I have a new job teaching college freshmen the foundation skills they will need to be successful in their academic pursuits, future careers, and in life. I teach them concepts like smart goals, financial literacy, time management, and GRIT, lessons I wish I’d learned when I was a young adult.
I am teaching at the same campus where I began my own college journey almost twenty years ago. I vividly remember my first college experience, those early days when I was a first-year student and a Mom with two elementary school aged children, uncertain if I had the stuff for academic success.
Teaching at the school where I first discovered my deep love for learning feels like kismet. Each day I arrive at my classroom, turn on the lights, and think, “Wow. I really get to teach today.”
I bring a lot of energy to my classroom, and it’s a good thing because teaching is an exhaustive mix of leadership, life coaching, and cat herding for late assignments; but most important, I am my students’ mentor and guide.
I have a lot of life and academic experience to share with my students, but I am learning as much about foundations for success as they are. It’s what I love most about the classroom: we all swim together in the alphabet soup.
I ask my students to write their goals on paper. I say, “Dream big! Write your loftiest goals.” I know how far they can go just by knowing how far I’ve come. My biggest goal for them is to write a life mission statement.
Their college degree goals are just a ladder step. I want them to visualize a life of meaning and joy. I tell my students that life long goals start with their talents, skills, and dreams, but realizing those goals requires struggle and perseverance. The objective of writing their mission statement is for my students to understand how their goals will benefit them, but more, how they will contribute to their community. I tell them they have the power to make a difference in our world.
Pretty heady stuff for college freshmen, heck, for any of us, no matter our age or life experience.
I tell my students our most worthy goals will never materialize unless we take control of our time. Our dreams will be swept away by the always urgent call of the daily mundane. The meaningful things—relationships, spirituality, lofty dreams, even exercise and wellness—must be written into our lives. I say, “Goals are dreams with deadlines.”
I believe that each of my students has treasure buried within them, unique talents that they must discover, polish like gems, and then put to good use. All of humanity depends on the skills, talents, and purpose of these young adults. So I push, prod, and encourage them to dig deep; visualize their most worthy goals.
Many of my students say, “I just want to get my degree.” But I say, “Make your goal bigger.” Or they say, “I want to live on my own and get a dog.” I get that one a lot. I remember having that goal myself when I was nineteen. So I remind them that while independence is a worthwhile goal, it is not your life’s mission. I ask them what will you give to the world? What will be your legacy?
Or I use Mary Oliver’s words: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I also read to them from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magicwhich says, “…bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”
We all need to hear the ticking of the clock.
My students are astonishingly young. I remember being nineteen and feeling I had an eternity of time for dreams. Now I see time through the eyes of an elder and the urgency of a cancer survivor. I tell my students, “If you plan your life now you will make your dreams come true.”
One day, as I opened the door to leave my classroom, I turned back for just a second, and thought, “I am teaching the best class I’ve ever taken.”