I recently took a nostalgic trip back to my educational roots. I returned to my alma mater, Muskingum College. Presently, I am looking for a full-time college teaching position and wanted to relive those glorious days of my youth. Those days were carefree and filled with fun-too much fun. I certainly didn't apply myself to my studies. I did enough to get Cs and Bs, but never did live up to my potential. I knew it and so did my professors. While intermingling with today's students, I feared that I might run into a former professor who might recall my lack-luster academic performance. I feared that the professor would ask, "Well, what are you doing with yourself?" My answer would be, "I'm a psychotherapist, a writer, and a part-time teacher, but I really want to teach fulltime somewhere." Then I would brace myself for the incredulity that would come over that aging academic, "Campbell, who didn't take college seriously, wants to teach at a college." I have regretted my lackadaisical attitude toward college all my adult life. It wasn't until my doctorate that I finally took education seriously.
While visiting Muskingum's campus, I spent some time in the bookstore looking at textbooks used by the students. I teach a couple of classes each semester on a part-time basis at the University of St. Francis. While looking, I came across Chicken Soup for College Kids. Glancing through the book, I came across a quote from Billy Joel that intrigued me: "Out of respect for things that I was never destined to do, I have learned that my strengths are a result of my weaknesses, my success is due to my failures and my style is directly related to my limitations."
Billy Joel capsulated what took me years to understand. We get ahead because of our setbacks, and we succeed because of our failures. Back while matriculating and goofing off at Muskingum, I wouldn't have understood that truth, but I do now. In fact, I have applied this truth to my job search for a teaching position. There are many teachers in academia that are brighter than I. What chance does a collegiate underachiever have in finding a full-time position at a college? I believe that I have a good chance precisely because of my lack-luster college performance. Who knows the mindset of underachieving students and how to motivate them better than one of them? The brightest and best professors haven't been there, but I have. There are more students enrolled in college that are like I once was than the straight A students.
I think of myself as a modern day educational sailor who denied his educational homeland like Philip Nolan denied America in Edward Everett Hale's short story, The Man Without A Country. As a modern day educational version of Nolan, I didn't take seriously the acquisition of my education. I now know better, and my mistake has made me a far better teacher. Billy Joel is correct.
What is true for me educationally is equally true for you in your life. My experience is merely a paradigm for problems or weakness in your life. What makes someone good or productive is not that which comes easy, but that for which one must struggle. Therefore, spend some time today taking a good look at your shortcoming or failures. It is from those problems that you will find success. You can make any setback work for you rather than against you. Success without sweat isn't the best soil in which to grow strong. Your Achilles' heel might be poor parenting skills, being out of shape, short of money, or a drug or alcohol problem. Great! Instead of denying the problem or ignoring it, make your nemesis work for you rather than against you. You need not reinvent the wheel. You can learn a vital lesson of life, if you seize upon your problems and make them work for you as Billy Joel suggests: "Out of respect for things that I was never destined to do, I have learned that my strengths are a result of my weaknesses, my success is due to my failures and my style is directly related to my limitations."
P.S. If you are still in school but not taking it seriously, take my advice: Education isn't to be wasted-take it from one who knows. If you learn this lesson from me, some of my old college professors will see that I finally took the wondrous gift of education seriously.
This article was published in the Dixon Telegraph on 10/7/99.