January 16, 2020

The Greatest Things are the Smallest

My mother died somewhat young and unexpectedly when I was twenty-one. Among other affects that event naturally had on me at that young, her death inspired me to have a “seize every day” mentality. Before then, I was pretty lazy, didn’t care where I was going or how I would get there, and generally was pretty aimless. I wasn’t without any drive or ambition, mind you, but I was altogether without direction and in no hurry to find it. While I was still in college, this still-germinating mentality manifested as career ambition.

A couple of years and a lot of diligent skill developments later, I graduated college, started a business, and even invented new things and innovated lots of new technical processes in my field. All in all, I was fairly successful in terms of business, careers, and finances... you know, until I became a teacher and decided that fulfillment and knowledge actually mattered over that stupid old “money” stuff.

My mother, professionally speaking, was not such an industrious or successful person. She didn’t graduate college. She had no real career to speak of. She didn’t travel extensively and she wasn’t all that worldly. But she was easily one of the most generous, selfless, and loving people I ever knew. She seldom considered herself and when she did, she never did so before considering others.

Sacrifices I made caused my relationships to suffer, distanced me from friends, and trained me in self-destructive work habits.

In the process of my new-ishly found, youthful ambition, I often lost sight of what really mattered in life, firmly believing that career ambition should be the top priority of someone my age. I sacrificed a lot in terms of comfort and the usual things people sacrifice for material success. But, more importantly, the bad sacrifices I made casued relationships to suffer, distanced me from friends, and trained me in self-destructive work habits.

At some point later in my career, I realized that, as a husband and father, I was getting painfully deficient in many ways. I spent more time on work than I did with my wife. My stepchildren were getting older and I was missing way too much of it. So, someone asked me recently, when they found out that I changed careers so drastically, if I made more money teaching than I used to (which, to be fair, is a pretty foolish question to begin with. Nonetheless, they were surprised when I told them no. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that it was a private school student from a wealthy family who asked me that question....

A genuine human success and everyday hero who brightened the lives of others.

Obviously I didn’t become a teacher for the money. If I had done that, I would be dumb enough to not be worthy to be a teacher at all. I did it to reconnect – or more accurately, to connect for the first time – with what was most important in life. This maybe nostalgia walking, but although I accomplished far more than my mother did in a professional sense, I don’t consider myself nearly as successful as she was at being a person – a genuine human success and an everyday hero who brightened the lives of people around her.

So, if you’re looking forward to what colleges you might attend, what careers fields you want to conquer, what kind of income target you have, what kind of titles you hope to carry to your name, or whatever, just remember the little things in life, and help teach others to do the same. Big things may drive our life decisions, but the little things are what get us through each day of that life. As Jesus said: “Whoever does the least of the commandments and teaches them to others will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20). And, I would be so bold as to add that “you will also be remembered as great to those that knew you.”