Monday, May 27, 2013

One of the Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Yourself

Many years ago when I lived in Chicago, I worked at a very large pharmaceutical company making lots of money but was unhappy and so I decided to go back to school.  My MS was in Biology yet I wanted to retool and head into a different field; specifically, Statistics.  Only one school out of my many applications accepted me (Montana State University) and even then I would have to take a year of remedial math just to get into the MS program!  If I was going to make the career move, this was to be a long, uphill battle.  I'll never forget the day the U-Haul was pointed west with Chicago disappearing into the rearview mirror.  At the time, I felt like I was jumping out of a plane without a parachute.

True to my prediction, getting the MS in Statistics was really hard and it was the first time in academia where I felt truly pushed and tested.  Right from the onset, I was given a teaching assistantship to teach an introductory statistics course.  It's funny looking back.  Hell, I barely knew much more than the students I was teaching!  But, a strange thing occurred along the way.  I discovered that I loved teaching and the dream, the plan, morphed and pushed me towards a different path.  I decided I would stay on and get a PhD so that I could one day teach at a university.  

My list of mistakes and stumbles in the past is lengthy but if there was ever one thing I nailed, that I can now look back on and say to myself, "You got that one right!", it would be the decision to become a teacher.       

You might be asking yourself where I am going with this blog post?  Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the graduation ceremony at West Virginia University, where I now teach.  While I was on the stage, I reflected back on that decision I made in Chicago.  That decision served as a catalyst for all that I am, and all that I may be.  That decision helped me answer what I believe is one of the most important questions you will ever ask yourself:

What is your contribution going to be to the planet?

Paraphrasing, how are you going to matter?  How are you going to spend your one and only ticket to the dance?  How are you going to push humanity forward?

This is heavy stuff because I think many of us operate under the assumption that our time on this planet is unlimited, whether because we have the short-attention span of humanity or we refuse to acknowledge our certain demise.  However, time is not unlimited, time waits for no one, and the route to happiness lies in living life with a sense of purpose and meaning.  

I think teaching is among the most noble professions there is.  There are not many professions out there where one is so optimally positioned to positively affect the trajectory of so many other people's lives.  If I end up teaching the rest of my life, how many others can I help push forward up the mountain?  Who's to say?  Perhaps thankfully, I will never be famous, nor will I be monetarily rich.  After all, I'm just a teacher.  However, I am grateful and feel incredibly lucky that I found a calling that is so fulfilling to me and has allowed me to answer "the important question" in such a fulfilling way.     

This post is not about patting myself on the back.  What it really is about, is giving credit where credit belongs and to whom it is due -- the students.  They are our future, our legacy.  In the words of Khalil Gibran, they are "Life's longing for itself."  In the past when I have felt downtrodden, last year being of particular note, they gave me strength and focus, and helped me far more than they ever realized, far more than I was able to help them.  They allow me to live a life that is congruent with my most sacred values.  They give me energy and hope as I gaze out towards the house of tomorrow.  And now, the baton is passed forward ...       

Rachel Chidester
Thina Maqubela
Sheng-Wei Huang
Jordan Helmick
Lisa Catanzaro and her boyfriend, James Santamaria
Niraj Amin
Wu Ma and his wife Jiaojiao
Limian Fang

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