The List – The Top Influencers of 2019 – Zach Shields

The List – The Top Influencers of 2019 – Zach Shields

Zach Shields

Executive Director of the Decatur Public Schools Foundation

Who was your first mentor in life?

The horse trainer I apprenticed with from age 8 until 15 or so.

What was your most memorable lesson?

When you get bucked off, get back on. Also, the horse is just as smart as we are, but in a different way. You have to learn to observe and interpret, which is the same as understanding people. ALSO also, he said don’t grow up to be a horse trainer. Get a job with benefits then have horses for fun. This is extremely sound advice. And while it sounds funny, it speaks to the need to be practical. Doing what you love is great, but won’t always make you a living.

What does community mean to you?

Community means understanding that we are a segment of something larger than our individual selves and desires, that choices we make directly affect those around us. To be authentic members of a community we sometimes need to sacrifice what we’d prefer in order to be of service to others. That sounds preachy and is maybe self-evident to a lot of people. But it helps my outlook to repeat it mentally whenever I get impatient with the world and wonder why it doesn’t cater to my agenda alone. The hardest habit to form is comprehending another person’s perspective then making decisions that benefit the communal whole. Largely-speaking, people in Decatur are very good at doing so. There’s a strong sense of We’re in this boat together that defines this town. I really believe that.

Why are you involved in the community?

I enjoy people. Humans (like horses) are herd animals. It’s vital to know and feel that we are not alone. And while we can’t always fix someone else’s problem, we can always say “Hey. I’m here.” I wouldn’t call myself a people-pleaser, per se. But if it’s within our reach to provide comfort or encouragement or support, that’s maybe the most important thing we can do for other human beings. This is especially important for kids. The world can seem like such a mess. It’s critical to remind them it’s not truly as bad as we’re led to believe by a 24-hour news cycle. (Plus probably social media that tends to veer off quickly into crazy). People are much more sane than it seems. So being involved in education and contributing to broaden their horizons… that’s very motivating.

What advice would you give to people who want to do more?

Be open-minded about opportunities but also thoughtful about where you invest your energy. Give yourself permission to be selective about where you put in your time and effort. Because it’s easy to fall into the Superman Complex and get exhausted and give up on pitching in. A lot of caring individuals run themselves ragged, then don’t have anything left to give. Dr. Jim Wade (Cancer Care Specialists) talked with me about this a long time ago. He said – to paraphrase – that it’s natural to want to save everybody and fix everything. Doctors feel this way, but have to accept that they won’t magically be able to. Knowing and seeing all the ills in the world can make you want to throw your hands in the air and walk away from everything. But there is always an opportunity that’s suited to your strengths. So identify what you’re good at and then assist in that arena the best you can, rather than running ragged and kicking yourself because you can’t do it all. Maybe the message is this: remain open to a variety of causes until you find your purpose. Find a thing or two and do the work well.