A Thank You to Tremendous Teachers

I recently came across a social media post about National Thank a Teacher Day. I googled this & found that the actual day was back in June but any day is a good day to thank a teacher seeing as it is an underpaid, overworked profession that is often not given the proper appreciation it deserves. In any case, it set me to thinking about all the many teachers who have made profound impacts on my life over the years. Obviously I learned a lot from many different teachers down the line but when I sat down to purposely think of specific conversations that have stayed in my mind over the years, I was somewhat surprised at what came to mind. All of the conversations that came to mind were not about any standard school subject- rather they were about life in general. But those are the conversations that have stuck with me the most. Seeing as teachers have undoubtedly experienced some of the greatest- if not the greatest- challenges of their careers over the past few years, now seems like a good time to reflect on those teachers who left an indelible mark on my own life.

I’m going to attempt to go in order so I’ll start with one of my third grade teachers who handled our school’s Advanced Learning Program. One day she asked us about our future career plans. I spouted out with what I thought at the time was a grand idea- I wanted to be a professional figure skater. I’ll never forget the disappointment I felt when her response was something along the lines of “How are you going to make that happen? You’re already past the age at which most of these people start skating. There are no skating rinks around here. Maybe you need to think about something more practical.” Inside I was seething, largely because I knew she was right, because my fantasy was dissolving right there in front of me in face of the pure hard facts of life. However, even as a kid, it didn’t take me long to realize that, while initially painful, this teacher actually did me a tremendous favor because her words spurned me to think about other careers that might be just as fascinating but actually doable. She also taught me that sometimes the truth hurts but we need to face it anyway. And for that I will always be grateful.

In sixth grade I had a history teacher who initially terrified me because she was known to be very strict & generally the sort who did not tolerate any nonsense. I was a complete “goody two shoes” so why I was worried I’ll never know. Anyway, in the course of that history class, perhaps when we were learning about the Holocaust, I remember her telling us that things were always harder for women. Now I was incredibly naïve at the time & I remember sitting there thinking “I’m not so sure about that.” Deep down I knew even then that she was probably right, but of course being young & optimistic I didn’t want to believe it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cast my mind back to that class countless times & thought how right she was. Now I am not one of these women who spends every day whining about how terrible my life is & how much easier things would be if I were male. What an incredible waste of time that would be! But I’ve lived long enough now to know that this is still very much a “man’s world” in some ways & there are definitely certain times & situations in which I’d be very happy to change my chromosomes, at least for a little while. When I’ve read articles about how women have borne the brunt of a lot of Covid-related challenges, I’m always reminded of that conversation & think to myself “She was right all along.” On a rather different note, this teacher also taught me that just because someone has a bit of a “severe” demeanor does not mean that they aren’t at heart a very kind & caring individual.

Throughout all of middle school I was lucky enough to have the same English teacher every year who was one of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever known. There was something so incredibly human about her & how she approached her students. She saw us as more than pupils to be tested, that’s for sure, but even more than that she saw us as the budding adults that we were, whether WE realized it or not. I do not for the life of me remember the circumstances that prompted this conversation but I will never forget the day that she told me that there was a place in the world for “sensitive souls” like mine. She told me that because I was so sensitive I would experience both the highs/joys of life as well as the lows/sorrows of life in ways that others might never understand. Furthermore she told me that while this may feel like a burden at times it is also a blessing & can be a tremendous way to help others in need. As a somewhat shy teenager who was incredibly self-conscious & often felt lonely at school, these were words that wrapped me in comfort during my hardest moments. I’ve never forgotten them & over the years I’ve often had cause to reflect on how right she was.

In ninth grade (& twelfth grade) I had a science teacher whose motto was “Life’s not fair. I’m not nice. Get used to it.” Or maybe the last line was “Get over it.” Either way, the point remains the same. He might sound mean based solely on this quote but in reality he was a very decent person- he just expected his students to actually work & not just skate along & get good grades simply for existing. I for one loved his class & thought he was hilarious. In any case, that quote has stuck with me over the years & I am always reminded of it when I find myself getting torn up over the unfairness of life. I don’t think he was trying to tell us that we shouldn’t strive to make life more fair, but rather that we shouldn’t expend our energy moping about unfair situations instead of actually DOING something about them or finding a way to handle them even if we can’t change them. I will also confess that I have pulled this quote on my own child a time or two. Ha!

