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Creative Thinking: Help on path to excellence

I looked up from my booth and saw my third-grade teacher, Miss Coleman, and her two sisters standing in front of me. It always catches me a little off guard to see her because it takes me way back to a very different time and place in my life.

I immediately rose from my chair to properly greet her and give her a hug. I tower over her as an adult, but my memories of her are the opposite. There were many times she hugged me as a little boy and I felt so comforted by her encouragement and support. In many ways, I still feel very comforted by her presence.

I’ve written about her many times during the years since we reconnected. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to see and visit with our grammar school teachers. I was so lucky to have had her as a teacher all those years ago and even more blessed to get to visit with her now.

I always look forward to this time of year because I enjoy participating in all the holiday shows in this area. I get the opportunity to see all kinds of people from my past, which in turn awakens many memories that have been asleep deep inside my mind for sometime. When they are unleashed, one memory triggers another and before I know it, I’m re-living my past.

Since my mother and daddy have been gone for some time now, it’s refreshing to see all the people who knew them well. Some people knew them before I was born, and others knew them later in their lives. When someone shares with me a memory they have about my parents, I feel as though I’ve had the chance to be with them again, if only in a memory. When it’s impossible to have the real thing, a memory just has to suffice.

Long after Miss Coleman and her sisters left my booth, my mind still wandered down the shiny, waxed floors of the halls of my elementary school. I could vividly see Mother dropping me off at the door of my third-grade class and Miss Coleman’s sweet smile greeting me at the door.

I was indeed grateful to be passed off from one positive influence to another for the day. As I thought about it, my entire day was filled with love and encouragement.

Mother never expected me to do anything except be the best I could be. Neither she nor my dad ever measured my accomplishments by anyone else’s. They didn’t expect me to make straight A’s, but they did expect me to give it my all, as did Miss Coleman and many of my other teachers.

Any pressures to be the best were placed on me by me. I felt if they believed I could do well, something deep inside of me wanted to prove them right.

Setting a high standard is an important thing in the process of maturing because if a standard of excellence is not established, then how could we ever realize what our best could be?

It’s funny that no one has to tell you whether you’ve done your best -- because you already know. During my years of education, if I ever tried to give less than what I was capable of, I knew it long before a paper was turned in or a project was graded because the voice inside of me had already told me. Whether I listened to it depended on what my accomplishments were.

To this day, it doesn’t matter if I’m creating a painting or craft project, cooking a cake or a complete meal, riding 20 miles on my bicycle instead of 10, or even writing my weekly columns, that little voice inside of me always is more than happy to guide me in the direction of the best I can be.

I think that’s why the movie “The Wizard of Oz” always spoke to me on a personal level. When the wizard finally told Dorothy all she needed was already inside of her, he was right. There were people to guide her along the yellow brick road just like our parents, teachers and mentors did us. But, in the end, long after they’re gone, it is the voice within us that never leaves. If we stay true to it, we will never go astray.

By now, you all know I love quotes from wise people. They serve the purpose of reminding me to stay on the right path when I sometimes stray. They help me stay focused on being the best I can be.

This quote by Marianne Williamson has helped me immensely. “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I‘m so grateful for the people in my life who steered me in the right direction to become who I am supposed to be. The wisdom and encouragement of others working together with my inner voice makes for a winning combination.

More with Mark

Mistletoe Market: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Nov. 18, Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, Perry. Mark is on stage at 1 p.m. each day. $5. or (478) 952-1610.

Book signing: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 24, Creters, 2374 Ingleside Ave. Mark will sign copies of his new cookbook, “Delicious,” and have holiday merchandise for sale. Free. 745-6709.

Check out Mark’s website,, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff.

Mark is on 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; fax them to (478) 474-4930; call (478) 757-6877; e-mail to; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.