Jokers’ Wild or Jokers Worthwhile

JokerWe meet people throughout our lives. We make impressions on others by what we say, do, act, and react. Some people we see or know for a short time, and others we just click with and feel a bond.  Some years ago I taught a freshman year experience (FYE) class. The experience was a class with a special theme or topic, mine was leadership (of course). Throughout the class we would take field trips around the city, ride the El, and integrate study skills and resources for the students. It helps with the transition into college. Wouldn’t life be grand if we had FYE for many things that happen to us? But, I digress.

A few students from the class continued contact and drop by to see me after the quarter. We became friends. It was nice. This connection with students is one of the reasons why I love the professor life. One student, T, in particular became a regular visitor and we developed a nice friendship. His visits, were more about mentoring, they morphed into an uncle/nephew type of relationship, or mentoring. I would talk to him and treat him as if he was a nephew. We would talk about everything. Sometime it was about school (finals, classes, frustrations), sometimes career, and some times just chatting because he had time between classes.

Shuffle the deck

When T graduated I was at commencement, and in fact I was reading the names of the grads when he walked through the line. All of a sudden I was engulfed in something…He walked over and gave me a big hug. All the material from the academic robes was like a loose kite on a windy day. It was very cool feeling…I glanced at the President with a “sorry” look on my face. He just smiled. I looked for T, and his classmates, after the ceremony for the standard regalia pictures. He said, “I have something for you.” I wondered what he meant. He pulled out his wallet.

I thought, “A gift card? This is getting a little uncomfortable.”

He pulled out a Joker card and held it. He said, “This is for you.”

“Ok…thanks….” still a bit puzzled. (It is the very card pictured above.)

He went on to explain the meaning of this totem, “I don’t collect these cards…or save them for things like this. I find them. They just come to me. I have only given a few of these out and I know exactly who I gave them to.”

I didn’t get it. BUT, the energy in his voice and the delivery of this message was intense.

“The joker is seen by many, at first, and a trickster, and a comedian. People laugh at him, and some may think he isn’t very serious. But the magic of a joker is their messages. They have a way of delivering a message and their point is deep. They are really a guide and a teacher, through a not so conventional way.”

That was deep. I started to tear up.

“That is what you are to me. I don’t know how I would have made it through school without you. So I wanted to give you this to thank you for everything you taught me in class…and our chats and coffees.”

I went from tears to crying. That right there is worth every paper I have graded and every long prep time I have spent to do this job. That moment was the best.

                                    is so much more…

He still calls me. I moved across the country and we stay in contact. Recently he called me to chat about his thoughts on some job opportunities. We chatted about new stuff, the same stuff, and stuff I have said to him before. I tell him that he really knows the answers and he just has to trust himself. I said, “Remember the joker?  And their unconventional ways of teaching? All that stuff you said to me, that is true of you too.”

He tried to play it off and said it was different, “Oh, I give those to people that is what they do for me.”

I said, “Your gift is what you see in people and you point it out to them. NOW, is the time for you to see that for yourself…in yourself. When you find the next joker…it is there for you. Don’t pass it on…spend some time looking at your strengths and your talents. Rejoice in your own human revolution as you find your inner potential…AND ACCEPT IT.”

Perfect timing

I am not sure how he does it. Most of the time, dare I say EVERY time, when he calls I realize the stuff I am telling him is EXACTLY what I should listen to myself. As I talk to him about his life, purpose, lessons, choices, stepping into his spotlight I can hear the voice of my mentors whispering in my ear – HEY ARE YOU LISTENING TO THIS?! I have said to T many times, “Your timing, again, is dead on. I needed to talk about and hear all of this. The universe just put you in the middle so I had some way to voice my thoughts. THANKS.”

When the student is ready the teacher appears  

I have been his joker and many times he has been my joker. I can see that our relationship is not an accident…it is not coincidental…it is not serendipity…nor happenstance. It was deliberate.

This ability to work on our human revolution and open ourselves up to our inner potential and have everything we need is right there waiting for us. We just have to be ready to pick up that joker when we find it. Many think the jokers are just TWO superfluous cards in the deck. How often do we treat our natural abilities and strengths as non-events? Doing “that” is too easy…it can’t be important. It can’t be a strength or my gift to the world…I have to WORK for those. It has to be hard. It has to be work. It can’t be easy.   WRONG. WRONG WRONG. Those talents are all yours to use and share. YOU have the raw ability right there waiting. Don’t throw away your extra cards.

Leadership is about relationships with people. The takeaway from this story is how T handles these totems – he shares them. He wants to recognize someone. It is more than an acknowledgement. He connects with his people and tells them how they made a difference in his life. He takes action. The leadership equation includes leaders and followers; the role of leader can change depending on gifts and talents. I can see (I started to realize) the times I am more of a leader role with T, and there are times when I have more of a follower role, or a listener and learner role.


  • Who made a difference for you?
  • Who have you made a difference for?

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