Paper Clips and Patience

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending another day with my pals in Life Skills at the high school level in the Southlake Carroll ISD. It amazes me how much I learn, every time I go there and spend time with the youths throughout the schools.

Yesterday, I got to go with the boys to the senior high where they concentrate on more work life applications. Mr. NO (his initials, definitely not his attitude nor any association to the James Bond film Dr. No ) and I were paired together and his first assignment was working on “marketing and communication” type tasks. Perfect! I have 20 years experience in marketing and communications and I love working on both.  Little did I know this task would teach me even more about communicating.

The other aid with us warned me when he saw the first task that this was a tough one for Mr. NO. Inside the project box was 60 pieces of copy paper and two boxes of small paperclips and several large paperclips and maybe three spring clips floating around in the bottom of the box.

Our task was to take the 60 individual pieces of paper and separate them in to sets of three with a clip on each set of three. Separating into sets of three was a cinch for Mr. NO, it was the paperclips that were tough for him.

Mr. NO is a very busy guy who loves to be busy. He has so much energy circulating through him that he is pretty much skin and bones because he is constantly in movement. Before going to the senior high school yesterday, we worked together on his work and slowing down to make sure everything is correct.

If you need a helper, Mr. NO is your man! He wants to help everyone and he is easily distracted from his task at hand to see what others are doing and how he might help them. Give this guy a big trash can on wheels in a buzzing cafeteria filled with teenagers with their after lunch trash and he will get the job done with a huge smile.

But speed can get in your way some times. Working with Mr. NO is a reminder to me to be cautious of my initial assumptions. Reading the instructions is very important. And when you are trying to jam a paperclip on papers and you are not really sure how a paperclip actually works can cause you some delays especially when quality control is important. And I figure, if you are going to do a job, you should do it right.

Have you ever thought of how to explain how to make a paperclip work? Most of us “get it” quickly and move on. But to try communicate how to use a paperclip to Speedy Gonzales or Bugs Bunny jacked up on caffeine to the point of major Parkinson’s hand tremors who knows he can do this does put communication in to a totally different light.

Note that there are two curves on the side of the paperclip that you slide down. Mr. NO might start with the paperclip the opposite direction so we would have to turn it over. Also note that to make a paperclip work, you essentially use your dominant thumb to slightly push the inter smaller curved area to where it can easily slide down on the papers and secure them together. But this isn’t very easy to demonstrate to Mr. NO because he is so focused on accomplishing the task quickly.

We learned that the larger, thicker paperclips are easier for him. He probably already knew this and didn’t think to mention it to me. He found that if he over compensated with bending the paperclips severely out of whack, where the opening between the two curves was wider, he could then catch the papers easier as he hit the papers with the clip. But then we had to work on making the clip bend back appropriately so that it would hold the papers neatly and flatly.


Every time he would accomplish the task, he would say, “his name did a good job”. Lucky for me, Mr. NO doesn’t get frustrated like several of the Life Skills kids I have had the pleasure to spend the day with. It might take us a while and he might get his attention diverted numerous times but when he did it at all, he would acknowledge he completed the task and almost inflect the sentence as a question so to say, “I did a good job?”


I think one of the things I appreciate most spending time with these kids is most of them work really hard and they are all really smart in their own way, we simple folk just have to figure out how to communicate at their level. We working on this task for over 30 minutes and accomplished clipping 20 sets of papers.

They are also very much kids or teenagers depending on the age range I am working with.  Mr. NO is quite the social guy. He likes to stand in the classroom door during the transition periods to wave to the people who pass by, especially the young ladies. I finally got to go to dance class with Mr. NO and two other female students from the class and I got to see the shy, wallflower teenage boy when he is surrounded by lots of pretty teenage girls. The dance teacher shared with me that she hadn’t been able to get him to relax much around her but that she hears from the other teachers that he doles out great compliments from his doorway. Compliments that can make a lady’s day like, “Your hair is pretty”.

So beware, Mr. NO is a charming Don Juan with tons of patience which is definitely a wonderfully dangerous combination and a reminder to never judge a book by it’s cover.


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