Monday, April 30, 2012

Simply Satya

Hello NIP,

            For the second time in three years, I have been selected by the senior class to be the special guest speaker for the DHS Honor Court Banquet. When I was chosen the first time, I let the seniors in my classes vote on whether or not they wanted me to write a proper speech or to simply “do my thing” (i.e. inspire my students with whatever strikes me in the moment and ramble on tangentially relating it from one topic to the next). Thanks to a narrow victory of the speech option, I didn’t have to wing it. Writing the speech was the right choice at the time because I don’t think I could have trusted myself to just speak from the heart. Two years later, however, is a different story. For the last two weeks since discovering that I would be the speaker, I’ve focused the Sanskrit word satya—truth—during my meditation each day. I created a PowerPoint presentation to keep me sort of on track, but only included a quote or two that I could build an idea upon. The theme for the presentation is based on Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, a book I read a few months ago based on the recommendation of a student. Within the pages of the small, sagacious tome the late Pausch details how he used the lessons from his life to give a final lecture to his students at Carnegie-Mellon before his passing. In homage to his lecture, I tried to sum up what I've learned throughout my life thus far and give the DHS graduating class of 2012 the best advice I could.  

            Overall I felt that it went well, but the perfectionist in me tells me that it could have gone better. The compliments I received from students and parents alike, though, made me happy with the outcome. I only wish my parents could have been there to see it live, as they've never really seen what I do/who I am as a teacher. So I taped it in the hopes of showing it to them and the rest of my family, but several seniors who could not make the banquet (in addition to many of my underclassmen students) asked to see it, which is why I decided to simply post it to YouTube and share it with whoever is interested. Before viewing, however, I should warn you of two technical problems: 1) I didn't realize that by taping in HD the aspect ratio would cut off the top and bottom of the screen with the letterbox, so you can't read the top of the slides; 2) I also didn't know that our camera's default setting stops recording at 29 minutes, thereby losing the last 6 minutes of my talk (it was about 35 minutes long total, which was much longer than I had anticipated). I think you'll get the gist of my overall message without it, but I've also posted the final slide of the presentation after the video. Therefore, without further ado, NIP, I leave you with a visual letter, the bulk of which would be my personal satya…

Keep living life to the fullest, NIP.

- Ryan

Saturday, April 7, 2012

One Shot

How’s life, NIP?

            Before leaving school on Thursday one of my students asked me if I ever eat fast food. I told her that only in absolute dire emergencies will I cave and eat Chik-fil-a, typically only a sandwich on a wheat bun. But outside of the 2-3 times per year this might happen, I haven’t eaten any other fast food in at least 3 years. And while the vast majority of my students and peers might think I’m just downright weird, I have my reason—my life. It’s the only one I get. The seismic shift in my health and outlook on life happened the more this realization sank in. I only get one shot at this miraculous sojourn on Earth, so I’m going to make the most of my time, especially after meeting my muse, Erin. Others have asked me since winning the Healthiest Person in Tampa Bay award what it is that motivates me, and the answer that first comes to mind is mortality.

            I was reminded of this only a week ago. The day after the NIT championship, a fellow teacher sent me a video clip of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis delivering a pregame inspirational speech to the Stanford basketball team (who went on to win the game). He wanted me to watch it because he said it reminded him of me, as he knows I’m always trying to instill my students with a sense of confidence and pride in their academics. I watched it and immediately loved it for several reasons: 1) Ray Lewis is a passionate person. Though he plays for the Baltimore Ravens, I’ve always loved the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment he’s brought to the (albeit violent) game; 2) several of the points he makes in his two minute speech are closely aligned to what I personally believe and practice in my everyday living to the best of my ability; 3) my students had been suffering through the typical third quarter funk, so I knew showing it to them would leave an impression and get them motivated for our final few weeks. Here are some of Mr. Lewis’ key points, all of which can easily be extrapolated to everyday life:

               It’s about “the other.” In the opening remarks, Lewis rhetorically asks if they only had one day left to live, who would they think about? He quickly points out that it should not be oneself, but the other. He says that we should give everything in our hearts for “the man sitting next to you.” While he clearly means the team, this is great advice for everyday living. While I can only speak for myself, I can say that my life has unfolded in unexpectedly pleasant ways the more I’ve learned to give/help others. Whether it’s my students, friends, family, neighbors, or whomever, I feel most rewarded when I do something for someone else. Perhaps it’s as simple as focusing on other’s needs prevents us from getting too caught up in our own, but for whatever reason helping other people is clearly its own reward.

            Every day is a new day; every moment a new moment. Rather than get disappointed in ourselves for our failings and hanging on to them, we need to let them go and realize that each moment presents an opportunity to be reborn. As I mentioned in the New Year's Day letter, all we ever have is “now.” To some degree, our linear view of time has the potential to keep us trapped in a past we can no longer alter and/or a future that has not arrived (worse yet, we often do little or nothing in the present to help that vision become a reality). But in truth, every single second is pregnant with possibility. All we have to do is cultivate a willingness and a mindset that lets us recognize the opportunity in every action we take. It’s never too late to begin again. We will all stumble, we will all fall. No one is perfect, but we can’t get hung up on our mistakes because in actuality they will only help us grow to become better people if we let them. But it takes courage and fortitude to let go of these mistakes and move on in a better direction. And we can do this any moment we choose, forging a new destiny for ourselves in the process.

            Effort is between you and you. As Mr. Lewis says, “nobody can judge your effort.” The only person who truly knows how much effort you are giving is you and you alone. Moreover, effort applies to every single aspect of life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about effort in one’s academics, in striving to live a healthier lifestyle, or in pursuing your dream and creating your personal destiny. Each day the choices we make and the efforts that are subsequently given all help sculpt our life’s masterpiece, our magnum opus. The more effort we give, the more satisfying our life experience becomes. By giving all we’ve got, we feel satisfied in the knowledge that regardless of the outcome we’ve done our best. And there will be times in life where even our best is not good enough, but so long as we gave everything in our power there is no need for disappointment. Much like life being about the journey rather than the destination, the effort is perhaps more important than the outcome.

            I’d like to think that having spent nearly the last half of my life studying religion and philosophy has made me a fairly sagacious person. Perhaps it is precisely because of the preponderance of these pursuits that has helped shape my personality, but all I know is that my mortality is a central concern and the main reason why I am so meticulous about maintaining my health. I’ve fully accepted and integrated the notion that I only have a limited amount of time—and even I don’t know how much I’ve been allotted. So that means I’ve had to get busy for these last few years. I squandered some of my youth to some degree, but I would never change a single part of my past as it has been instrumental in making me who I am this very moment. As Ray Lewis told me, I’m trying to leave my legacy. Whatever mark I make, it will be mine. It doesn’t have to be much, either. If I can help even a few people make positive changes to their lives, whether in the classroom or by writing these letters, then it has been worth the effort. I’ve made radical changes to the way that I live mainly because I realize that this gift of life I’ve been given is my one shot. It’s fitting that this letter comes so close to Easter, as both the holiday in particular and the season in general signal rebirth, a time of new beginnings. Perhaps, you too, NIP, can use this time to turn your life around and make the changes you think necessary to maximize your personal growth. After all, we only do get one shot…

Happy Easter to you and your family, NIP.

- Ryan

P.S. – Here’s the Ray Lewis speech if you want to watch it yourself.