In December 2014, I attended the Price Waterhouse Cooper, Knowledge@Wharton High School Seminar for High School Educators on Business and Financial Responsibility. The seminar was as rich in information as the title is long in words. Of the amazing information I received, I attended a session titled “Defining Success: Helping Your Students Navigate Their Future” by Wharton professor and award-winning author G. Richard Shell. His presentation was very engaging, but I thought the emotion tied to his message might fade. You know the feeling- you leave from a seminar presentation alive with ideas, but after returning to work and life for a few days, the message fades. Dr. Shell’s message remains with me still.
Dr. Shell encouraged us, as teachers, to define our own success, and he suggested we avoid following a path of success defined by others. Teachers, he has found, often get into their profession for very virtuous, fulfilling reasons, but some feel the pressure to promote themselves away from what makes them happy. Some pursue careers “up the ladder” toward administration though their heart remains in the classroom. I thought about that message for some time. After receiving my doctorate in education two years ago, I was flooded new paths to pursue. However, when I consider new paths now, I keep coming back to Dr. Shell’s advice; do not promote yourself away from your happiness. I define happiness in two ways: First, being a present, aware father and husband. Second, being a present, aware, and dedicated classroom teacher. While my definition of happiness may change, I am not willing to sacrifice my current happiness for someone else’s definition of success.
Dr. Shell gave each participant in the seminar two copies of his book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS. I generally avoid books about success. I often wonder why authors write about success; if they define success by telling others about success, I am not sure I want to subscribe to their message. But, Dr. Shell’s message was so compelling in December 2014, I started reading his book on train ride home from the seminar. For the remainder of this (just ended) school year, his book stayed on my nightstand. I found his book easy to read and very thought-provoking. I enjoyed reading small sections before bedtime and reflecting about success and its fit in my life. Finally finishing his book (the school year just ended), I can say confidently what I felt from the beginning; I am very happy exactly where I am. I will not do anything to promote myself beyond my happiness.
I am blessed to teach in my dream job, as a teacher at the Downingtown STEM Academy. Our students and teachers continually receive recognition for their amazing work. After reading Dr. Shell’s book, though, I realize my mission might be different. Dr. Shell teaches a success course with students at University of Pennsylvania. He helps them recognize they can define their own happiness and then pursue a path toward it. My school is filled with students with a passionate drive toward success, but I do not know if they understand the path they pursue. Are they on their own path or one ascribed to them by someone else? I would like to offer a year-long success program in my school, following a model described in Dr. Shell’s book. Yes, many of the students in my school are very talented, but I am not sure they know what this success means for them or the community around them. Such an enlightened understanding of their path toward their individual success would be very beneficial to my students.
I strongly encourage you pick up a copy of Dr. Shell’s book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS. Reflect on its message and let it inspire you to define and pursue your own path to success. How do you define success? What can you do now to find success? How will it change who you are and who you will become?