The Gift of Failure

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling

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A couple of weeks ago, you tried out for an AAU elite travel team. Now, you already how much I absolutely detest AAU teams – although, I’ll admit, it has allowed me to see some awesome locations, meet wonderful people, and play against some of the most talented basketball players to ever walk on a court. The problem is, I have also witnessed the dark side of elite basketball — but, I won’t get into that now; that is for another time.

Honestly, Honey, as we wait for this letter to come in the mail, I keep hoping we receive bad news.

I honestly hope you don’t make the team.

Bear with me…

Listen, I may be a little biased, but whenever you walk into the gym, you are the best player there. You have the size, you have the speed, you can shoot, you can use your left hand, and you have the drive. But, more than anything, you have fun, you are social, you are humble, and you are smart; and that is what I love (and will continue to love) most about your game. I am proud of you every time you step out on the court because I know your competitiveness will compel you to make the most of your abilities as well as make your teammates better. Yes, I will admit, as your coach, when your team falls short — or when you have a terrible game, I am upset. I am upset until I look over at you, joking and laughing with your teammates as if you guys don’t have a care in the world. Basketball is just a game to you; you know you are good at it, but you are there to have fun and socialize.

That being said…

If you are selected for an elite AAU team, there is a whole new dynamic to consider…

Winning.

Man, o’ man. Little girl, you will be expected to win. Not only will you be expected to show up to a tournament and produce, but, when you do not produce, you will sit the bench until you are able to produce (which could be a while dependent on if your replacement has a hot hand). You will need to practice your craft on your own time — no excuses! It does not matter if you are the best player on any given day; you need to be the best player on that specific day. The expectation is for you to show up to a tournament, hours away from your home, and claw and scratch your way to a championship. Period.

Look, I am not here to bash AAU or crush your dream, but, my job as your father is to protect you. That job requires me to deem what is, and is not, appropriate for you given your age and maturity level, whether that be cell phones, music, movies, boys, and yes, basketball. And frankly, right now, I don’t think you are ready.

Is there a side of me that wants you to make it? Yes! But I have come to realize that it is the part of me that is selfish, self-serving, and competitive. Of course I want to show everybody that I produce the best of the best. But that is not right.

So, here’s to you staying young, having fun, and not making the team.

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———————————————————————————————————————————-

For the record:

Weeks later, I found out that you, in fact, did not make it…

“Unfortunately, She was not selected for our 6th grade team.  We had so many girls at that level trying out this year and looked at each one very carefully before making our decision. 

We highly encourage your daughter to try out again next October.

Thank you.”

Okay. Now, let’s make them regret that decision…

The Highest Honor in Education

All teachers become educators to make a difference in the lives of their students. Tomorrow I will watch a student who became a friend, a friend who became a brother get married to the girl of his dreams. And, he chose me to be in his wedding. There are many awards that I could win for teaching. But, nothing will compare to the honor that I will have to share this experience with Cody and Kate. He often writes about how I was a mentor to him. What he does not understand is how much of an influence he has been on me and my career.

When I look back on my career I will remember the conversations that we had in the weight room about life, about love, and about sacrifice. I will remember the pimple face twerp who listened to my every word as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. And I will remember the day that he came to my home and told me that he had fallen in love and how this is definitely the one.

I hope I have made some type of influence on all of my students throughout my career. I may not have been your best, or favorite, teacher, but I hope that on some level we connected and that you learned something from me whether that was from the content or just from life.

School of Agriculture Fail

While playing with the Little People Farm set…

“Hey, son, what animal is this?”

“Horse.”

“And this?”

“Cow.”

“What about this?”

” A Boka-Bok.”

“Hmmm… No, this is a chicken.

“Okay.”

Highly amused, but concerned, Heather decides to join in:

“Buddy, what is this?”

“Boka-bok!”

Well, shit.

Father of the Year Moment #641 – Leadership (I thank God every day for the mentors I had growing up):

