Jami, Teacher, NYC
Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life.
“I am thinking about a former student. He is the sweetest kid but gets very angry about things and doesn’t really know how to express it. Part of it is that he has a lot of older siblings. He wants to be the cool kid so he acts older than he is… He struggled a lot academically but he's really into sports. That’s part of what perpetuates this system that resonates with him where he continually gets frustrated because he is used to being successful in that type of environment. Whereas when he comes to school, he’s playing this game [of school], and he keeps losing. He’s not used to that, but when he is happy he is the sweetest child who loves to help people. He loves to make other people feel that feeling of success. He wants to give people pep talks. He is such a sweet child. He’s the one where it’s like, he understands that he’s having a hard time but he’s still just trying so hard. And that’s what pushes me to keep working harder.”
What do you hope for him about his life? What would make it a ‘good’ life?
“I just want him to be happy. I just want him to find whatever makes him tick. It does change a lot too. For the first two months of the year he wanted to be a basketball player but then I brought that up recently in casual conversation and he was offended saying ‘No, I do not want to be a basketball player anymore. I want to do this.’ I just said ‘Oh, okay. I guess I will check in weekly, then.’ I just want him to have the things he needs be able to take care of himself, and have a lifestyle that he’s comfortable with. But I also want him to be doing something he likes and that makes him happy and that gives him that feeling of success. When I see him across the classroom and he has that smile that lights up his whole face, I want him to be doing something with his life that makes him feel like that every day.”
Do you think everyone agrees with you about what a good life is?
“No because if you asked me the same question three years ago I probably wouldn’t agree with me either. I had a very narrow view of what success meant. Even when I was in middle school I had this vision of myself which was like, ‘You are going to graduate from high school with this GPA.’ I was going to apply to these specific schools, and of course they were all the Ivy Leagues. I had to go to one of those schools where if I dropped that name everyone’s jaw dropped open. Then I was going to go to medical school because that was it, right? To be successful you went to law school or medical school. I had no desire to go to law school, even though I was told many times that I should go because of my arguing. But that was my definition of success. Anything outside of going to college and having a high paying job and anything outside of a professional degree wasn’t success.
That vision stayed with me for a long time, even when I was in college. When I realized I wasn’t on track to meet those checkpoints for myself, that was when I really started to lose it and said, ‘Oh my gosh. My life is going to be a failure because I don’t want to go to medical school anymore.’ I lied to myself for so many years and probably wasted so much time because I was a bio-premed [major] for the first two years of [college] and I just hated it. I had always loved science and always loved math, but the way it was presented at my undergrad was not in a way that fostered learning. They were ‘weed out’ classes…Finally I hit my breaking point and that was when I went to my academic advisor and ended up switching to Psychology. I just loved it and was so much happier my last two years of schooling. That was my first case of this idea that success can look different for different people... I realize I had this idea that [success] is one or the other. There was no in-between. It was either you graduate from college and have that dream job or that you were going to be living on the street or something. I don’t know... So as I continue to grow and have these experiences, I realize there is an in-between. That’s just what I want for my kids. I don’t think everyone has that idea... I think everyone has a different idea of what success is and I think it depends on what your past experiences are and where you are coming from that defines those ideas of success.”