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.

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