Earlier this year, My oldest daughter and I had a conversation about leadership on and off the basketball court. Since her father is very long winded, she got more than she wanted:
Okay. you want to be a leader, then be a leader. But be careful; you will be criticized for your decisions. Everybody wants to take a leadership role until it is time for the criticism. As soon as the criticism comes, they will tuck their tale and hide in the shadows. Don’t hide from it; Learn from it. Use it to make yourself and the people around you better.
If you want to be a leader, then take adversity head on. If you are truly right about something, then you have to fight for it; be smart about how you choose to fight. Choose craftiness over brute force.
If you want to be a leader, then know that there are two things that are extremely dangerous to you, and to your group – sincere ignorance, and conscientious stupidity. Eliminate both.
If you want to be a leader, you need to be dynamic. Know the differing types of leadership and apply the correct type of leadership as situations arise. Find a balance between using data and using your heart in decision making. Too much data, and people will think that you are cold, too much heart, and people will think you are blinding yourself to what is right in front of you.
If you want to be a leader, then represent the whole. Leaders never speak as individuals, they are always representative of the team. Give the team the credit when things go right, take the blame when things go wrong. When they do go wrong, first look at yourself as part of the problem, then assess if there are people who are the problem – deal with them head on. If you have something to say, then say it to their faces. Never hide amongst the faction – that’s cowardice.
If you want to lead, then be quiet and lead by example. Anybody can be loud and demanding to get things done. Leaders themselves do what needs to be done. Leaders influence others without them knowing that they are being lead. They lead because there is a need. When people see you are willing fulfill that need, they will follow. When you choose to speak up, speak up for things that you are passionate about and are willing to sacrifice for – you may be called to do so.
If you want to lead, then don’t expect a leadership title. Leaders don’t need titles. Even if you get a title, nobody gives a damn. Leaders are leaders because they work harder than the rest. Make sure you work hard when people are not looking at you; share your hard work when they are. You do not need a statue to tell you how nice you are. Let others talk about your work ethic; you don’t need to proclaim it. Work behind the scenes.
If you want to be a leader, then expect to sacrifice greatly. You will sacrifice time; you will need it to perfect your craft. You will sacrifice friends; your friends will see the path you’ve chosen and understand. You will sacrifice relationships unless you choose people who are on your path and/or have common interests. It will be trying, but remember – the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.
If you want to lead, then expect the haters. You will have critics everywhere. People will say, “Well, I would’ve done it this way…” But don’t listen – they’ve never done it. When asked to step up, they never will.
If you want to lead, then expect to be alone. Not so much “by yourself” physically (that will also happen), but mentally. You are carving out a path, and that path holds uncertainty. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Uniformity is comfortable. If you want to lead, always choose uncertainty.

Leadership is not easily attained and is even harder to keep. Leadership isn’t for everyone. So, if you choose to follow, that’s okay. Just choose who you follow wisely. Don’t let someone tell you that they are leading you to the mountain top, only to find yourself in a crevasse.

Something tells me that she will never ask for advice again…

So you want people to call you Doctor, huh? Sure.

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Pain. It is an 8 hour class session.

My goal is to attain my Doctoral degree in educational leadership. Really, the fact that it is in educational leadership is a not as important in gaining a doctoral degree itself. Attaining a doctoral degree stems from my understanding of my upbringing and heritage. There isn’t a person in my immediate (or extended) family with a doctoral degree. Also, there aren’t many people from where I grew up that have one. So, for me to be able attain one as a black man from a very low-income neighborhood is pretty amazing.

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When do I have time to study while on vacation? When everyone is asleep…

The Doctoral degree is something that is to be cherished because it entails a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Most people think that they may have an idea of the type of sacrifices that you will give in order to obtain one, but the reality is, you have absolutely no idea. So, here are some hard-hitting things you should consider before entering into a doctoral program. These come strictly from my experiences and no one else. Your if you have a different experience than mine, feel free to share.

