Telling the truth with The Breakfast Club

The seminal scene in The Breakfast Club occurs when the five students are sitting in a loose circle sharing the truths of their lives.

For the first time in the film, each character exhibits the courage to be vulnerable and truthful with their peers, with themselves. And for that, each character matures and becomes a better person.

There is no action. No car chases. No gun fights. Just five people telling the truth–which sometimes in real life, seems as fictional and improbable as a Hollywood movie.

Be well,

Jay

I once had a supervisor I disagreed with.

I’m sure you can relate.

During a performance review, my supervisor told me that my teaching style,  a fusion of storytelling and instruction, was not practical and measurable on state exams.

“You’re job is to teach reading and writing skills not to tell bedtime stories.”

At the time of our meeting, I’d been teaching for 13 years and felt I was finally forging a classroom identity.

Though I didn’t agree, like a good employee, I did what I was told.

I didn’t tell stories. I didn’t openly reflect on writing, literature, and life with my students.

To the detriment of both my professional integrity and student instruction, I tried to be someone else.

I grew lost and frustrated. I began to resent teaching. I updated my resume, created a monster.com account and begin exploring other career options.

Then, one day in a meeting with my supervisor, I snapped.

“If I don’t teach your way…what are you going to do?…Are you going to fire me?”

There was a long, trailing silence.

“I can’t compromise who I am anymore. I’m drawling a line. Feel free to cross it and fire me.”

Proudly, I’m still a teacher and though I was not fired, the meeting sprouted permanent tension between the supervisor and I.

There are many moments, especially as an employee, when you must follow orders.

However, when you’re asked to compromise your identity you must take a stand, draw a line or risk losing your integrity–which will always be more important than any job you’re paid to do.

Be well,

Jay

How to Save a Life

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
― James Joyce, The Dead

Five years ago I was farting my way through grad school.

The plan was to graduate with a Master’s degree in educational administration and become a principal.

I didn’t really want to be a principal. I wanted to be a writer.  But I did want more money, more prestige and a better parking spot.

Then I got sick.

Doctors found a hole in my brain. One doctor told me I should be dead.

I cried. I drank. I grew distant and despondent.

And then, in my most desperate hour, I dropped out of grad school, started writing. Which, consequently, saved my life.

Shakespeare believed that every third thought should be about death.

Though I don’t prescribe to the Barb’s frequent morbidity, I do believe a frequent acknowledgement of our mortality is a healthy practice.

Death is waiting in weeds for all of us.

We can choose simply to ignore him or when we need a little perspective– call him out, lock eyes, and realize how little time we have to do the things we were meant to do.

Be well,

Jay

Dealing with Daily Frustrations

How many times today were you frustrated by something you could not control?

Traffic. Rain. Your stubborn 4 year old.

I recently overheard a student venting about assignments her teachers gave her, “I’m so frustrated. If I get one more assignment, I might scream. No, I will scream.”

But the student’s reaction is not just teenage trifling.

As you read this, somewhere on a highway, in a supermarket, an adult is boiling in frustration.

Why do we let the little things bother us so much? Why are we so quick to surrender our power to the feet of circumstance?

We don’t need to return to third period Biology to be reminded that most of our teenage frustrations dissolve into nothing.

The same goes for the thing frustrating you right now.

If we want to ease our frustrations, we must remember that the only thing we really have control over is ourselves and our reactions.

Be well,

Jay

Always do the heavy lifting first, kid.

Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.– Stephen Covey

As a teenager, I spent the summers working for my father’s business.

Bell Pallet would remove and repair a company’s unwanted pallets for resale.

It was dirty, physical work.

Call it immaturity, call it laziness but I often found and lifted the lightest pallets first.

My father would stand back, sweat running down his face, shake his head and say, “When you have the most energy, when the work is the most challenging, always do the heavy lifting first, kid.”

We might not be teenagers anymore but the advice still applies.

Do we still do the light, easy work first? Are we guilty of saving the heavy work for later, when energy and patience are at a premium?

Be well,

Jay

 

How do people read you?

Show don’t tell is a well-proven writing technique.

As Russian writer Anton Chekhov once famously wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This technique is also applicable to life.

It’s easy to tell. Easy to issue orders. Easy to instruct others, inform them what they should do.

The older, softer we get the more telling we do. We tell our children, our spouse, the new guy in the office what they should do, how they should act.

Consequently, simply telling people how to do things inspires resentment. Genuine trust is built on honesty and meaningful actions.

If you want to know how you’re read, consider the actions you’re showing your readers.

Be well,

Jay

It’s National Decision Day

May 1st is National Decision Day, the deadline for high school seniors to decide which school they will attend in the fall.

For college-bound seniors this is an important day. It represents the first of many, many major choices and changes they will experience as an adult.

But for those of who are older, whose college years have flipped by like an empty Solo cup, May 1st is still a beautiful day to make a decision.

Life pummels us with decisions.

Some days we lament the mistakes we made.

Some days we are so scared of making choices that we simply refuse to  make them. We procrastinate. We take naps, clean out the pantry, and binge watch Game of Thrones to avoid making a decision.

Whether you’re 17 or 37, May 1st is a great day to make a decision.

A great day to understand our life will be ultimately defined, not so much by our decisions, but by our reaction to the consequences.

Be well,

Jay