Sigmond Freud theorized that we unconsciously replicate our families of origin in our adulthood. Then we attempt to resolve the issues of our youth that hadn't been dealt with successfully. I think that Freud was correct-especially when it comes to me and my education. In school, I acquired the label of an underachiever. I shudder to think of all the elementary school report cards that read, "Allen isn't working up to his ability." My apathetic performance continued through high school, college, and even graduate school. I did a little more than what was necessary to get by. It wasn't until my doctorate that I finally bloomed.

I think that my desire to teach is rooted in all those years and courses of less than stellar academic accomplishments. I am attempting to redo my education by teaching. My goal is to be able to retire early and teach at a small college. During the last couple of summers, I have visited dozens of colleges looking for potential teaching positions. In the meantime, I need to get more teaching experience. Although I have taught many seminars and college psychology classes over the years, additional teaching experience would help. So, when a client of mine asked me to talk to her college class, I jumped at the opportunity. After my lecture, I told the professor that I would like to teach an actual course if she ever needed an instructor. I followed up the conversation with a letter. That was five years ago.

A couple of months ago, I received a voice mail that said: "Hi, I'm Alan Christensen. You wrote to us five years ago about teaching for us. Are you still interested?" He had no idea how interested I still was. Yesterday, I taught my first class for the University of St. Francis.

This true story has several applications for our lives:

  1. We don't know which of our efforts will pay off for us. Regardless of what our goal may be, we need to sow seeds even though we don't know which seed will germinate and grow. It took one of my seeds five years to take root. If we wait for certainty in any quest, we will never sow or take the first step. Approach all pursuits with the assumption that they will payoff. Make all your endeavors into positive self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don't, they become negative self-fulfilling prophecies.
  2. Look for success in your setbacks. Always assume that when an obstacle or failure occurs that it has a potential to benefit you. I didn't take my education as seriously as I should have. However, I can make the consequences of being a late bloomer work for me. I know firsthand the problems faced by underachievers and can be a more effective teacher when dealing with them. There are many college students with whom I can identify and hopefully help them bloom.
  3. When failure occurs, try to learn as much as possible from the situation. Thomas Edison was asked about being discouraged by thousands of failed attempts at finding a filament for his light bulb. He didn't view his efforts as failures. They were for him opportunities to discover what didn't work. The setbacks got him closer to finding what would finally work.
  4. Make life into a game. View your quests as an Olympic competition. Enjoy the sport of life. Rather than drudgery, enjoy the challenge of overcoming obstacles. Life can be an adventure. It is within your power to determine how you view life's impediments-a challenge or a chore.
  5. We hardly ever learn or succeed in the easy lane of life. However, failures, setbacks, disappointments, abound in our lives. Pick one out and make it work for you. There are far more setbacks in life from which to draw and make successful efforts than good fortune. Look around at your problems and make them work for you-rather than against you.

This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.