In tenth grade (& twelfth grade) I had a history teacher who was excellent for many reasons but the conversations I remember the most had nothing to do with history & everything to do with the future. And these conversations were not directed at me at all. It might have been career day during spirit week but in any case I’ll never forget the day this teacher asked a male classmate what his career plans were. The student stated that he wanted to be an NFL player. The teacher responded by calmly asking “What are you doing now to make that happen? Do you play on our school’s football team?” As it turned out the student was doing virtually nothing to make his dream come true- if I remember rightly he wasn’t even on the school football team. What I’ve always admired about this teacher is he did not use this situation to make fun of this student for having an unrealistic dream that he wasn’t actually working toward- rather he used this as a way to show us that our choices have consequences & that we have to actually do the work to chase our dreams. We can’t just wait around expecting miracles to happen. I also remember another discussion this teacher had with a female student who mentioned that her parents were very adamant with her that once she graduated she was on her own. She would have to support herself financially & that was all there was to it. Again, this teacher responded by calmly asking the student “What are you doing NOW to ensure that you will be ok after graduation? What plans do you have?” I’ll never forget that conversation for several reasons, one of which was that it made me realize that not everyone had parents who were as supportive as mine. I suppose I had known that on some level for a long time but that conversation made it all the more clear.

In ninth & eleventh grades I had another history teacher who left indelible marks on my mind. I wish I could think of very specific conversations we had but I just can’t. I think there were simply too many of them, especially in his eleventh grade American history course. This teacher was a bit of a former hippie (legitimately) who- at least in my view- was far more liberal & far less religious than the average person, or even the average teacher, in our small town. Throughout his class he challenged me in many ways about so many things I had been taught growing up, about so many pre-conceived notions I had about life. It was incredibly eye-opening & served in large part to make me the person I am today. One could say the wheels of my mind started turning in new motion largely thanks to his classes- even if I couldn’t or didn’t fully commit to some of those new ideas for a few more years.

The exact same thing could be said for my twelfth grade English teacher. Additionally, I literally read books differently now because of her. During her class I started highlighting or underlining important quotes in books so that I could use them to write papers, but all these years later I still find myself doing the same thing just so I can savor my favorite passages again some day.

There are so many more teachers I could mention but I’m trying to write more of an essay & less of a novel here, so I think I’ll end this by simply saying thank you to all the many wonderful teachers I’ve had over the years. I might have grown up in a “backwards” small town, in some people’s view, but there was certainly no dearth of excellent teachers there. And for that I will always be grateful.

By the way, I’d love to hear from my readers about teachers who strongly impacted your lives. Any of my hometown folks have stories to share about some of these same teachers? I bet y’all do. I’d love to hear them.

10 Reasons Why Growing Up Doesn’t Actually Suck

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that our modern society values youth very highly.  Turn on the TV or flip through any magazine & you will be greeted with a veritable host of ads showcasing products that proclaim they can “erase wrinkles,” “cover up greys,” or “give you the energy of youth,” etc, etc.  In the media we are constantly assaulted with pictures of young hot celebrities & on a more day-to-day level we inevitably hear people making comments about how much getting old & growing up sucks.  Since graduating from college I have even noticed a difference in the things I see on Facebook.  I now see a lot of statuses about how much “real life” sucks & there seems to be a ridiculous amount of nostalgia going around for the innocence & simplicity of childhood.  Now I for one spent a great deal of my childhood & adolescence pining for adulthood & the freedoms it would bring.  Perhaps in some ways it’s sad that I didn’t just enjoy my life to the fullest at those stages as I suppose most kids/teens do.  But I have to say that even though being an adult is hard, I for one am not disappointed at all.  I am happier now than I’ve ever been.  One of my greatest goals in life is to always retain the energy & vibrancy of youth while balancing this with the wisdom & serenity of getting older.  So today I thought I’d compile a list of reasons why growing up doesn’t actually suck.  In truth there are a lot of things I LOVE about getting older & I think our society could certainly use a reminder of these things from time to time, so here we go:

