Monday, November 7, 2011

Seven miles, students, and Steve Jobs

Yesterday I ran seven miles, the farthest I've run in at least a year or two. My lungs felt good throughout; my legs got kind of rusty at the end. But I finished feeling more refreshed than tired. It helped that I was running outside. The weather was perfect - sunny, cool, breezy - and the falling/blowing leaves made it all the more invigorating. Today I kept it simple and followed up with a three-mile walk on the treadmill.

As I walked, I thought about my students. I've been teaching college students in some capacity for the better part of 10 years. When I started out, I was only a year or two older than the seniors. It didn't take much to intimidate me. I worried about whether they liked me, whether they thought I was lame, whether my classes were "fun" enough.

This is the first year where I look at my students and think, "They're so young." When I'm around them, I don't feel old, per se, but I see how I have changed in the last decade as an instructor. I feel more comfortable in the role, more capable. If they act out, I don't take it personally. I see their insecurities, their worries, and their frustrations. I see their creativity and their unique way of approaching problems. I think they are all incredibly smart and talented, though in different ways. And I really like each and every one of them. This semester I got lucky with my class: no-one whines (or if they do, they're smart enough to whine out of earshot of me), and they work hard enough.

I thought of them, and me, and life in general, when I read part of Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address to Stanford graduates (I know he talks a lot about death here, but this quote is really about life): "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

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