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Yes, Honey! I am watching! Good Job!
  1. You will possibly sacrifice everything: During your time as a doctoral student, all types of things events will happen in each cohort members lives. Some good. Some terrible. Members will die, have children, get a divorce, get married, become sick, drop out, and so on. A lot of these events will affect you strongly because of the bond that you have created with these members. Seriously, you may have to prepare yourself mentally for these challenges – which brings me to my second point…
  2. Spousal support is everything: Before you register for a doctoral program, you had better take a good look at your marriage. Everything that you believe is “wrong” with your marriage will be multiplied tenfold when you are in the doctoral program. Examples: If you argue about money, you will really argue about money. If spending time with each other is a challenge, it will really become a challenge.The doctoral program is going to test your relationship like you will not believe (again, divorce is something that you may see within your cohort). Consider your relationship.
  3.  The professors don’t care about your personal life: Okay. I am not saying this as “the professors are assholes” type of thing. But, there are a few things that you must consider about your professors:
    • You are most likely at a research institution, so they may have to do research themselves on the side;
    • They also have families;
    • Most, if not all of them have an advisory role;
    • Some are traveling professors, especially if there are more than one cohort;
    • They just aren’t getting paid enough for this shit. Seriously.
  4. So, when you come in for a class, they expect that you are ready to participate and are going to be there on time.
    • On second thought, there is death – Your death. Death is probably the only reason to not be at a class. And even then, you are pushing your luck.
  5. Incompletes: Don’t. Nothing good comes of it. Just don’t.
  6. Grade Point Average: Here is where some will disagree. And that’s okay – mostly because I don’t give a shit what you think –
    • Do not stress over your grade point average. Try your absolute best and if that is not good enough and you end up with a B, so be it. Nothing is more annoying than someone who is giddy with glee about their perfect 4.0. Listen, we can celebrate and all, but I am yet to be in an interview where an administrator says, “So, I see you took a B in “whatchamacallits” class (again, if you have found different, please let me know).
    • Here is one thing, I hate math. I am told that I can draw my ass off, but that there is something a little off about my art. I know what it is, it is the fact that my mathematical skills are so shitty that my perception is off – which manifests itself in the form of uneven arms, eyes, and legs (and don’t even get me started on fingers). So, when stats came around, I was happy to get a C (I got a B, and ran out the classroom exclaiming, “Thank you, Black Jesus).
  7. Keep everything: Documents, emails, even literature on a dirty napkin is fair game. Why? Because people forget shit. Once, the college really messed up my status as a student, which would have demolished any funding that I received in the future. The college claimed little responsibility. That is, until I gave them the email stating my full-time graduate status. Keep it all; keep a digital and hard copy. Besides, nothing is worse than somebody saying, “I never said that!” and you absolutely have no proof to the contrary.
  8. Never burn a bridge. Ever: I am from the ‘hood. If someone fails to do right by you, you immediately cut that “summuma” right the hell off. But, in academia, that could mean your demise. Now, you should have learned this lesson in the first 6 to 8 years of post-secondary education. But, if you have not, listen closely.
  9. Just hit submit: You will come into situations that call for you to just hit the submit button. For example, when completing my comprehensive exams (which took one week and a minimum of 10 pages to do), it is easy to make yourself sick with worry. “Should I read over it again?” “Did I answer all of the questions?” “What if I missed something?” “What if the professor does not enjoy what I have to say?” “What if I fail?” “I wonder if the professor thinks I am a complete idiot?” “How much money have I spent persuing this already?” You will continuously ask yourself those questions over and over again until you hit the submit button. Look, all of those questions are valid; but it is not worth waiting only to rehash the same questions over and over for no more than a few days.
  10. Learn to say “no”: It is easy for you to become spread too thin. While pursuing my doctorate, I was also teaching full time, coaching high school track, coaching my daughter’s basketball team, parenting and sharing the love between four children, and trying to be a good husband. How was I getting this done? Sleep was not an option. Yes, I know, it is totally unhealthy. But, how the Hell else am I supposed to do it?!!
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Graduate students will take a strong internet signal anywhere they can get it.

At some point, for your sanity (and for your marriage), learn to say no. There just is not enough hours in the day; and college tuition seems to be rising by the semester.

“Can you be on the school improvement comittee?”

No.

“Can you come to this event?”

No.

“Honey, I know you are writing, but can you take the trash out?”

Careful. But, politefully decline.

The point is, make sure you prioritize your life during this venture.

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Stuck in the office.

Bonus:

Don’t take it personally, but you suck: You are not going to be told this to your face ver batim, it will be suggested in an articulate manner. You will work your ass off, send in an edit and/or meet with your committee, and (after a good cry) wonder what in the Hell were you thinking taking on such a venture.

But it is okay, you will get through it; you will get through all of it.

“Lessons All Around” or “Pay Attention to the Details, Dammit”

Everything that I keep in my classroom is a lesson. Not just the posters that I have on the wall that show grammatical fixes to composition issues, but also life lessons. I do not teach these lessons outright, but if students pay attention (and occasionally ask a question) they will see the lessons that are all around them. They are not exactly hidden, but students do have to pay attention.

I teach at an alternative school. In my classroom, I have huge windows. And in those windows are plants. Plants of all sorts and species. Some of the plants look like they have long died; some look as though they are barely hanging on, and some look as though they are thriving in the constant sunlight. All of them I keep alive…

every year…

My colleagues are impressed.

So, what is the lesson? The lesson is one that I had to learn at age 24.

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Trim those dead ends or they will slowly kill you.

That was the time that I had to learn to cut people out of my life in order for me to thrive. Most of my plants are very weather-beaten. They look dead because they have been sitting outside, exposed to the elements during summer break. By time I bring them back to my classroom, they have formed a hardness to them – some of them are tilted by the wind, some of them have grown extra limbs to provide shade from the sun, and some of them have leaves and petals that are hanging on to live limbs. If you do not take the time to care of these things, the plant will die a slow death.

People are no different. A lot of us have some king of hardship, trauma, challenge that we have been through and weathered. Getting past those burdens are important. But if we do not take the time to self-reflect and heal, we are going to have problems later. For me, taking myself out of the elements was not that hard of a task. Exiting the challenging environment led me to shed some of the weathered layers that were built. But, by far, the hardest thing that I had to do is trim off the dead leaves and petals.

Cutting people off is hard. What I found helpful is asking if the person or environment was helping me get to my goal. If the answer was no, then they need to go. It really does not make a difference what kind of relationship you have with this person. The fact of the matter is – toxicity kills goals.

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