dorm room, shot her in the foot, then committed suicide by cop on live television. The community turned their back on this family. I told him he was not his older brother, he was his own person and did not have to travel the same path. I would tutor him on his meal breaks at work, he agreed.
The first tutoring lesson he was very frustrated, he did not understand what to do in order to solve the equations. I stated to him “attitude determines altitude” and to look at the equation not as a problem but as a challenge. We worked almost everyday during his meal break on math. After a week of completed assignments with mostly correct answers, his math teacher asked to talk to him after class. The math teacher wanted to know why he was doing better. His reply, I have a tutor who is helping me. As we worked together, his attitude changed, he started seeing how attitude affects altitude in math and life. There were no more problems in life only challenges.
Time came for finals. Words do not describe this young man’s excitement the day he learned what his score was on the math final. He brought me the paper showing the grade “B+” and the results that he had passed the class. He was going to graduate.
Graduation night came, I went to the ceremony to see my son receive his high school diploma. I saw this young man, stand tall and proud as he walked up to receive his diploma. After the ceremony during a time friends and family gather around the graduate to congratulate them and take pictures. I was picked up off my feet and swung in a circle several times, not knowing who had grabbed me up. When my feet were allowed back on the ground, I turned and saw this extremely excited young man. He gave me a big huge, thanking me as if it were not for me he would not be there. Then he insisted I meet his parents, taking my hands and literally dragging me there due to the pace of his walk. He stopped in front of his parents, “Here she is, the one who believed and helped me get here.” His parents with tears in their eyes, thanked me. His father told me that this son was the first in the family to graduate. He had older brothers and sisters and cousins who did not graduate from high school. Now the younger ones could see and believe it was possible to graduate.
A few years later, I was visiting and ordering food in the fast food restaurant where we worked. He came in and saw me. We had a happy reunion. He was once more excited with self control to tell me how he was doing. He had left the area to work in the job corp, and decided to go to college to become a parajumper, jumping out of airplanes into the forests to fight wildfires. I also learned that all his younger siblings had graduated from high school. He attributes his success to me believing in him. I told him they did the work, it is their success.
Before this event in my life with the young man and many times after, I have faced the challenges in life. Each time I am faced with a change or challenge the three words “Attitude determines Altitude” surfaces in my mind and memories. Our perception of a challenge in life and our attitude about the challenge will determine how high we fly over the challenge.