My Induction into the Wall of Distinction



  I walked into the Hudson Falls High School auditorium on a Sunday afternoon a little over a month ago and didn’t know what to expect. Although I was being inducted into the Wall of Distinction, I certainly didn’t feel deserving of the honor, especially when I thought about the thousands of people who have attended the school and gone on to achieve high levels of success across the globe. After all, I’m not a doctor, lawyer, engineer or CEO, I’m just someone who has found a way to follow his passions to many places of notoriety in some of the largest outdoor media outlets in the country.

  I mingled amongst people in the audience before taking my seat in the front row. As I waited for the ceremony to begin, my uncle tapped me on the shoulder and told that a woman in the back of the room was asking if someone could let me know she was looking for me. 

  As I made my way up the aisle, I saw that it was Mrs. Ahrens, my 10th-grade Public Speaking teacher. Her smile washed over me and warmed me from head to toe. She expressed her happiness for me and told me how excited she was that I was being inducted. I was overwhelmed when I saw her. I hadn’t seen her since I had graduated from high school, and I could tell that I had made her day, just as she had made my day.

  After following the National Honor Society students as they led us to our seats on the stage, I hemmed and hawed about winging my speech or reading the one I had written. Not knowing when I was going to be called to the podium, I decided to let it play out in its own time.

  Luckily, I was able to listen to three inductees before being called to the podium. Walking to the microphone, I felt good about everything. Although the recognition was somewhat overwhelming, I felt confident about the speech I was ready to give.

  While speaking, I felt calm and in control telling my story about different teachers and how they made long-lasting impressions on me that have helped me throughout my life. I spoke a little bit about former classmates, my brother, sister, mother and father. The audience was engaged in the speech and gave positive feedback throughout. When I was winding toward the end, I realized that maybe my picture and biography inside the trophy cabinet outside the lunchroom will inspire a student – or two or three – to chase dreams that don’t revolve around their careers or employment.

  My route to the wall has been somewhat different than most of the others, as I have worked a job that has allowed me to pursue a rich life, not one filled with wealth. I changed career paths early and realized that my hobbies were unique and would require a job in which flexibility could help with the traveling and vacation time needed during certain times of the year. Somewhere along the line, I got sucked into corporate America and all of the petty bullshit that goes along with it, including watching people in cliques take care of each other, unqualified people advance through the ranks, people waste time all day in meetings, and the list goes on and on. In the old days, it used to get under my skin. I applied for 20 consecutive jobs and didn’t get one of them, even though I had legitimate experience as long as a football field compared to most of the applicants. The same excuse was always given to me. I became numb to the words, but they still ring through my head: “Well, we have decided to go in another direction,” or “We selected someone who is more qualified.”

  I listened to it time and time again. Finally, it got to the point where I really just had to laugh and realize the ineptitude of the people I was dealing with. They weren’t the Jack Welch’s of business. Instead, they were just riding on the corporate America train that was sitting at the train station in small-town America. You see, small-town America can be great in many ways, but it can eat people alive in others.

  When the curtain was drawn back, and I saw my biography under my picture, I smirked and laughed. Most people would probably be proud of an accomplishment like this one, but I glanced at my parents and felt proud of them. This was for them, not for me. They didn’t give me free handouts along the way, which definitely helped when I experienced the long line of rejections. I was taught from a young age that I needed to work and do the best possible job I could, even if I didn’t respect or like my superiors. My parents reinforced the fact that I should never let any one person affect the quality of my work or my work ethic. I learned the lesson well.

  I have always done my best to produce quality work, no matter what I’m doing. I could be writing poetry, outlining a book, competing in an archery tournament, speaking to students in high schools, giving seminars at outdoor shows or in church functions, or just going to my Monday-Friday job. My work ethic has carried me to the top of the ladder in everything I’ve chosen to pursue…….except in corporate America. That is a head-scratcher to many people I’ve worked with in different organizations. They can’t fathom it, but I tell them that I really don’t mind because life is about making the most out of it and inspiring others to be the best people they can be. 

  Standing back and looking at the new inductees, I realized that I had accomplished another goal: I have made a difference in people’s lives. I could never ask for more than that. I’m glad I attended the Hudson Falls Schools in my younger years. The experiences I gained readied me for the real world, just as I spoke about in my induction speech when I talked about Mr. Foro never having favorites and putting people in positions to succeed if they outworked others. So many teachers prepared me for life, even though I never knew what they were doing at the time. Yes, I did gain more knowledge in math, science, business, history and English, but the real lessons didn’t involve schoolwork. 

  I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey. It might have been a few short words in the cafeteria, or maybe a five-minute conversation at the 20-year reunion, or even a laugh or two during story time in elementary school that settled in my soul and directed me to the places where I’ve found an incredible amount of happiness. 

  I’ve been saying this since I was 30 years old, and I continue to say it today: “If I die tomorrow, you don’t have to worry about a thing because I have lived a complete life. I have done all of the things I’ve wanted to do, and I have allowed myself to become so deeply immersed in the things I’m passionate about. I would never want it any other way. I enjoy life more than anyone I’ve ever met, and it’s not because I make millions of dollars, travel around the world, or hang out with famous people. Instead, I enjoy life because I was fortunate enough to find myself at a young age, recognize who I was and what I needed, and I learned to feed my soul with passions that drove me to succeed. I have chased dreams of following my passions and living a fulfilling life, and those dreams have become reality.” 

  When I tell people that, they look at me like I have two heads and can’t fathom what I’m saying. The conversations I’ve had after sharing my thoughts on the subject make me realize how incredibly lucky I am. I definitely chased the right dreams, not the pipe dreams that bring nothing but money and material belongings. After all, what do those things do for your inner peace and happiness?

  Tonight, just like every night, I feel like the luckiest person on Earth. It’s an unbelievably exhilarating feeling. Immerse yourself in your passions and let everything else become secondary. Your life will become richer than the life of the wealthiest man alive. While that man is ordering off the high-dollar menu after parking his Ferrari in the parking garage, I am trudging through the snow in the darkness. My boots are wet, my socks are crinkled near the toes, and I can feel the sweat trickling down my neck and into the crease of my back. Looking at my watch, I know I still have another mile to get back to my truck. The rain has turned to frozen pellets mixed with snow, but I’ve had the best day I ever could have asked for in the woods. I spent the day with the man who first brought me there when I was 6 years old. Now, he’s 72, and I am 50, and I am still walking on the path less traveled, the path I chose when I decided what I wanted from life.

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2 Responses to “My Induction into the Wall of Distinction”

  1. Bob Bultema says:

    Congratulations Todd! I admire you for more things now than I did
    when I read you third book you sent me! Putting family, friends and passion
    before corporate America?!?!? Great choice!
    Your inspiration to me matches that of a 92 yo man I met hunting a favorite spot in Iowa years ago. We met for lunch later that morning and he informed me he was never giving up on his passion of hunting and had this far lost nine hunting partners.
    Loved your conclusion about life at age 30 and I know I’ve certainly felt the same way.
    Carry on young man! Hope to see you in Iowa next fall!

  2. Tony McCutcheon says:

    Congratulations! You’ve done a good job navigating another trail along your path of life. I pray God’s blessings and favor remains upon you.

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