Monday, September 7, 2015

B.A.M.! (Back and Motivated; or, Becoming a Mentor)

How’s your life going, NIP?

            Goodness gracious! I can’t believe it has been a full year and a half since I have written a letter to you. I knew that when I signed off temporarily back in January of 2014 I would always write again, but I figured it would be occasional at least. Time has a funny way of slipping by when we are highly engaged in other pursuits, and though I pondered topics for letters during my hiatus (many of which I will get to in the coming months), I never got around to them mainly because I have been so consumed with reading books during that time span. So there definitely has been much learning, loving and laughing over that 18 month gap, all of which has changed me for the better and which I hope to convey through these newer letters that I intend to write. And while there is too much ground to cover in a single letter, I guess I should begin with a few essential pieces of news that will set the tone for this and future letters. But the most critical point to know is that I am definitely back and motivated.

            I suppose the biggest reason I have taken the time to finally sit down and pen this electronic missive and send it off into the great unknown sea of anonymity (a.k.a the Internet) is two-fold: 1) primarily because I love writing and it has been a growing itch that I knew I would need to scratch at some point; 2) for the last few months L.U.G. (Life/Universe/God, an idea I will explain soon enough—perhaps in the next letter) has kept sending me signals that I needed to get back to this and that these letters have had some value in the lives of others. Take the last three of these instances, for example, all of which happened within a single week: Erin and I run into a friend from our yoga teacher training of four years ago while at Petsmart. One of the first things she asked was if I had planned on writing any more letters on my blog, and then went on to say that she still returns here every so often to gain some perspective and/or inspiration. To be honest, hearing this made my heart melt and ache at the same time because I felt good knowing I have made a difference to someone by writing these letters, and yet guilty for not having kept up with them. The second instance was when one of my best friends texted me to wish me a happy birthday, she began by saying “a wise man once said” and then proceeded to quote one of my earliest letters from 5 years ago. And the third instance was when my two brothers were here last weekend, and my youngest asked me out of the blue, “What’s up with LOETONIP? Are you ever going to write more letters?”

All right, L.U.G., I get the point.

            And BAM! Here I am. Back and motivated. I have a lot to say and the letters may get even more personal and slightly crazier from here on out, but I truly hope to write at least one per month, if only to help clarify my own thinking and perspective on weighty matters concerning life and living well. For the remainder of this epistle, though, I really want to focus on two reasons on why I feel this way and am ready to begin a new chapter in my life (and by extension, our life, as most of you long-time readers know, I am nothing without the presence and persistent love, support, and encouragement of my wonderful wife, Erin). The first impetus has to do with having recently turned 40 years old, and the second motive is directly due to my new career path.

            Last Saturday I turned 40. Leading up to this momentous milestone, I had been reflecting on the past decade, taking into perspective both my personal and professional growth over that time. Meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Erin is easily the biggest thing that happened to me thus far in my time and will undoubtedly be so for the rest of our lives together. I have a deep overwhelming sense of gratitude for her presence alone, as well as each and every experience we have shared together. I won’t recap much more than that because it’s in earlier letters and, without trying to sound like a reductionist (Heavens no!), everything else in many ways comes back to her. I love her with all my heart and mind, especially for pulling off one of the greatest birthday surprises in my life.

            After not having spent more than a single day alone with my two brothers in over seven years, Brad and Greg showed up last Friday afternoon, slowly rolling by in a rented Dodge Charger with Greg leaning out the window yelling, “Break yo self, fool!” I turned around with a huge grin on my face at hearing his voice, and quickly ran up the walk to drop my bags at the door. I was taken aback by them showing up, but deep down in my gut I had an intuition that it was going to happen. I had been thinking about it for some time, even mentioning to Erin that being with them was the one thing I wanted more than anything else for my 40th birthday. As it so happened, she had been conspiring with the two of them to make it manifest.

My Brothers: Brad (on my left) and Greg (on my right)

            Much of the weekend was spent just hanging out like when we were kids, which was really nice. No stress, no pressure, we just let the moment come to us and enjoy it. We went to dinner at Ford’s Garage for the first time the night they arrived, followed by watching Straight Outta Compton the next day, and enjoyed an awesome steak dinner at Charley’s in the evening. Our final morning together we went to Top Golf and then kicked it back at the house. During all of this time we had a lot of laughs, much good conversation, and pleasant company in the shared silences. I really do wish we lived closer to each other, but we’ll be able to see them much more often in the coming months and years.

            When they left I really tried to take time to process all of the moments and consolidate them into meaningful memories (it wasn’t too difficult either, as novel and rare as such a simple situation like this has become). All in all, it was a perfect way to spend my fortieth birthday, and I’m looking forward to their own fortieths, as we discussed and agreed to meet up for each of their respective fortieth birthdays in the coming years. The most interesting aspect of our shared time together was to see how we are different in many ways due to how our individual lives branched off and out, yet the same in a few key areas. Discussing these common traits demonstrated that though we all have very different lives at this point, we have a strong capacity for leadership, an uncommon amount of charisma, and a desire and willingness to constantly improve ourselves personally and professionally, which in turn we try to instill in those around us, especially those with whom we work.

            And this brings me to the other major shift in my life that began around the same time as my fortieth birthday—becoming a mentor to new teachers. Six years ago, our school district put into place a program that would help support and retain new teachers who were coming into the field. Teaching is certainly a profession with a high level of turnover, with the average across the nation being approximately fifty percent of all new teachers leaving within the first three years on the job. To combat this phenomenon, a mentoring program was created and implemented to help provide support and direction to first and second year educators in an effort to foster and retain highly effective teachers. And, for at least the last three years, I have had friends who went on to become mentors in the program and tried to get me to apply believing that I would be amazing in this role.

            After saying no for those last three years, I finally took a leap of faith and applied this past spring. Just getting past the initial two paper screenings and the twelve person interview panel (as harrowing an experience as that was), I discovered, have only been the beginning to one of—if not “the”—most challenging undertakings of my professional career in education. This is not to say that I am not enjoying the challenge immensely, because I am. But as crazy and hectic as getting into the program turned out to be, it is nothing compared to the daily insanity of trying to meet with all of the new teachers for the required amount of time during the work week.

            All the busyness of mentoring notwithstanding, I absolutely love the job. It is completely foreign and unlike anything I have experienced in my career. The first week of school when I was not in class and teaching felt rather weird, to be honest. The connections I have made with the young teachers with whom I am working, however, have been amazing. I have always felt that the best aspect of my teaching is being a mentor in many respects: constantly offering encouragement to others, helping people find what it is that most motivates them and developing that passion, providing a listening and sympathetic ear when times get tough, etc. While I know I have so much to learn about this new role, I am so excited and honored to have become a mentor to new teachers, which is just one more reason I am back and motivated to return to these letters.

            Well, I know this has been a lengthy letter and one that is long overdue. As always, NIP, I hope that you are well and that you are cultivating a life well lived. With this initial foray back into these letters, I just wanted to catch up with you and let you know what I’ve been up to in the last eighteen months of life. There are definitely numerous letters waiting to be written, and I truly hope to write at least one per month from here on out. I feel as if there is so much more new ground to be covered now that I’ve hit this particular age-related milestone in my life, and even more so due to the perceived need that more letters must be written, if only to clarify my own life experience and distill whatever wisdom I can from this year-and-a-half long hiatus. I guess all that is left for now is a parting valediction, so I will go with an old favorite…

Keep chipping away, NIP.

- Ryan

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