:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COFFEE Post 13: Breathe… (Stephany)

Life is a funny thing. What? It is. (Maybe I’m about to make a mistake by using the term “we,” but it makes me feel better to use it. If I say only “I” then I’m the only freakola, get it? So I’m saying “we” here, and it’s all good.) We spend all our time as kids impatiently growing until we’re (finally!) teenagers. Then as teenagers, we think we know everything and trudge impatiently through teen stuff until we get to be adults. Yeah, “get to be” adults. Why the heck were we so impatient, anyway?

I teach in a high school of about 1300 kids, grades 9-12. With less than 8 weeks left of school, and only 5-ish weeks left for the seniors, there’s an energy in the air. It’s that urgent, something-big’s-coming energy that we as adults don’t experience as much as I think we should. All this energy and all the activity associated with the end of a school year really takes me back and has made me think….

My journalism students are working diligently to wrap up a rocky year, my first as the advisor for the newspaper. It was a learning year, a good but difficult year, where we ALL learned some valuable lessons, skills, and a little more about ourselves and a lot about each other. A lot like a first year of anything new and exciting. We’ve made much progress and have some momentum going into next year. Yes! As we start to put the finishing touches on our final issues, one of which is focused solely on the Class of 2011 (How old does that make YOU feel??? Yeah. Ancient. Blech.), a junior student of mine asked a question that set a whole lot in motion:

“Hey, Pace. If you had the chance to say anything to the seniors about Life after high school, what would it be?”

Um… um… {silence} Um.

Huh. She really kind of stumped me. Yeah, my students were as shocked as you are. Pace, silent. I know.

Then I thought about it. Probably a thousand times since I left high school, I’ve had the thought, “I sure wish someone would have told me about THAT.” Or, “so-and-so told me that. Sure wish I’d listened.” So I told her that. She just looked at me like I was nuts. Ah, to be young and ignorant again. (Didn’t someone once say that ignorance was bliss? I firmly believe there is some truth to that!) So she and I talked some more, and a concept for a really cool addition to the Senior Edition came to life.

She and I sent the following email to every teacher, staff member, administrator, and employee of the school district this morning:

The Webb City High School INSIGHT is seeking your advice for the senior class. What wisdom might you have to impart to these young people getting ready to leave our District? Whether you have been here awhile and know all these kids or just came here this year, these students could benefit from your experience and advice. Please answer any/all of the questions below when you have a few moments. THANK YOU!

1. From where and when did you graduate?

2. What one thing from high school would you do over again if you had the chance? Why?

3. What do you wish someone had told you before you graduated?

4. What specific advice, tips, or information do you have to share with the Class of 2011?

We appreciate your help with this project.

XX, junior, INSIGHT reporter

Stephany Pace, INSIGHT Advisor”

Within half an hour, I received 8 replies, and they are still coming into my inbox as I write. I could share some of those responses, but the funny thing is that many of them are nearly identical to mine: “I wish I’d listened more to what the adults in my life were saying to me. They weren’t complete morons, after all.” Or something along those lines. Most of the responses are wistful and almost sad in tone. The evil “I wish,” and his (no offense, John!) cousins “Coulda,” “Shoulda,” and “Woulda” are evident in many of the responses, and they sure are buggers, aren’t they? It is obvious in what I’m reading from these adults, and because we can’t have what we wish or go back and do what we coulda, shoulda, or woulda done, regret is a common thread for many of us.

The more I read these responses and think about my own, the more I’m challenged. No, I can’t go back and do what I wish I would have done when I had the chance or do what I should’ve and could’ve done then. But I can take those ideals and apply them to my life as it is today. Let’s face it. Every year is a graduation of sorts. We survived another year, and the next year always brings about new challenges and surprises. Maybe this year it’s a new job, a change in marital status, a health crisis, a new baby, a major financial situation, going back to school, loss of a loved one, relocation, or some combination of those… with every challenge, though, comes an opportunity. We get the opportunity to make the most of what’s going on, to choose how to handle it, to live through it without regret and having to say later, “I sure wish…” or “I coulda/shoulda/woulda…”

So, speaking of living without regret, I am so grateful to COFFEE for “forcing” my hand where goal setting and follow through is concerned. To that end, what I have I been doing about my COFFEE goals? Well, here you go:

1. U 2.0 – U 2.0 is. What? It just IS. I do have some regrets where U 2.0 is concerned, but I am trying very hard to live in a way that will hopefully result in less of those. While that might be a tall order, in the end, I want to know that I did the very best I could in this realm and be proud of how I handled it. I’m gonna do my best, I really am.

