This week’s Remember the Time blog event is about remembering a teacher. I’m choosing to share a story about one I’m giving praise to, one who decided not to “teach” one day and in doing so altered my life and the lives of those I love most.
I’ve read that our most impressionable years as children are our first few. This might be true, but for me, the ages between 13 and 17 set the tone and direction for how I would make my way through adulthood; how I would navigate through my working career and achieve my life goals. During that age range for me my parents were divorced, both sets of parents were remarried, my parents went through a bankruptcy, I went through a short period of marijuana usage, I stopped cold turkey, I dropped from 7th in my class to 107th during that same time frame ….and I received a ‘how to navigate life’ strategy in a very unlikely place – a high school Biology class.
My mom married a solid man named Joe. Joe was raising his 5 kids and Mom her 4. I became the oldest child of 9 at the age of 12. Bankruptcy occurred about a year later as a result of their not being able to sell Joe’s house. Watching my parents struggle through just general bill-paying and that long period after bankruptcy where there is no credit available, made a huge impression on me.
On one occasion I remember shopping for a television set with Mom and Joe. I remember how long the conversation went, how helpful the salesman was trying to be and the looks of embarrassment on my parents face. There are many more instances like this and they made an indelible mark on my psyche. At the age of 14 or so, I made a vow to myself that this would not happen to me. I would have a family and I would build options for my kids; options which I did not have. And then one day in high school in a Biology class, our teacher, Eric Carmen was to give a personal lecture that would change the course of my life. Perhaps unwittingly, he gave me a strategy for navigating life’s waters.
Still….not this Eric Carmen
I think there were kids who thought Mr. Carmen was a bit full of himself. Perhaps I am a strange one because if the teachers would allow me, I usually attempted to ‘talk’ with them, build a relationship that was a bit more than the standard student/pupil arrangement. I didn’t notice many other kids sticking around after the bell rang to do this. The Eric Carmen I knew was a decent guy and seemed to care for his kids. The most important lesson delivered in a lecture for me was not on the topic of Botany or Biology, which is what he was paid to teach us. The lesson he provided was simply all about the value of an option. No, this wasn’t a Finance class.
Apparently he was having some sort of argument or minor debate with the school administration because he was a bit flustered one day. He began class with this statement – “you know, I don’t have to teach. I do have other options but I like to teach.” And next he said something about not taking notes, that he just wanted to talk to us. And so we let him talk. I was 17 years old. The War in Vietnam was ending and I was beginning to think about and wonder what I was going to do after high school. This lecture would forever change my way of thinking and provide me a way to fulfill my core objective of providing options for my children…by providing options for myself.
Mr. Carmen spent the entire 50 minutes talking about himself and how he got to where he felt he was at that time. He told us he had a teaching degree, his own freelance photography business, that he has qualified as a heavy equipment earth mover and as a sharp shooter. I was familiar with his photography sideline, but the last two jobs were new news to me. Apparently he was in the Army Reserves or some other military branch and had training on heavy earth-moving equipment. He said he was certified or licensed and could get a job in the construction field if he needed. As to the sharp shooting, he said he felt that if he wanted, he could apply for police training or perhaps a SWAT squad or something else related.
Towards the end of the “lecture”, he just looked at us and asked us a bunch of questions like these:
How wonderful would it be to be able to choose your directions in life?
When one career path dries up or takes a sour turn, how great would it be to be able to simply choose an alternative and have a job waiting there for you?
Wouldn’t it be great to never have to worry about not having enough money to feed your family?
And then the next sentence he spoke, he spoke very slowly and I will never, ever forget this – ” Never — underestimate — the — value — of — an — option!”
I sat, I listened and I absorbed. I sat there thinking to myself, no threats of bankruptcy? Having the ability to provide for your children no matter what happens in whatever profession you’re in? I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get to go to college – but I knew then that I was going to try. I was going to try to build an option for myself.
(OK, quick comedic relief timeout – watch this and please come back to finish the story)
I am happy to be able to report that I have achieved my primary life goal which was to be able to provide options for my children, options I never had. They all played sports, they all had musical lessons, two of them attended private schools for several years, two graduated from college and have their own homes before the age of 25 and the youngest is in college now, figuring out what he wants to do in life.
I had none of these. Through applying Mr. Carmen’s lesson though, I have always felt confident; confident that I had choices and could change directions at times of my choosing or when things out of my control necessitated a need for change. To achieve this I had to really apply myself and build multiple skills. Along the way I earned 3 degrees, 2 professional certifications and even as recent as 2 years ago I sat through and passed a grueling 10 hour, 2 day CFP test. I was also able to navigate myself into functions outside of my home base of finance and accounting, and into I.T. and Manufacturing and still make it back into my home function. Admittedly this came at a cost in terms of lost political advocacy which is necessary to move upward in a large corporation. However, it allowed me to build different skills. Ultimately I became much more valuable to my company and to my family. I have had great balance in my work and life, all because I chose difficult paths and succeeded.
My wife Kim was there with me, working side by side, building options for herself and for our family….so I didn’t have to do it “All by Myself”
Eric – if you are alive, I hope you one day run across this blog. You changed my life and the lives of those I love most in a most positive manner!