19 August 2009

five simple rules...

I know the school year has officially started when I find myself at our before the year inservice, at variant places over the south bay. Usually, these things are not that different than going to the dentist, except the dentist recognizes her activity will cause you pain, and they drug you to make the experience a little better than the beginning days of dentistry, where they just yanked that shit out of your mouth. Inservices are uniquely painful, usually, because it's like a really large, undisciplined classroom in it's preparation, a variety of things that make me wish I was somewhere else. This time however, it worked out a little different.

The president of the school was talking about some reflections on what makes for a happy life, and these really caught my ears. They were very simple things we should be considering everyday, but for some reason, we let the pace of our lives and our own self-interests get in the way of what allows us to truly be happy. I will provide the list of things and a little about how we can access these concepts.

1. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

I was watching this new show on ESPN called Homecoming. The show brings heroes of the sports world back "home" to where they grew up and started their climb up the mountain of success. The episode in particular that sticks in my mind was one in San Francisco, CA that brought back Jerry Rice, a man who has affectionately picked the nickname the GOAT- stands for Greatest Of All Time. Rice would openly admit he wasn't the most talented player, he wasn't the fastest, but he did hold one advantage over others, he was just willing to work harder than they were, and figured he'd work so much harder, that it would be hard for them to catch up...and he was right. Rice holds pretty much every major scoring and receiving record in the NFL. When asked what it was that he regretted most, he said, without a hint of hesitation, "I wish I had stopped and smelled the roses. I spent so much time working, I never stopped to appreciate my work."

This makes me think of my life, and the almost entirely singular focus of keeping all the obligations on my plate as their best. It does mean we have success. A lot of success. But sometimes, I have to remind myself to just stop and appreciate what we have while it's happening. An example of this for me was at the State Tournament this year, where we had a team in the quarters and a team in the semifinals. As we were advancing through the tournament, I had to stop and think back to the last year, where I had a team in the final round of the State tournament, but found myself having a hard time enjoying it, as it was frustrating to "get so close and miss the ring." I thought back to how disappointed I felt, even though we had reached a place our school was really happy about, the debaters were dancing on Cloud 9 (literally, after the tournament is the Dance, which they had no problem cutting a rug at), and all should have been well...except that I let my competitive streak get the better of me, and had taken any joy I should have had for the kids, and for the program, reaching unprecedented heights.

2. Relationships with family and friends matter most.

This is something we all tend to forget, or maybe a better word is take for granted. It's not our fault, most everything in our society is meant as an immediate means of self-gratification. Because of this, we are usually pretty protective about keeping our jobs. I have met many a family that, in their quest to make sure they had enough money to make their lives comfortable, they lost touch with each other, and let their relationship go down the drains. It sounds pretty simple, but at the end of all of this, the things don't matter. There's a saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. What it should be is keep your friends close and your family closer. It's the relationships in your life that shape you, make you the person you become. The people in our lives, the ones that provide the stability we all need to survive at least, and thrive at most, are the ones we take the most for granted when we're pursuing our goals. We make the assumption they will always be around, and always be there giving us strength. We sometimes forget these people have their own issues...the hip hop band pharcyde says in their song "Runnin"

there comes a time in every mans life/when he's gotta handle shit on his own/you can't depend on friends to help you in a squeeze/they got problems of they own.

There should never come a time in life when you have to handle shit on your own. I will go out on a limb, and say something pretty obnoxious (really, you're gonna be obnoxious, get outta town...). Most of my friends would consider themselves pretty smart people, and for the most part, they are. But one of the curses of smart people is the belief that they need no help, that they are capable of getting it done without help. It has taken me years and years to figure out there are just some things you should not have to handle alone, and that your support group, your family and friends are there, and they want to help. How worthwhile was your life if you die alone, because you've drawn no real connections with anyone? Those relationships are the most important

