I won't keep you in suspense, or make you watch the video below....
Here's the 9 words from Northwestern University Professor Charlie Yarnoff to Daniel Pink in "Writing the Essay" that changed his life - and it can change yours too:
"Sometimes you have to write to figure it out."Prior to hearing this advice, my goal this summer was to write more - write about teaching, coaching, and living.
Not outlining or planning on where the writing would take me, but the important act is the process of writing.
Note: I refrain from using the term blog. Unfortunately blogging has such negative connotations. Just the sound of the word almost suggests an onomatopoeia...blog, blob, blah, blah, blah.
So when I heard this recent address by Daniel Pink on my drive home to Cleveland from Philly, I was reminded of a profound truth: do your thinking in writing - one that I have preached to freshmen and seniors alike.
Yet as a teacher, I feel more like that frustrated writer in the summer that talks a good game during the school year, but let's be honest, I don't write anymore - and haven't written much since grad school...
At the moment, I am in bed, ready to go to sleep, but I type away. Why?
When I heard this speech half way through my 400 mile journey home, I felt less like a heroic Odysseus but more like the prodigal son. Pink's advice to the class of 2014 hit a nerve with me. He talked of successful people and the process of writing an essay as metaphor for life:
Why? Because they lived to figure it out. At some point in their lives, they realized that carefully crafted plans, like meticulously outlined essays, often don’t hold up. And tweaking the topic sentences, or rearranging the subsections, isn’t enough.
Sometimes the only way to discover who you are, or what life you should lead, is to do less planning and more living. To burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just do stuff. Even if you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead, because you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead.
Now this might sound risky. And you know what? It is. It’s really risky. But the greater risk is to choose false certainty over genuine ambiguity. The greater risk is to fear failure more than mediocrity. The greater risk is to pursue a path only because it’s the first path you decided to pursue.With miles of PA Turnpike ahead of me, I reflected on my life and the turns I have taken and the comfort and convention that I had left after eight years of teaching at a boarding school near home. After a year of transition at a day school, living in the city and commuting to the suburbs, I had plenty to think about on my drive.
When I was a 15 year old student on full financial aid at Andover, I returned home over the holidays and visited my old elementary school. In chatting with my former first grade teacher, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up? I shrugged that I might like to be a teacher at a boarding school because of the admiration I had for my teachers at Andover. I couldn't believe it even after I said it, but she was insistent that's what I would do someday. And I resisted this fate for four years after college. However, to be candid, and really honest with even myself, I have moments of doubt where I wonder if I pursued a path only because it's the first path... one that I knew well - the only path at 15 that I knew.
Around that time, when my dad's business collapsed and our house ended up in foreclosure for a time and a period where my parents made ends meet on food stamps, my mom, often at her wits end with stress, would say repeatedly to my two brothers and me:
"Be a doctor or a lawyer, but never be a businessman like your father."I never forgot that line. And I learned business equaled risk.
My first year in college, after a brief six week stint in Chemistry, and struggles with history paper deadlines, I concluded neither medicine nor law were in the cards. English courses inspired me and I read all that I could...thinking someday I will teach, but really... the dream was to write.
Novels. Screenplays. Short stories. Even poetry.
After losing my brother Conor when I was 26, I soon settled down to teach after living in Baltimore, NYC, and Miami.
Now at 40, I enter my thirteenth year of teaching. I am amazed how fast time moves and the years blur together. I am grateful for the purpose, connection, and meaning I've experienced as a teacher. Teaching has allowed me to serve others, and I feel I've made a difference.
But I recognize that teaching and coaching may be playing it safe, living in my comfort zone.
After college, I am thankful I lived in NYC and explored life for a few years after college, but in a way, I feel I have always been in school. As a teacher, there's relative job security, steady paycheck, and bonus: summer's off.
Don't get me wrong - I love what I do - but before bed, and during long drives, I confess that I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up.
What risks have I not taken?These questions can haunt many of us, if not all of us.
What do I regret?
What do I regret not doing?
I leave them unanswered because I am not the writer that I dreamed of being. Not yet at least.
I am not Daniel Pink - and for as much as I admire him, I envy him. I'd love to write in a garage like his all day. But part of me knows, I would miss teaching. Who says I can't do both?
In the end, I must say thank you, Daniel Pink - for sharing Professor Yarnoff's advice and more importantly inspiring me to write - and take risks - even if it's so little as publishing a blog that I am afraid to post, knowing full well that no one reads this but me - I have seen my stats ;)
Here's to writing, and figuring it out. You never know.
Full transcript on idonethis.com
Pink's Poetry professor Dennis Brutus, who gave him an A- if he promised never to write poetry again.
Sadly, Professor Sheila Schwartz had passed away in 2008.
And look what I just found: Charlie Yarnoff's brilliant Grading Criteria for a Reflective Essay:
An “A” paper:
• Has a well-focused main idea that is developed throughout the essay.
• Is logically organized so that readers follow the development of the main idea easily.
• Clearly explains the underlying premise and key points.
• Addresses major questions and counter-arguments that readers are likely to raise.
• Has well-focused paragraphs with clear topic sentences.
• Offers relevant quotes and paraphrases to support main points. Accurate source citations are provided.
• Has the relatively informal, personal style of a reflective essay.
• Has an introduction that engages the audience and establishes the paper’s focus.
• Has a conclusion that provokes readers to keep thinking about the main idea.
• Has sentences that are concise, direct, appropriately varied in structure, and mechanically correct.