growing up

  1. Growing up means no longer having to obsess over every facet of your appearance.  I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but when I was a teenager I spent entirely too much time worrying about every tiny bit of my appearance.  If even one hair was out of line, I was sure I looked horrible & that everyone was secretly laughing at me.  Though I’ve never been the type to really follow fashion trends, I still felt the need to be as “in style” as possible.  Well, one of the great things about getting older is the ability to just not give a crap about such things.  And to know that you are better off because of it.  I don’t mean that I don’t care about looking my best; I certainly do.  But if I have a “bad hair day” or a day when my acne is acting up & making my face look like a teenager’s all over again, I have the maturity to know that this too shall pass.  I also know that if anyone thinks less of me for not wearing the trendiest clothes or not having perfect skin or anything superficial like that, then those people aren’t worth worrying about anyway.  I’m far from the confident person I hope to be someday but I’ve also come a long way from the girl I used to be, & I’m proud of that.
  2. Growing up means realizing that your mom was right when she said it was more important to be respected than to be liked.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a born people-pleaser.  It just comes naturally to me to want to make others happy & to be well-liked by everyone.  But I have learned to temper that when necessary because I have discovered that it truly is impossible to please everyone all the time.  And that’s ok.  It’s just life.
  3. Stemming from the last point, getting older means having the courage to say no to people who are just trying to use you to their own advantage.  It means having enough self-respect to not waste your valuable time on people who don’t actually care about you.  Getting older means realizing that your worth is not diminished by those who do not recognize or appreciate you.  This gives you the confidence to say no to those who do not actually have your best interests at heart.
  4. Getting older means not having to panic every time something doesn’t go “your way.”  It means realizing that just because you’ve had a bad day or even a bad week, month, or year, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to have a bad life.  And getting older means realizing that your attitude is the greatest determinant in your own happiness.  (This is both scary & enlightening.  I could write a whole blog post on this subject & I probably will soon.)
  5. Getting older means learning how to agree to disagree.  It means building friendships with people who are vastly different from you & instead of trying to “convert” them you are content to learn from each other & use your differences to build a stronger relationship.
  6. Getting older means independence.  Ah, what a glorious word!  This is what I longed for so much as a child.  I know most people end up regretting such longings because they say the price of freedom is too great.  But I disagree.  I think if you make good decisions in life, you will set yourself up for success & you’ll be able to reap the rewards of independence to the fullest.  I love that as an adult I can choose my career, my spouse, where I live, what house to buy, what to wear, who to be friends with, where to go to school, what to eat, basically everything!
  7. Growing up means realizing that there is no one right way for everyone in life.  There’s nothing more freeing than understanding that there is no exact prescription for success that every person must follow.  Growing up means having the freedom to make mistakes & learn from them.
  8. Growing up means realizing that sometimes life sucks.  It means looking evil in the face & realizing that this world is a cold & scary place.  (That wasn’t supposed to rhyme…)  I know this must seem like a bad thing.  And it’s this loss of innocence that so many people mourn so greatly.  But I’ve never understood why people celebrate innocence so much.  It’s nothing more than an illusion.  For of what value is happiness if it’s based on something that is fake?  To me that’s what “innocence” is.  It’s the happiness that comes from not realizing how bad the world can really be.  I think the happiness we can experience as adults is all the greater because we have had to see so many of the dark sides of life too.  Which is of greater value: the happiness of a child who does not yet understand the world or the happiness of an adult who has looked into the pit of hell, faced the monsters of the world, & come out alive?  Maybe I was a weird child (ok, who am I kidding, I was DEFINITELY a weird child for a number of reasons), but I don’t ever remember feeling the type of blissfully ignorant happiness that people always talk about children experiencing.  In any case, I believe the happiness & love we can experience as adults is all the greater because it’s a real choice.  We have chosen to seek joy even though we have seen that life is often cruel & unfair.  We have chosen to seek peace even though we know that life can be violent to even the meekest of us.  This thought process requires a bit of mental gymnastics at times but I truly believe I am happier now than I’ve ever been.  Yes, I have days when I look at the world & feel like there’s no hope.  But those days aren’t the norm & when they do happen I have the wisdom to know those feelings will pass.  Whew, that was a deep one.
  9. Growing up means realizing that the journey is as important as the destination.  It means understanding that life is short & we truly must live every day like it’s our last, as cliché as that may be.
  10. Getting older means realizing that just because your life isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t great.  It’s so easy to look in the mirror & think “I’d be so much prettier if my nose were just a little straighter” or “I’d be so much happier if I could afford that fancy car I’ve always wanted” or any number of such things.  It’s so easy to compare yourself to your friends, coworkers, or even celebrities & feel like your life just doesn’t measure up.  But growing up means realizing that everyone’s life isn’t measured against the same yardstick.  We all have our own meter for success & happiness & that’s the only one that really matters.

 As an addendum, if anyone wants to help me create better titles for my blog posts, that would be awesome.  I like to think I’m a pretty decent writer but when it comes to creating titles for papers, essays, poems, or blog posts, I’m always at a loss, as you can clearly see by the super clever title of this post.  😉

A Student of Life

Essentially my entire memorable life I have thought of myself principally as a student. Being a student is what I have always been good at. I was one of those really weird kids who actually enjoyed school & not just the part about seeing friends or playing kickball in gym class. Actually, I usually hated gym class unless I got lucky & had some good friends to suffer through it with me. But that’s a side note. I actually really liked going to class, reading my textbooks, & sometimes even writing papers.  My point is I have always loved learning. It’s what inspires me & feeds my insatiable curiosity about life.


