A lot of people ask me why I have a blog on my website with nothing in it. The quick answer I give is I’m just too busy to write something right now. The real answer is, I’ve been putting it off until I have something of consequence to write. I don’t want this blog to be all about teaching because that certainly isn’t the intent, but one of my students said something to me this week that really struck a chord with me and I can’t help but talk to it. The student and I were having a heated discussion about failing grades. It’s the end of the third quarter. The, “I shouldn’t have been a jerk and I really should’ve worked harder so I wouldn’t have to repeat the sixth grade,” quarter. I started to lay the cards on the table for the kid and really rip into what he should’ve done with his life. (His life? I should have reminded myself that he’s… like ten) In the middle of the lecture, the student says, in a very exasperated tone: “Boy, you really go by the book. Don’t you?”
Without missing a beat, I told him, “Yeah, I do. And if you do it too you can have: X, Y and Z.” I wasn’t about to let his comment stop my lecture, I was really killing it. To his credit, he shut up through the whole back half of my speech and when I climbed off my soapbox all he said was: “I hear what you’re saying, but what if I do this and I’m still not happy? What then?”
Wow. I really didn’t have an answer for the extremely perceptive little bastard. I mean, I made something up of course. Something about sometimes you can’t always be happy all the time and sometimes you have to do some things you might not want to do to climb the success ladder. (Like take notes and not throw paper footballs in Social Studies class. Like, not put tape across the faucets in the Art room no matter how funny it is to watch the next poor fool who turns the faucet on get soaked with water.) You get the point. Anyway, I used some crappy metaphor. It wasn’t as good as the sometimes cryptic, but always helpful life lessons George Feeny used to give Cory Matthews on Boy Meets World, but it had the kid scratching his head by the time we parted ways. Then I spent the dreaded hour-long car ride home, after work, thinking about what he said and analyzing it against my own life.
Am I truly happy? I have lived my entire life “by the book.” Sit up straight, mind your manners, respect your elders, yatta yatta. Get good grades so you can get into a good college, all that stuff. I did it. I did it all. I even graduated summa cum laude in three years instead of the typical four. I had a good job lined up before I even walked across the stage. Now I live in a nice home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac with a fat paycheck and a loving husband. I did it all “by the book.” But does everyone have to do that to be happy?
I spend ten hours a day with students preaching social intelligence and teaching them how to be successful. True success isn’t measured by a paycheck or job or where you live or even what degree you got. It’s measured by happiness. Do I have everything I need to be happy…yes. But if asked to do it all over again, would I? YES. I’d start by telling myself and others that sometimes it’s worth it to not go, “by the book.” I often wonder how my life would be different if I had the courage to do things that are not so…logical. Now, on the cusp of trading job security for a less than logical career choice, I’ll soon have a better answer for that kid. If you don’t go “by the book,” can you still be happy? Perhaps even happier than you imagined? The answer is out there. The real questions are: Will you have the tenacity to seek it out? Will you have the courage to close the book and walk your own path?