Throughout the course of the day there have been several moments in which my thoughts were pulled in the direction of teachers. My boys have been so blessed to have so many wonderful teachers at Summit Elementary and Logan Middle. In thinking of their teachers I can’t help but wonder what lessons they’ll hold onto forever from them. I’m not talking about class room learning, but life lessons.
In my senior year of high school one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Cerveny taught me a lesson that I wouldn’t fully comprehend until much later in my life. Even though it took me a long while to fully get it I still remember the conversations in which he taught it so clearly.
One day in class Mr. C told us that he could predict with 100% accuracy if we would be successful and happy in the career path we were pursuing. He would be happy to offer up his opinion if we would like to hear it, but we should make sure that we really wanted to hear it as he didn’t sugar coat it. He promised 100% honesty in his response. This offer really intrigued me as I had a laser-like focus on going to school for engineering.
After class I asked him if I would be successful and happy in my career path. I waited with baited breath for him to tell me I was wrong so I could add a chip on my shoulder to motivate me while I pursue my dream. Nothing like someone telling me that I can’t do something to inspire me to do it (not always a positive trait!). Alas, he told me to think over whether or not I really wanted to know the answer. He reminded me that he would be honest and straight forward in his response. I agreed and headed off to the next class.
The next day I hunted Mr Cerveny down and asked him the question. “Will I be successful and happy in my engineering career?” He again politely reminded me that he would be honest and asked if I was sure I wanted to know his opinion. Once I confirmed my intentions he shared a simple answer that blew my mind. “No.”
I was shocked! Even though I’d expected to hear a “no” from him it still left me floored. Most of life until that point I’d been told I could be anything I wanted and do anything I could dream. This was the first flat out “no” I’d heard in my choice of career and it left my head spinning.
Mr. C then went on to elaborate. He shared that I could be successful at it, but it wouldn’t be something I would be happy in. I was capable, but I really wouldn’t enjoy it. He shared that I would fine more joy in working with people. He was sure to explain that it wasn’t something that I could not do, but rather something that I wouldn’t find my purpose and joy in. After discussing it for a while I explained that I was happy to be the first person he guessed wrong about, and thanked him for the time.
When doing the rough math, this conversation was had over two decades ago, but it still sticks with me after all these years. Mr. Cerveny was an awesome Physics and Science teacher and I remember some of what he taught us, but that conversation is the one that has been burned into my brain. As time has gone on I’ve realized he taught me a couple of very valuable life lessons.
His honest response was so refreshing. It was difficult to take, but the brutal unfiltered truth was exactly what I needed to hear. In some ways I look back and think of how angry or emotional I could have been at the response, but it wasn’t like that at all. He was saying it that was because he cared for me and wanted the best for my future joy. As opposed to sugar coating something for me to feel good about right away and potentially (and almost inevitably) regret, he chose the difficult path of tough love. Mr. C chose the toughest action out of his concern for my well being for the long run. I didn’t get defensive or angry about it as I knew he cared for me and was doing what he thought was best for me.
Over the past twenty plus years I’ve remembered this lesson of his and lived into it in a way that would make him proud. He’s inspired me to take the tough road. Also during that time, more often than I’d care to admit, I’ve not followed his lesson. After making that mistake I think of him, I see him shaking his head in disappointment. In those moments I should be stronger and draw from the same reserves he did to have a tough conversation out of my love for the other person. In either situation I think of him and his first lesson often.
The second lesson I learned from that experience with Mr. Cerveny has taken much longer to sink in. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean that I should do it. In addition to honesty he taught me one half of the equation of grit. Grit is pushing through challenges for long term goals and dreams. It is equally parts Perseverance and Passion. I can be incredibly stubborn when I want to be and have proven that to myself time and time again. The part that I learned from Mr C was that if I wasn’t truly passionate about something that stubbornness and perseverance would only make me more frustrated.
If I didn’t follow my dream, the one I was really passionate about and not the one that I thought society wanted me to follow to be “successful,” I only would have become miserable. What Mr. Cerveny said hit the nail right on the head… I could have been an engineer, but I most likely wouldn’t have enjoyed it. When looking back at my college career I took very little joy in the classes related to it and moved in different direction quickly. While I didn’t listen to him at first, eventually the message got through that I should go with my passions and strengths, working with and helping people. Sure, I could have been an engineer or a navigator in the Air Force, but my path is more aligned with me and the purpose I feel pulled to.
After all these years I am still in awe of how much that one conversation has stuck with me. Pieces of this lesson have been taught to my boys already and one day I look forward to sharing the full story with them as they start to choose their paths in life. I am so thankful for that unforgettable lesson from an amazing teacher.
Mr. C – thank you so much for all you taught me. The physics stuff was a blast, but the life stuff was truly awesome. Whenever a question is asked about teachers who made an impact your name and this story are brought up. Thank you for the tough love and brutal honesty, thank you for still building me up in the process, and thank you for helping me find my path. I appreciate you greatly!