So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that since graduating from college & no longer officially being a student I often find myself feeling a bit adrift in life. Of late I see more & more of my friends going back to school including many of my nursing school classmates. When I see these things I hate to admit it but I am quite jealous for I fear that I am falling behind. After all I graduated at the top of my class in both high school & college, so I always thought I would be the first person (or one of the first I should say) to go back to school for an advanced degree.  After all I went to nursing school with the sole intention of becoming an NP, preferably within five to ten years of graduating. Well, here I am two years into my nursing career & I find that the last thing I want to do right now is go back to school & that I have no idea if becoming an NP is what I actually want. Yes, bedside nursing is far from the perfect world that nursing school tries to portray, but I am pleasantly surprised to find that I really do love this career, more than I actually I anticipated I would. And I am really quite good at it! As much as I often doubt myself, deep down I know I’m a great nurse. I wouldn’t be serving as a charge nurse and a preceptor if I weren’t.  I don’t want to be a bedside nurse forever but I don’t want a “desk” nursing job either, so basically I have no idea where my career is going which is both scary & refreshing.  Is it even normal to think about such things at 24?

I like to think that since I am no longer an official student at any school/university, I am now a student of life. And I guess what life is teaching me right now is that life isn’t a competition, at least not with anyone other than yourself. And if in my heart I don’t feel this is the right time for me to go back to school, then it isn’t the right time. And it’s ok. Yes, I still may feel a twinge of regret when I see colleagues or friends “advancing” beyond me in their careers, but no, I do not have to wallow in guilt over feeling that way. So many people have told me “Go back to school before you have kids. Do it as soon as you can!” In so many ways I know that would be the easier path, & yet I find myself day dreaming much more often about becoming a mom than about becoming an NP. This is quite jarring for me because even as a kid I always fancied myself as more of a “career woman” who might eventually “settle down into mommyhood.” Indeed it’s only in the past year that I have started truly desiring to have children at all. And it’s still a pretty far-off wish. I know I’m not ready right now, & yet the idea of going back to school even in the next few years strikes fear in my heart. That sounds ridiculous in light of how much I really do love learning. But it’s the truth. I spent so many years of my life devoting myself so fully to school & I have no regrets over that (well, no serious ones). Thus I am inclined to wonder if perhaps my mind is just seeking a different path for a while. So I am writing this as a way of trying to make peace with myself over the idea that “just” being a student of life for a few (or maybe even a lot) more years is more than adequate.

I’m a big believer in technology & the ways that it enriches our lives. For example, one of my dearest friends lives in England & if it weren’t for the Internet we would not even know each other at all, much less communicate on an almost daily basis. But the downside to modern-day technology is that things like Facebook & Pinterest (the latter of which I refuse to join for this very reason) make it very easy for us to get caught up in comparing our lives with everyone else, everything from our hair & clothes to our homes, careers, & children. Such comparisons inevitably lead to depression, anxiety, or general dissatisfaction with our own lives. It’s the rat race on steroids. I’m not suggesting we need to forgo these technologies in order to be satisfied with our own lives. But I do have to remind myself often that the only person whose opinion of my life truly counts at the end of the day is ME. And I cannot base my life decisions on what other people are doing or what is right for them at a certain point in their life.

When I think back on all of the major decisions in my life (where to go to college, getting married, applying for & accepting jobs, buying our house, etc), I’ve always had a certain inexplicable sense of just knowing that I was making the right choice at the right time. I wish I could explain it scientifically but I can’t. With that in mind I am slowly learning to rest in the knowledge that when I’m ready to go back to school I’ll just know. And when I’m ready to become a mom I’ll just know. And it doesn’t really matter in what order those things happen for one of the greatest lessons I have learned as a student of life is this: There is no one right path for everyone. And that is what makes life so beautiful. As my Psychology 101 professor once said “Some things in life are not good or bad, better or worse. Only different.”

The Seasons of Life

Today I went to the pool for what may very well be the last time this summer. I’m still calling it summer because technically it is & since I’m no longer in school I never feel like it’s truly fall until late September when the weather actually begins to cool down & the leaves start to change colors (although as I discovered last year the leaves in Raleigh don’t really start changing till October). There is always a part of me that feels sad whenever I go swimming for the last time each summer. As a kid I thought swimming was the ultimate thing to do in the summer & I just couldn’t stand to be around a lake or pool or any body of water & not be in it as much as possible. I’ll admit that as an adult most of my time spent at the pool is now spent reading BY the pool, not actually in the water, but I always make time to get in the water at least a little while to cool off & just enjoy the feeling of the water around me. It really is a magical feeling that brings back a lot of good childhood memories.

