Earlier this year, I noticed something strange at a local mechanic shop in Lewisville. Normally, the shop has a sign in the front of the building that says “NEED AUTO TECH” in an effort to recruit new mechanics. However, when I walked past the sign as I was taking Atlas for a walk, I noticed that somebody had rearranged the letters the night before, which now read:
”NEED U TO TEACH”
I did a double-take when I saw the sign, because something told me the message was for me.
In many ways, I knew exactly what that message meant, and it struck a chord in me that I truly wrestled with, because in my heart, I know that I’ve been given the gift of teaching others, and with that comes a certain level of responsibility.
In my occupation, it’s really easy to stay hidden behind a screen. Most of my work is done without the involvement of others, or performed during off-hours when most of the world is asleep. In every way, it’s a form of cave that I’ve stayed inside and haven’t wanted to emerge from.
Why? It’s easy to stay behind a screen, make a few keystrokes and see the fruits of my ‘labor’ appear on a screen in front of my eyes —- and then bill for it, which most clients are more than happy to pay for because the expertise I have is somewhat of a rarity; most people in a technical field are silo’d in to one leg of the business or the other, a split between those who know how to make things look good and those who know how to make things function.
Even as I type this, I’m aware that my website is full of errors, incomplete pages and one-off projects that seem to have go nowhere. Procrastination? Somewhat.
Procrastination has deep roots that often tie back to feelings of shame, unworthiness and a lack of confidence. It has almost nothing to do with a desire to put things off. Rather, many people don’t accomplish their to-do lists because there’s a part of them that feels like they don’t deserve what happens if they do. I’m one of those people.
If you want to break a bad habit, you need to replace it with good habits – something I learned from the movie, Ben Hur, where Masala tells Ben Hur: “How do you beat an idea? With another idea.” When it comes to saddling the bull of procrastination, it helps to have a clear goal in mind and the necessary desire to get there and make it happen.
Thankfully, I had parents that taught me well, and set an incredible example for me to follow in my life/career/faith. There’s a saying they taught me:
“Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow old they will not depart from it.”
Said in today’s language:
Raise your kids right and when they’re adults, they will not deviate from the time and effort you put into raising them.
Today, more than ever, I’m thankful that I’ve had the strand of ‘failures’ that I’ve had, because I don’t think that I’d have the mind set or personality required to teach/lead others properly. Why? A a lack of empathy. More now than ever, I feel like I can relate to people who are in their own struggles, because I’ve had to overcome a lot of them, and it wasn’t easy.
In my life, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a lot of people. The number is well into the thousands, and I know that in some way, the lessons I’ve given have been well-received by a few people that took them to heart, applied them and made something better out of their life. In every way, I’m thankful that I’m not one of those Lamborghini-driving success motivators that clutter my algorithm feeds. I’ve met several of them in my life, in person, and they are miserable, because the flashy lifestyle they have built their reputation on doesn’t equate to lasting happiness. Rather, they have to continue to feed to proverbial beast, and it is exhausting.
From students in China, to teaching online during earlier parts of my career, I’ve noticed there’s one thing that happens when I teach; I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be at that moment, doing what I was supposed to do.
In my 20’s, I traveled abroad several times to China, where I stood in front of full classrooms of students. Every 50 minutes, the class would rotate and another 40-50 students would pile into the room to learn how to improve their English, or writing. Many were eager to learn, while others seemed more interested in their phones.
One Summer, I got in trouble with the school because there was a situation with one of the students who simply didn’t want to pay attention or keep quiet in class. Homework assignments from them were never completed and they spent most of the class chatting with another student in the classroom. When they weren’t glaring at me for quieting their loud whispers, they’d do anything possible to avoid participating in class.
Those students followed me out to the school track one day, and with the help of another teacher, I instructed them to run up and down on the stadium bleachers, run laps around the track and do pushups on the football field. Oh, if only you could hear their complaints….but they did it.
That’s not what got me in trouble. What got me sent to the principles office was that I had pointed to the other students in the classroom and told the brats that the students doing their work were being good students, and that they were acting like bad students.
Oh boy, that was a big no-no in China, where their culture will go to any distance to ‘save face’ lest they appear less-than to others…
I didn’t care, and to this day, I still don’t. Those were bad students, and not every student is going to be a shining example in the classroom. However, it’s the effort one makes that makes the difference between the people that make it in life versus those who don’t.
I imagine those kids rode their parents money all the way to their college entrance exams, where they inevitably would be met with a cold dose of reality when they realized the students who studied were the ones that got into good school, and the ones who didn’t – well, I imagine they wound up doing something else.
It was also in China that I began to realize the love I have for teaching, especially young minds.
One afternoon, I was getting ready to teach a new class, and something told me that I needed to do something different that day. So, I scrapped the lesson plan that I had and I googled an image of Arnold. The Arnold. I put that picture on the projection screen as the students filed in the classroom.
We weren’t learning English that day.
Instead, I shared with the students the story of how Arnold came to be the person that we know him as; successful, powerful and inspirational to billions across the world, along with his ‘rules for life’ which I knew by heart:
- Trust Yourself.
- Break Some Rules.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Fail.
- Avoid the Naysayers.
- Work Like Hell
- Give something back
I shared with the students a story that Arnold once told:
”My grandmother once told me that many people go in life and look at the mirror, where they see themselves. In that mirror is perpetual criticism, doubt, fear and ego. Yet, it is when you take down the mirror that you will see all of the people standing in front of you that you were born to help.”
It was in that moment that I noticed something about the classroom; every eye was on me. Not a single student was on their phone. Nobody was whispering. Instead, they were all wide-eyed with attention and clinging to every single word (that they could understand) as I spoke.
I felt something change inside of me in that instant, and I realized that I was doing what I was born to do; help others through the gift of teaching. I remember that moment like it was seconds ago, and I will never forget the way that I felt as tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at those incredible students.
Last week, I decided that it was time to act on this sense of calling, and I began offering free lessons libraries, as well as the local community recreation center. I wasn’t sure if anybody would be interested in the course I put together, but they were, and I quickly took the next steps to build out my curriculum, create the graphics that will be printed in their magazines and identify exactly what and how I’ll make this the most incredible class the students have ever taken.
Am I charging for these classes? Not a cent. I feel compelled to share the knowledge I’ve acquired to the people that are interested in making a difference in their own life, or their family. In my life, the skills that I have are what have enabled me to travel the world, provide for my family – as well as others – and give me the freedom to explore my own hobbies, passions and projects.
At this point in my life, I’m not interested in making more money. I have what I need and I’m content with what I have. Atlas is the sole beneficiary of my unwillingness to take on more clients than I care to handle, because I know that this time is invaluable and it’s not worth a few bucks to put him in the hands of a sitter, or anybody else, while Dad goes off to work. That’s one of the best investments I ever made with my time and resources.
I think that it’s important to share what you know with others, give back in the ways that you are able to and invest your time in things that truly help others make their lives better. Not everybody will be a ‘success story’ but at the end of the day – neither am I, by many standards…
…and that’s perfectly ok.