April 23, 2018
John Lennon is often attributed with the quote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. This is because he included these words as lyrics in a song he wrote about his son, Sean called “Beautiful Boy”. However, nearly two decades earlier these same words were used in a newspaper comic strip, “Steve Roper” written by a person by the name of Allen Saunders. Regardless of origin I was reminded of this quote again during the past week and the impact was greater than ever before. Because I recently promised myself (and made my promise public) that I would spend time planning my future (after work). My resignation from my current position is effective the end of May, 2019. Part of the reason I started writing my blog again was because when I publicly express my intentions I stand a better chance of following through. Although I have not changed my mind, two events and a blog repost occurred in the recent past that have given me pause and reminded me of the critical importance of balance in life and being present in each moment.
The first event of note was that I traveled with a group of 30 – 7th grade students on their annual international trip to Norway from our school in Lagos, Nigeria. I was with two other adults serving as a chaperone. The second event was the passing of a good friend of mine over the weekend when we were away. Jim was 4 years my junior. He was also a principal and was highly respected and loved my many (including me and my wife).
My wife Amanda and I decided to pursue international education about 7 years ago. We were hired to work at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria (AISL) beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Amanda teaches first grade and I am the middle school principal.
An amazing tradition in the middle school at AISL is that in late April or early May, each grade level travels internationally. Grade 5 travels to Huntsville, Alabama to Space Camp, Grade 6 to Village Camps in Leysin, Switzerland, Grade 7 to Hardangertun School Camp, Kinsvarik Norway and Grade 8 to Washington, DC. The trips are tied to the curriculum but equally or more importantly students get to experience another culture and region and practice other skills. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity are affectionately referred to by many as the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. They are said to be the characteristics and dispositions that will help to make students academically successful, contributing members of society and employable.
Despite supervising and watching over my group of 10 – 12 year olds (passports, luggage, money, medications, etc) in transit from Lagos through Amsterdam to Bergen, Norway, we arrived in a place of such awe-inspiring beauty and majesty that it nearly took my breath away. Even in the midst of their full-blown adolescence, our 7th grade students were equally enchanted by this place. Without cell phones, laptops, tablets or even textbooks to distract them, we hiked, canoed, rock climbed, took a boat ride on a fjord, a train ride up to the top of the mountains, and experienced snowshoeing and archery. We were each responsible to prepare our own breakfast while living in 4-person cabins for the week. We also made and packed our own lunches before heading out in the morning.
The second event was the antithesis of the above. The loss of a friend. My friend Jim was 4 years younger than me. I found out rather recently that Jim was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer on January 23, 2017. Ironically January 23rd is my mother’s birthday. We lost my mother to metastatic liver cancer of unknown primary origin, 6 months after her diagnosis. She died just over 14 years ago. Jim’s death has been particularly difficult for me. Maybe that is because he was so full of life, had a contagious laugh and sense of humor and was actively engaged in schools making a difference in the lives of kids. The fact that we have similar ways of connecting with people and are in the same profession makes it feels closer to home.
My wife, Amanda and I were both friends with Jim. In fact, jim was the principal of the school where Amanda was teaching before we moved to Africa. Amanda came across and sent to me a blog entry from his 1500 Days to Freedom Blog site that Carl Jensen reposted entitled, “Are You Happy”. He opens the entry by asking the question, are you happy? and then asks the reader to consider yesterday. He continues, by asking:
How many times did you smile?
Were you happy, sad or just going through the motions?
Did you say “Hi!” to strangers or look away?
How did you spend your day? Did it bring you fulfillment?
Did you go to bed content or did worry keep you awake?
Yesterday was Sunday, so you may not have been at work. However, think about your last day at the job. Was it mostly positive or negative?
Carl is part of a growing group of people in the FIRE movement. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. It is really a fascinating movement and many of its more prolific members are authoring blogs and social media groups to share thoughts, ideas strategies and tips and much, much more.
So for three entirely different reasons I have been hit squarely between the eyes with the stark realization that, once again, I have not been living in the present moment. Like many others in the FIRE movement, setting goals and counting down is great fun. Planning what will take the place of the job that I current do for a living is a rather important process to ensuring meaning and purpose in that which comes next. But happiness is not a destination, happiness is the journey. My happiness is my daily responsibility. To be sure that I am happy when I am able to live without the financial security provided by my current employment situation, I must practice being happy every moment of every day. It is not something to be put off for retirement, whether early or late.
Today is Sunday and I will be going to work tomorrow. I will carry the beauty of Jim’s smile in my heart, put it on my face and give it away to everyone who looks my way. I will remember that just because my surroundings here at my school in Nigeria are nothing like what I experienced in Norway, but that the relationships that were forged came home with me. By remaining present in each moment I will find the charm, grace, loveliness and elegance that exists wherever I am.
So, I ask myself, are you happy? Why yes, I believe that I am.
In loving service,
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
~ Henry David Thoreau