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LEARNING TO FIND HAPPINESS A LETTER TO THOSE WHO TAUGHT ME
It’s fitting that both National Teacher Day and Mother’s Day fall in the same month. Our parents are our first educators, after all. I get to honor my mother twice in May, since my mom was an elementary school teacher. For kindergarten and first grade, I attended the same school where my mother taught. Because I spent time in the summer helping her prepare her classroom for the new school year, my teachers knew I could find my way around the building. This meant I was the one chosen to deliver the attendance sheet to the office on the first day of kindergarten. Excited by my mission, I ran through the hallways, rounded a corner quickly, and ran headfirst into the principal, Mrs. Anderson. Needless to say, she was not happy with me. Of course, by the end of the day, my mom was asked multiple times, “Guess whose son was running in the halls?” Thankfully, my mom was there to be my advocate and keep me out of too much trouble with the school. That incident was just one part of a larger lesson my mom taught me while I was growing up. I always knew that I was loved and that she had my back. Having that kind of unconditional support meant the world to me as a kid and definitely gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my dreams. Now, with four children of my own, I try my best to pass on the same lessons my mother taught me. As I grow older (and hopefully wiser), I have a greater appreciation for these sorts of big-picture lessons. Looking back on my college years, the lecture I remember most was given by my marketing teacher, William Nickels. It had less to do with marketing than how to live a happy life. Professor Nickels was one of those great teachers who could take complex ideas and turn them into easy-to-remember tidbits of information. That rare mixture of intelligence and people skills makes for an incredible educator. Over the course of his 25-year career at the University of Maryland, Nickels’ students selected him as “Outstanding Teacher on Campus” four times. My fellow students and I were fortunate to have a teacher like Nickels, who used his talents to equip us with more than just the technical skills needed to be successful. He taught us the self-awareness to enjoy the journey.
Professor Nickels was one of the first advocates for the “work-life balance” movement that is so prevalent today. He taught us the value of appreciating what you have right now. He advised, “Happiness is the ability to appreciate fully who you are, what you have, and life the way it is now. Treat happiness as a goal instead of something that happens when you become a success at something. By then, it’s too late.” He later turned these lessons into a book called “Winning the Happiness Game,” which I could not recommend more highly.
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
Several years ago, I listened to Professor Randy Pausch’s famed “Last Lecture,” which he gave at Carnegie Mellon University shortly after being diagnosed with terminal cancer (youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_ MqicxSo). His stirring speech made me think back on those happiness lectures from Professor Nickels and appreciate them more deeply than I had as an undergrad. Pausch’s lecture can best be summed up with the phrase, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” I’ve come to realize that this is perhaps the most important lesson anyone can be taught. We have to live in the now and appreciate what we have. I am so grateful for all the educators in my life. There may be no more valuable profession in the world than teaching. Having written a book on the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) disability retirement process, I’m proud to say that my first client seeking assistance with a VRS disability retirement application was a teacher. I’m honored to have helped such an important pillar of the Virginia community — someone
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who faced the same trials and tribulations my mother did, trying to teach children in an often underfunded and underappreciated school system.
To all our teachers,
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