“Write down a question,” He said, handing a marker to two of my classmates.

“About our projects?”

“Anything that you want to know. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

He left and we all looked at each other, not completely sure what to do. The two guys who had markers stood up and started writing two very different questions: “Will Green Bay make the playoffs this year?” said one. The other, “Who is your favorite student in this class period?” They handed their markers to someone else and sat down. By the end of five minutes, we had a board full of questions, ranging from “What is your credit card number?” to “Would you relive your childhood?” to “What is your favorite food?”

Our teacher came back and promptly rang off his credit card number, then erased that question. What we first thought was a somewhat silly exercise suddenly became very real.

Looking over each question, he considered how best to tackle them. “Yes,” he said, gesturing to the question regarding his favorite student, “I will answer every question. And answer truthfully.”

The session of question and answer was unlike any experience I’ve ever had in school. Interesting things happen when you put a group of twelve teenagers in a room with one fifty-some-odd-year-old and tell them to ask questions. In this experience, nearly every single question regarded the life of our teacher.

I asked the question, “what do you wish you had known at age eighteen?” I expected a response along the lines of, “I wish I had known the importance of learning computer skills,” or “I wish I had known to invest and save more of my money,” –common responses to an uncommon question. He mulled the question over for a bit and finally said that he didn’t think he wished had known anything in particular when he was younger because we learn things when we need to know them.

That made me pause. If that is true, then what do I need to learn now? What am I choosing not to learn and how will that impact the rest of my life?

The class period continued and we heard about our teacher’s life. We learned about his high school jobs, college experience, and how he met his wife. Favorite foods, favorite movies, regrets, aspirations, surprises, stories.

With about twenty minutes left of class and every question on the board erased, he said, “What other questions do you have?” I raised my hand, “Why do you think that we’re all asking about your life?”

I knew the answer to the question, at least I had a hunch. The questions we were asking a man thirty-five years our senior didn’t have to do with his life, they had to do with our own. Every question that was asked had an intention other than to find out about the life of our teacher. They weren’t even meant to learn from his life, at least not entirely. We asked questions about things we were concerned about, we just did it in a roundabout way. What is at the top of seniors’ minds? College, what to do with your life, how to live, finding a reason to do something. We didn’t want to find out about someone else, we wanted to find out about ourselves.

Regardless of our actual motive, we did in fact, learn about and from our teacher. From all the question regarding careers and college, I concluded one thing: your family is the most important thing you should  work for. Because of that, when you make decisions that will have a long-term effect on your life, you need to think beyond yourself. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow your dream and risk everything—it actually means you should. In his TED talk Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, Larry Smith points out that so many people decide to not have a great career because they want to have a great family life. In response to that, he says:

Do you really think it’s appropriate that you should actually take children and use them as a shield? You know what will happen someday, you ideal parent, you? The kid will come to you someday and say, “I know what I want to be. I know what I’m going to do with my life.” You are so happy. It’s the conversation a parent wants to hear, because your kid’s good in math, and you know you’re going to like what comes next. Says your kid, “I have decided I want to be a magician. I want to perform magic tricks on the stage.”

And what do you say? You say, you say, “That’s risky, kid. Might fail, kid. Don’t make a lot of money at that, kid. I don’t know, kid, you should think about that again, kid. You’re so good at math, why don’t you —”

The kid interrupts you and says, “But it is my dream. It is my dream to do this.” And what are you going to say? You know what you’re going to say? “Look kid. I had a dream once, too, but — But —” So how are you going to finish the sentence with your “but”? “But. I had a dream too, once, kid, but I was afraid to pursue it.” Or are you going to tell him this: “I had a dream once, kid. But then, you were born.”

The point is, your family is important—vitally important. And that’s why you need to chase after success.

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