2. Training for the Half – I hate that I can’t run this weekend. This was to be my first half. My knee has killed that. My goal, then, has become to tackle this month’s physical therapy with gusto and 100% effort. That way, rehab after the surgery in May will go faster and result in my being able to run this same half race next year – or another maybe even before that! Hooah!

3. Pondering studenthood – I am finishing my application now and deciding whether to start this summer or the fall. I’m very excited but nervous about this whole thing, but I’m ready. I think. Guess we’ll see!

4. Co-parenting – See U 2.0. Regrets to this point? Yep. Have them. However, I am committed to handling this whole co-parenting thing as I should have all along., which may be the tallest order of all. Ever. My attitude will determine my success level, so stay tuned!

5. Awareness of Others – My friendships are blossoming because of this, and I’m loving it. Yes.

So maybe before I posted my COFFEE goal progress you were thinking about the answers you’d give if you were asked the questions above. If not, I challenge you to come up with your own answers to those questions. I think you’ll find it interesting. Maybe, also, you were wondering what my responses were. Either way, I thought I’d share them, even if you weren’t curious:

1. Fort Scott (Kan.) HS, 1992

2. I’d spend more time with friends, instead of focusing on a boyfriend or grades so much. I missed out on a lot of fun and some pretty amazing people.

3. Life only speeds up, and the pressure only increases. Finding great people to share Life with and also finding balance in the face of Life’s craziness makes all the difference. It’s not what you get in Life that counts but what you do with it.

4. Enjoy these last days of high school. You’ll never get them back. Say “thank you” (and mean it) to those who’ve helped you somehow. Appreciate your parents and family now more than ever. Slow down whenever you can, but don’t lose your focus. And finally, don’t forget to breathe.…

So, for all of us, I hope you’ll take a little advice from the staff of Webb City Schools, from me, and from yourselves. Spend your days well as you can never get them back, listen, say thank you and mean it, focus, slow down, appreciate those you love, seek balance, and breathe……………..


amy said...

Stephany, you are a good woman (and a fun newspaper advisor, I bet) (I love that you let your students call you "Pace!" In elementary school, this kind of thing would get you a check by your name on the board. ;-)

1- Danville High School, Danville, KY. Go Anchors! (Seriously, our mascot was an anchor. Like on a pirate ship.)

2-I think I wish I'd obsessed less about the popular people. I'd see them walking down the hall, particularly, the girls, and I'd think: "She has such amazing hair!" or "How does she manage to pull those cute outfits together every day?" Because as an adult I now know those popular people weren't perfect and had just as many insecurities. And sometimes I look them up on facebook now, not to make contact with them--I just want to get an idea of what they look like now, maybe where life took them.

And I can always tell: they are not the most popular anymore.

3-That nobody really has all the answers. Some people claim to and often sound extremely convincing, and these people are always politicians seeking to be elected.

4-Try new foods, listen to all different kinds of music, read all different kinds of books and newspapers. Hang out with many different kinds of people. Take on volunteer jobs helping the poor, the young, and the old, whenever possible. Travel to foreign lands, at least once. Make your part of the world a kinder, better place to live in.

Life is a series of mistakes, successes, icky days, gorgeously perfect days, good stuff, and bad stuff. Everyone you meet will teach you something new about yourself and shape you into who you're meant to become, and even moments when you feel the craziest and most out of control are there to land you where you're meant to land. Enjoy the ride!

patresa said...

Dear Dr. Pace (I'm going to just start calling you this now.),

I like this journalism project your students have going. Nice! The first thing I thought of was similar to what you said--I would have worried about grades a lot less, because unless you want to go ivy league or get a scholarship, it really doesn't matter. I can't imagine any teachers actually saying that, though! Ha! It'd be MUTINY.

I hate that you can't run the half, too. I can only imagine the disappointment. I like your goal to kick butt in rehab, though. You'll come back super bionic.

I also like what you said about how silly it is how impatient we get to grow older. (Add to that…then when we're older, how frantically we work to be younger.) Isn't that the truth? I would love to develop more patience--not just for things like waiting in lines, but patience with whatever spot you're in at the time. You know? Always so edgy for the next thing. I wonder if a lot of regret stems from that.

Great post, Doctor.

John said...

Breathing. Thanks for the reminder. I am one of those who didn't worry about grades back then and just had fun. I did well enough, but not for ivy league. I would suggest strongly to find something you love and do that for a career. Don't worry about the money. I've taken jobs for financial security and have hated them, and had jobs that paid crap (like being a medic) and LOVED them. Life is too short to do something that doesn't make you happy. Find your passion and follow it as PLAN A. Use the temp jobs as PLAN B until you can achieve your dreams. And DON'T GIVE UP!

Steph said...

