“Put them in Room 211,” I said to Jim Domzalski when he asked if I’d say a few words to the group of high school kids on a tour of Luzerne County Community College. Jim is director of admissions. I just happened to be on campus tidying up loose ends on the last day of the semester. He hoped I had 5 or 10 free minutes and I did.
The room was filled with bright, eager, faces and that gave me a surge of energy. I liked them all, right off the bat.
“You’re not going to believe me,” I said, “but I know what each of you wants to be without asking.”
That got their attention.
“It’s easy,” I went on, “because you all want to be the same thing. It’s the same thing I want to be. It’s the same thing your parents want to be. The same thing your teachers want to be.”
“Rich,” one of them called out.
“Rich? Well, maybe. But money doesn’t solve everything.”
I considered quoting old Baltimore Sun columnist H. L. Mencken who wrote, “The chief value of money is that having it is vastly overrated,” but decided it would sound too professorial.
“Successful,” another student shouted and I agreed but said it was not quite the word I was looking for.
“It’s happy,” I finally revealed. “Happy is what you all want to be. Happy is what everyone wants to be.”
Heads nodded all around, including those of their teachers and Mr. Domzalski standing in the back of the room.
“And here’s how to wind up happy,” I said. “I call it my Formula for a Happy Life.”
It’s goes like this:
First, you have to find something you would do for nothing.
“That’s different for each of you,” I told the students. “Some of you would play video games for nothing, some would take apart a car engine and put it back together, some would play a guitar.”
“I would help people for nothing,” a girl in the front row said. “I would listen to their problems and help them.”
I reached into my pocket and handed her a quarter for grasping what I was saying. I always reward students with quarters. It’s kind of my teaching brand.
So, back to the formula. “You find something you would do for nothing,” I repeated, “and, then, you find someone who will pay you to do it. Those two things added together equal a happy life.
“People who would play video games for a living,” I elaborated, “work in the video game industry. Tens of thousands of them. And there’s no reason one of them can’t be you.
“Musicians don’t have to become rock stars to be happy. They can become sound engineers and be around music all their lives. And if you would watch movies for nothing, next time you are in a theater, stick around a few minutes and watch the credits. You’ll see hundreds of names, people who do all sorts of things. You don’t have to be an Academy Award-winning actress to earn a paycheck working in the movies.
“And people who want to help people,” I said, directing my comments to the young lady with the quarter, “well, they become doctors or nurses or counselors or psychotherapists.”
Of course, no one is going to just hand you one of these jobs, I added. You have to work to get them.
Which led me to my final message.
“I have this theory,” I said, “and I believe it’s true. You don’t find a job, a job finds you.”
I didn’t realize that rhymed until I heard it come out of my mouth.
“You’re only responsibility,” I went on, “and it’s a responsibility to yourself and no one else, is to be the most awesome you you can be, so that when one of those great jobs come along, you’ll be ready.”
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Who would not want to be the most awesome version of themselves? Yet, many people settle for an average version of themselves. Some even a pretty lousy version.
“Don’t do that,” I told the students. “Say to yourself, ‘I am going to take every talent I have and maximize it.’ You all have different skills, whether you’re good at music, or good at math, or good at sports. Make a commitment to max out every skill you have. And I can almost guarantee the end result will be a happy life.”
I left those students thinking how funny it was that on the last day of the school year, on a day that can be characterized as an ending, there I was talking about beginnings. I’ll take a beginning over an ending any day.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.