Fall leaves at RU, October 2009

Fall leaves at RU, October 2009

I love all four seasons of the year, each one for different reasons. But if I had to choose I would say fall is my favorite, especially now that I’m out of school & can really enjoy fall for all the fun things it brings instead of just associating it with the beginning of another school year. (Not that I hated school, in fact in many ways I loved it & miss it dearly, but nonetheless I do feel like I enjoy fall more now that I’m out of school.) I’ve often heard people say they would love to live in Florida or Southern California or some place like that where it feels like spring & summer all year. Even as a kid I never thought that sounded too spectacular because I have always loved all four seasons & can’t imagine life without them. To me the seasons have so much to teach us about the seasons of life & the good & bad things that each of those seasons brings.

One of the things that has made life after college somewhat confusing for me is that I no longer really feel like I have something specific that I’m working toward. I’ve always been a very goal-oriented person so being in school was very good for me because I always felt like I had something to work toward. I could focus on small goals like acing my math test at the end of the week or larger goals like graduating from college & starting my nursing career. Either way I always felt like I had an end-goal in mind. In a way the freedom of no longer being in school is fabulous & I obviously really enjoy it because I’m no longer in a rush to go back to school like I always thought I would be. Yet at the same time I often feel like I’m just drifting around, not sure on what to focus my enthusiasm & hopes for the future.

What I am slowly learning though is that drifting isn’t so bad. There is nothing wrong with having goals in life; indeed I’m a big believer in having goals because in aiming to achieve them we so often push ourselves to bigger & better things than we ever imagined. However, I am also learning that it’s ok to just relax & enjoy the seasons of life as they come. As a kid I was always in such a hurry to grow up. I just wanted to be an adult so I could have the freedom & respect that adulthood provides. I am very happy to say that adulthood hasn’t disappointed me yet & I’ve never once looked back on childhood with any real nostalgia. If that sounds depressing, I promise you it isn’t. What I find depressing is the people who look back on high school as “the good old days.” That just screams to me that they are disappointed with their current life. I don’t ever want to look back on any part of my life as the best time. I want every season of my life to be the best season, & I truly believe it can be if I continue to strive to enjoy every moment of my life as it comes without focusing too much on the past or on the future. I’ve read a lot of books (fiction) & seen a lot of movies whose message is to “live in the moment” & I am slowly learning how important that really is. It is of course necessary to remember the past so that we can learn from ours & others’ mistakes. And it’s also necessary to have a plan in place for the future. For example, the only reason I have a good career, a wonderful husband, & a house at a fairly young age is because as a teenager I thought ahead to the kind of future I wanted & made good decisions so I could get there.

However, in a world that feels rushed 24/7, I find it increasingly important to focus on enjoying every season of life as it comes. By season I mean both the literal seasons of winter, spring, summer, & fall as well as the metaphorical seasons of college, young adulthood, parenthood, etc. It’s so easy for me as a young married woman with a good career to feel like I have to think ahead to becoming a mom or going back to school or just achieving “the next big thing” in life. There is of course nothing wrong with any of those things, but I am learning to find peace in just enjoying this stage of my life. I am also learning that the more I truly enjoy each stage of life as it comes I the less I look back on the past with regret. Yes, I miss college quite often, mostly because I miss seeing my friends on a daily basis, but I also realize that I’m a different person now & that stage of life no longer suits me. I enjoyed my college days to the fullest & thus I can look back on them with a smile knowing I have no regrets.

I’ve been seeing lots of posts on Facebook this week from people who can’t wait for fall to really get here. But today I’ve decided to enjoy the last few days or weeks of summer & when fall gets here I’ll greet it with loving arms. But until then I’m going to bask in the glorious sunshine. So often I also see my friends posting on Facebook about going back to school or having babies, & I sometimes feel the need to “catch up” lest I should “fall behind” in life. And as some of you may know I have been thinking a lot about becoming a mom lately, not any time soon but in the next couple of years. This is a huge step for me since just a year or two ago I was quite convinced I would never want to have children. But for right now I’ve decided to just enjoy this stage of life to the fullest while it lasts. When else in my life am I ever going to have the freedoms that I have right now coupled with the enthusiasm & energy of youth? The answer is never. Someday I’ll be a mom & someday I’ll go back to school, but I think I’ll enjoy both all the more because I didn’t rush into them.

So my challenge to you today is to enjoy whatever stage of life in you’re in right now. When you find yourself saying “I just can’t wait for this or that to happen,” take a deep breath & remember that just like the seasons of the year, no season of life lasts forever & they all have their own unique treasures.