Awesome advice, all. We're smart cookies, aren't we? :)

I love that we're all passionate people who recognize that our passions are the key to happiness and fulfillment (a la P's recognition that she needs to do what she NEEDS to do - what she was BORN to do: write novels!!!), NOT money & "success." Success is being able to look yourself in the eye every morning, knowing you're doing what you were made to do and loving those you were made and chose to love! SOOOO wish I'd understood that 15 or 20 years ago!

Ya'll rock. Fact.

Steph said...

@Amy - I find the whole "Ms. Pace" thing weird, actually. It's way formal, and it makes me nuts. In fact, some of my students call me "MP" for "Ms. Pace." It just works. I'd have to suspend every student (almost) for all the check marks they'd get in my room! :)
Oh, and I think it's cool that you were an Anchor! That's a solid, sturdy, important mascot! It's sure more original than a TIGER!
@P - DON'T JINX ME! "Dr. Pace," holy crap! To see that in print actually made me sweat. WTH am I thinking????!!!!!!???????? Good Lord.
@John - Isn't it funny how we're programmed to bury our dreams and pursue the security in our Plan A's? "Great hobby, but how will you provide for a family doing THAT?" I think society would be better overall if we all were willing to make the sacrifices to pursue our dreams, even if it meant working a job we didn't like until our dreams came true. Huh. Food for thought.

Katie said...

Steph, I LIKE your food for thought!! So chewy!!! I always enjoy your posts, you have such fun and good perspective on life. And, working with high school kids just makes life interesting - all kids really, but that high school kids can argue back intelligently makes them super fun.

1. I was Class of 1995 from Clinton High School, home of the River Kings and River Queens! Clinton, Iowa, that is... We were River Kings and Queens because Clinton sits right on the Mississippi. Although, as an adult, I'm kind of dissapointed that I'm not Queen of anything now. Except maybe laundry.

2. I wish I had spent less time obsessing about an (eventually a-holish) boyfriend and had maintained the friendships I'd made in the previous 12 years. Sadly, except for Facebook, I am in touch with no one from high school because of this. I also wish I had pursued scholarships and grants more aggressively for college. Then I wouldn't be paying off my tuition until I'm 80.

3. I wish someone had told me college would be harder. I don't feel like anyone really prepared me for how hard college would be to navigate by myself - not just the logistics of classes and studying, but where to find people with similar interests and how to ask for help if I needed it. Undergrad was lonely for me, mostly because I was kind of a weirdo, but hadn't picked up on it because I grew up in the same town I was born in and had parents who covered for me. So, I had a bit of a bumpy ride until I figured out weird didn't mean unlikeable.

4. Do what you want, and do things until you figure out what that is. Travel, be brave, leave your hometown and don't look back except on holidays. Learn how to balance a checkbook. Don't live on credit. Even though money doesn't buy happiness, debt does create unhappiness, and so does bankruptcy. Find a partner who makes you laugh first, and cry second, not the other way around. Don't have babies until you are over 26 and have the impulse control to parent them without losing your mind. There are lots of ways to be right, and usually only a few ways to be wrong, but those few ways will make you a person no one wants to be around. Be nice to animals, always. And above all, remember what is IN your control and what is OUT of your control, and don't spend too much time or energy on the OUT.

The end.

Katie said...

I just re-read my post, and #4 is a little harsh. I amend it with; enjoy the sunshine! Smell the flowers! Sing out loud! And be confident in yourself, but not too hard on yourself - no one has it as together as they look.

NOW, the end.

Steph said...

All good, Katie. I dig it. TOTALLY. We are sooooo alike, as it turns out! :)

Tawni said...

I really like your advice to the students, Stephanie. I am a huge proponent of gratitude and remembering to breathe! I promise to slow down, appreciate those I love, and to seek balance too. Thanks for the good reminder. I hope your physical therapy and upcoming surgery go perfectly, marvelously well and you are back to running in no time. oxoxoxo.

Tanner May (Tanya) said...

1. From where and when did you graduate?
Fort Scott High School - with cool beans Steph! :)

2. What one thing from high school would you do over again if you had the chance? Why?
Honestly, I would never ever EVER smoke a single cigarette. I think the whys are endless here.

3. What do you wish someone had told you before you graduated?
Don't go to a private university for graduate school and spend a wad of cash on something you could get much cheaper and still get a rockin' education. I loved my experience, but seriously, so have thought this. BUT, more poignant, I wish someone would have told me to spend more time with my grandparents. I would do almost anything to have a few (million) more conversations.

4. What specific advice, tips, or information do you have to share with the Class of 2011?
Be a bit of a square and be proud of who you are. Listen to yourself first, others second.

This is so great Steph.... you are an amazing person and teacher. AND next year (or sooner like you say, you will totally kick some running butt). xoxo