What my mother, my English teacher and the US Marines have in common

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When I was a teenager, my mother had something she said to me whenever I was headed out for the evening. “Remember who you are,” would follow me out the door. I knew what my mother expected. She challenged me to act right.

At the Bronx High School of Science, my freshman English teacher was Irwin Hoffman. He was no “Mr. Sunshine.” I don’t what he was like before, but it was clear that a stint in the infantry in the Second World War had affected his outlook on life.

But not his outlook on reading or on his students. In Mr. Hoffman’s class we read and discussed a book every week. The only exceptions were two weeks each for David Copperfield and Moby Dick.

Mr. Hoffman had us reading and discussing books that I wouldn’t even hear of again until college. In his class I discovered serious reading and it had a profound influence on my life.

Mr. Hoffman didn’t listen to other teachers who suggested that high school freshmen couldn’t handle the books he assigned. He expected us to handle them. He challenged us to grow.

After high school graduation, I joined the Marines. The US Marines are the world’s largest elite military service. They have an awesome reputation.

But Marines don’t do great things because the Marines recruit the very best. By and large the men and women who join the Marines look and test like the men and women that join other services.

Marines do great things because that’s what the Corps expects Marines to do. Expectations rule.

People will live up or down to what you expect of them. Expect them to achieve and support each other and they will. Expect them to look out just for themselves and they will.

Great bosses expect the best. They challenge their people to do the best they’re capable of.

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