F. Behrendt: The Guru of Serenity
I didn’t get my most valuable certificate at school
Last week there were the half-yearly reports in NRW. As I drove my two children to pick up their A4 sheets of paper, I remembered a certificate that I received 40 years ago: In a very special school where I learned the really important lessons.
My school days were a roller coaster ride. There were good years and some when I missed the descent from class. French gave me problems; I blamed it on the teacher. Even in math, I was never the brightest candle on the cake. “Frank can only count money,” said my father, always shaking his head, when, in spite of tutoring, I had made it to a four with hanging and choking.
Why should I pull any roots out of Pi or what I had to understand geometry for was a mystery to me at the time that I was not willing to solve. In German, on the other hand, I was great, essays were easy for me, and literature was very interesting to me. Art was also one of my strengths, as was English, history and Spanish.
Adventure camp in the UK nowhere
When I turned 17, my parents decided that going to a camp abroad should broaden my horizons. “You will learn something for life there,” were my mother’s words. So one morning in the spring of 1981 I got on a British Airways “Trident Three” plane to Manchester. From there it went on by train to Eskdale, in the English county of Cumbria. Idyllic landscape in the “Lakeland”, but otherwise nothing was going on.
This is exactly what my parents wanted, because the focus shouldn’t be on parties and fun, but somewhere else. By far an absolutely wise plan, as a youngster you naturally saw it differently. As the only German among all the British, my three-week course at the “Outward Bound Mountain School” began. Every morning we went on a run through the pitch-dark forest at the very early morning before we all had to jump into an ice-cold lake on command. Wet and shivering it went back to the castle-like building that could have sprung from a Harry Potter film. Only then was there breakfast.
I cursed inwardly as soon as the loud wake-up call from a robust supervisor echoed through the hallways, but you eventually get used to everything. After a few days, morning exercise didn’t bother me at all, on the contrary. We became a sworn community, it had something of the special spirit of the boy clique from the film “The Dead Poets Club”, one of my all-time favorite films.
My mother always kept a meticulous photo album, also about my adventure trip to England. From then on, kayaking, mountaineering and expeditions were on my daily program for three weeks. It was always about finding your way in groups, being a team planner and mastering real challenges in nature. I was a member of the “Nansen Patrol” as our crew was called.
I led them on the “final expedition” and as a team we best solved all the challenges. “Frank demonstrated much ability as a leader” was my personal report at the end. My parents were very impressed. My father especially liked that the report also said that his son also appreciated the British humor and was an amusing entertainer on the communal evenings.
Experiences for life
Before starting the trip, I was not very enthusiastic about the fact that I was supposed to climb through the mountains every day in a remote English valley during the current Bundesliga season. I actually liked it very much at home on the couch with the sports show on TV. But my parents were not prepared to make any compromises on such educational issues: “This is good for you and is the best support for your advanced English course.” End of discussion.
Today I consider that trip to be one of the most valuable experiences of my entire school days. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about leadership there in the British mountain school, which have helped me throughout my later career: to be considerate of the weaker within a group, to use each individual and his strengths for the good of all, always for a good team spirit as a basis for mutual success.
My parents gave me the certificate, which was printed in blue, and I later included it with each of my applications. It always attracted special attention and was a good starting point for a conversation with HR managers that went deeper. Even if not a single grade was in the report, the concise sentences of the experienced coaches about me and my leadership potential were more valuable than the grades in all other certificates combined.
One of my former bosses later confessed to me that he hadn’t looked at the other documents more closely. To do this, he had studied the Outward Bound Report carefully: “There was everything in it that really sets you apart!”
After we had extensively praised our children’s school reports, I told them about my trip back then. My daughter and son listened with interest and then asked Google. There they found the homepage of Outward Bound. The trainings are still there. Now they both want to go there later, although they are not quite comfortable jumping into the cold lake every morning. “But if the papa survived, I can do it easily,” said my junior. I am already looking forward to his testimony.