If you've ever been stopped in Wal-Mart and asked to be a little nicer to your children, chances are pretty good you've already met William "Bill" Smith.
"I'll hear a parent saying, ‘You're a rotten kid. You're no good,'" said Smith, a retired educator who still teaches self-development classes. "I say, ‘Hey, think about what you're doing to this kid.'"
Smith believes that many of the values and beliefs we carry through life are learned at a young age.
"What happens to many people is that during the first five to seven years of their lives, they are instilled with strong values and beliefs," he said. "Sometimes they're worthwhile, but sometimes they aren't, and we spend the next 60 to 80 years trying to overcome them."
Smith got into the arena of self-development when he was a high school graphics teacher in the San Diego public school system.
"I was a highly successful teacher and I was just getting into what my son calls ‘mind stuff,'" he said. "I asked an advanced class to write down all their assets and all their liabilities, and they said, ‘Mr. Smith, you do the same thing.' At that time, I could only list three assets. A couple of girls began to cry because I could only say three nice things about myself and they thought I was the greatest."
At that moment, Smith realized he had some work to do.
"I said, ‘Smith there's something wrong between your ears if you can't see more good about yourself. So then I asked myself, ‘Where did these crazy beliefs come from.' I started taking seminars, started reading all kinds of stuff, started really getting into the Bible more.
"Today, Smith teaches self-development at Payson Center for Success on a volunteer basis.
"What I do, in reality, is teach them how they think -- where it comes from," he said. "I tell them, ‘If you have something that's a disempowering belief, I can show you where it came from, how to change it if you want to, because only you can do it.'"
Some people call it a self-esteem class.
"I say, ‘No way, it's a self-development class because we go through all these different things that show you how you operate, how you got where you are. If you like where you are, stay there, but if there's some things you might like to change, how do we go about it?'"
Smith also draws a line between his self- development classes and motivational classes and seminars.
"Motivational stuff is what I call jack up," he said. "It jacks you up for two or three days, and that's wonderful. But a week or two later people are normally down where they were or even lower. It's because in these motivational seminars, they don't give you enough. They don't spend enough time. A charismatic speaker can jack people up, but you're not really going to help them."
Most of the good self-development classes, on the other hand, are conducted over several weeks, but Smith doesn't believe he has a secret formula.
"They all get down to about the same thing," he said. "What do you think about yourself and where did it come from? We get so much bad input, and I like to try to tell people, ‘All families are dysfunctional; some are just more dysfunctional than others.'"
The good news is, you're never too old to overcome your dysfunctional heritage. The oldest person Smith helped was a 91-year-old neighbor in San Diego.
"All his life he had been almost a recluse," Smith said. "He didn't like people and he growled at everybody, and everybody hated him. I worked with him on a one-to-one basis off and on for almost six months. Before it was over, the kids in the neighborhood were coming up to him because (the man) had changed."
Smith and his late wife moved to Payson when he retired 11 years ago. "In 1985, I realized when I retired I didn't want to stay in a large city," he said. "I had watched San Diego grow bigger and bigger and bigger. When I started teaching in 1958, San Diego only had eight high schools. By the time I retired, we had 20.
"So that summer, we took a retirement trip and went through Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico. We came into Payson from the back side -- 260 -- and my wife and I both said, ‘Oh what a beautiful place.'"
Smith's advice to those who would improve themselves is simple.
"Our minds are filing cabinets," he said. "If you're 20, you can only have a maximum of 20 years of garbage in it. But if you're 50 years old, you have 50 years of garbage. So now you have to put more good stuff in the front of it so when you get in your filing cabinet, you pull out good, positive things -- things that will work well and are beneficial to others."
Name: William "Bill" Smith
Occupation: Retired educator.
Employer: San Diego City Schools
Birthplace: Yakima, Wash.
Family: Widowed, one son.
Personal motto: Walk your talk.
Inspiration: Jesus, son of God, who taught us how to live and think to have a truly meaningful life.
Greatest feat: Still moving forward without my wife at my side.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Following the changes in the automotive industry.
Three words that best describe me: Caring, organized, truthful.
I don't want to brag but ... I still find great enjoyment in working with teenagers.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Noah
Luxury defined: Living how and where I do at this time.
Dream vacation spot: New Zealand. From what I've read, it seems to have all the things I enjoy in nature.
Why Payson? Wonderful climate, great small town, close to nature.