Like most of you, I spent nearly 20 years of my life trapped in one classroom or another. Ironically, every year the first day of school was filled with anxious anticipation for the unexpected. It should have been obvious after 1st or 2nd grade that a pattern was developing, and I’d be spending the rest of my youthful days stuck behind a desk, taking orders, regurgitating back “correct” answers to a teacher, and - above everything else - trying not to stand out.
My problem was that I never really fit in. Ever.
I think it’s ingrained in my DNA to shake things up. Think outside the box. Create humor or conflict where others felt it should/could not exist.
In elementary school, I was suspended for a day when I discovered on a field trip that I could flatten a soda can by stomping on it, then use it as a frisbee. While other kids played with dandelions and peeled the crusts off their Wonder Bread sandwiches, I launched my flattened can into the air, watching it soar and spiral (and “allegedly” hit a classmate’s unsuspecting mother in the head).
Sometimes creativity has consequences.
As a Sophomore in high school, I was kicked out of my English class for debating with my teacher about the moral implications of telling the absolute truth. I argue that sometimes lying is just the right thing to do. (See: Does this dress make my butt look fat?)
The next year I got punched in the face for the first (and only) time in my career as a student… and it was by the principal. No joke… you can’t make this stuff up.
For over 20 years, I put up with the man. I let professors tell me how to think. I let church leaders tell me how to behave. I let my parents tell me what should be important in my life. I let my friends influence my hobbies, my profession, and my interests.
Then, everything changed.
On one blustery day in April of 2010, I graduated from college (vowing never to return to the confined walls of formalized education). Suddenly there wasn’t anybody telling me what to do.
I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I could be anyone.
As the saying goes, there was “No more homework, no more looks. No more teachers’ dirty looks!”
I admit, it threw me for a loop. As I attempted to ground myself, I looked to those closest to me for advice. Nearly one year later, only one thing has stuck with me.
As I walked through the metal detector, and through the courtroom-laden halls of the Utah State Courthouse, I realized that the fates of tens of thousands of individuals had been decided within those walls throughout the years.
I made my way to an elevator and went to the top floor. Near the back of the building, I found my uncle’s office. He had recently obtained the job as a Trial Court Executive for the 3rd District Court after a long and complicated job hunt.
There are very few people I respect more in this world than my uncle. He is ambitious, hard-working, and has genuine integrity. He spoke to me about his career, about his goals, his family, and about the important phase I was entering in my life. Then came the advice I’ll never forget.
"When you get comfortable in life, it’s time to change."
My uncle and I are similar in that we are both idealists. When we believe in something, we dedicate ourselves to it.
There is a time, however, when that passion for idealism begins to fade. The system, the bureaucracy, the monotony and habit of an 8-5 job, or “The Man” take their toll. Then, one day you wake up, your desire to achieve the ideal is gone, and we suddenly you are no longer an idealist. You are a realist. A complacent human being who has settled on the fact that dreams are just that. Dreams.
At that moment, if/when being an idealist becomes “unrealistic,” and we become complacent to just run out the clock every day, change is absolutely necessary.
Being comfortable is the enemy. You can’t grow when you’re comfortable. No great accomplishment was ever achieved through complacency. Nearly one year later, I’m doing everything I know how to avoid boxing myself into the house the realists built. I’m filming a documentary. I’m writing a book. I’m working on The Domino Project, reinventing the publishing industry.
I am forever an idealist. “Comfortable” is my enemy.