3. People like and appreciate you more than they'll ever let you know.

I make my students write personal eulogies in my speech class. It allows them to project themselves into the future, and imagine where they will be the day The Man Upstairs (God) calls them home. It also allows them to reflect on what they would like people to think about them when they die, and in that, is the required self-reflection of "do i deserve to be treated the way I would like to be treated? Won't I have to change, be more reflective, more giving and forgiving, to really justify being treated that way. The Golden Rule goes a long way...
..the example given was actually applied to a eulogy. When you go to a funeral (and if you haven't been, be thankful) , a variety of people will go to the podium, to give a eulogy or some reflective words on the kind of person they were. Most of us aren't fortunate enough to hear the wonderful things people think about you, but do get to hear all the gossip and back-biting. I've always thought it was some type of ironic justice that makes it so that, at the time when people are sitting back and reflecting on the kind of person you are, and saying things that if you heard would put a permanent smile on your face, why you have to be dead for that to happen. It's the reason you should never go to bed mad at anyone that matters to you. I can't imagine anything worse than the guilt of unspoken emotions to someone you can no longer see, who is no longer around.

4. Life isn't easy.

It isn't. So much of what we do in life, we do because it's easy. I'm really not one to talk, as I have a degree in a field many people find particularly difficult- Chemistry. For some strange reason, it always came pretty easy to me, so I decided to major in the field, after much encouragement from every person who knew I had this skill. Get your degree and get paid was the general reasoning behind it, and there were almost no minorities in the hard sciences at that school (or, really any non HBCU's) and they offered me a ton of scholarship money to get my science degree. That being said, my undergraduate experience was a relative blur, where I spent almost no time in classes doing things I enjoyed (one of the benefits of college, I've been told) and instead spent a fair amount of time in labs and doing write-ups for things I couldn't have cared less if you'd actually paid me to care less. After I graduated from college, it occured to me I had wasted a ton of my time, doing things I didn't enjoy to take the easy route (which, I ain't gonna lie, makes me seem smarter than I actually am), rather than sucking it up and studying how government and philosophy...
...in the same way, we all do things every day to make our lives easier, at the expense of a concerted effort. I coach debate, and one of the things that has stunned me over the last 10-15 years is the overall skill sets of high school students. The top of the HS circuit is making as nuanced and advanced arguments as at least half of the college community. That being said, the increased skill sets of the kids have made them, for lack of a better word, scared to get into actual, back and forth discussions. Many kids will go as far as thinking of an answer to an argument they would make and then choosing to not make the answer, not because the answer is unbeatable, but because there is an answer, and they want to argue things their opponents don't have anything to say. This is actually, ironically, not a debate, as it requires a two parties engaging in a dialogue.

Mom always said being an adult was "being forced to choose between two shitty options, and choosing one." This is because life ain't easy.

5. You make your lot in life.

I know I have a hard time with this. Sometimes, I find myself being down on how life has gone for me. I recognize that, in the finer scheme of things, my life is pretty phat. I'm employed, I have a significant other that loves me, and it's definitely reciprocated, i live in a safe place, I like my job, etc. But when the little things go wrong in life, it's these times when I wonder why every bad thing in life happens to me. In the game of poker, there are a number of times when the cards will be flipped over, and you'll find yourself way behind. What do you say? One time, just one time!! And sometimes, that "one time" actually happens, you get the last 9 in the deck to have your 9's over Q's full house beats my nut flush. But most of the time, as the math would seem to indicate, you'll lose that hand. But, because the game is a game of chance, it's possible to be on the top end of the hand, have a player in a two-outer (only 2 cards in the deck will let him/her win the hand), and they can catch their hand...all day...and there's nothing you can do about it. You can get mad about it, and complain constantly about how unfair life is for you, or you could look at the other side of it...1) you are playing a game, which you can stop, 2) you have enough disposable income to spend it on a game of chance and 3) by the math, this should work out in your favor over a large enough cross-section of the game.

I couldn't have imagined I would have found myself reflecting and writing on the inservice theme...who knew?

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