Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Not An Ordinary Man

I am not an ordinary man. I often have chosen the road less traveled. When I graduated college, I elected to open a game store instead of finding a real job. Truth be told, I did so because I could not find a real job, but that is likely because I did not actually look very hard (at that time, hard work wasn't really a thing I had been trained to do). That store became a wonderful community space of great importance to many people. So much so that when financial reality meant that I could not longer afford to work the store myself, enough people stepped up to volunteer to run it that it was able to continue, surviving in an evolved form to this day.

It is about 5:00 AM as I write this because I woke up this morning with my mind racing. I was thinking about the Koalid and how I would raise the child. Writing a post seems a better use of my time than lying in the dark thinking.

I talked to my mother yesterday for the first time since she got the news, and she is very excited. She asked me if I was excited or nervous or what. I told her that I was not nervous because I come from a long line of people who have successfully raised children, so I imagine that most of it must be instinctively hard wired. I was not yet excited, however, as it had not yet sunk in.

As of 4:00 AM this morning which I woke up, I think I could say it sunk in,and I am excited.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke from a dream in which I was about to teach a class, and the prospect of teaching was deeply exciting to me. I love knowledge, both gaining it myself and teaching it. It was this that led me to start listening to the fantastic podcast by Dan Carlin, Hardcore History. This morning, as I am awake, I realize that I am now excited because I will be able to teach this child, I will be able to share my own love of learning, and I have one other very valuable strength for this adventure.

I remember some of my own path. I was raised feeling that I was destined for something important. (Apparently that is a common trait among my generation.) However, while I was raised with that feeling, and that led me to go off the beaten track, I was not prepared to succeed in it. I had minimal education in business, sales, marketing, networking and many other skills that would ensure that Phoenix Games became a community legacy and not a profitable business.

Apparently, this is also common in my generation. We have been taught that we are special, destined for great things, then put through an education system that teaches us disconnected facts and figures, providing us no tools and no skills to actually fulfill our apparent destiny.

I attended a private school called Sudbury Valley School (SVS) from the equivalent of grades 2 through 5. After that, I went to the Framingham Public School system. SVS is an unstructured school: no grades, no mandatory classes, no schedules. There are a variety of resources available, a massive library, art room, computers, wood shop and many more places for a child to explore and discover themselves and the world around them. It was there that my interest in gaming (board games, card games, role playing games) would develop, and I learned a great deal around the gaming table, from history to language to negotiation. It was also there that I gained a sense of independence and believe in my own ability to make my own destiny.

Public school was a hard transition when I had to leave SVS because of a lack of money to pay the tuition. I have since come to learn that the society of a public school is actually similar in some ways to the society in prison, in the sense that both kids and inmates work to establish a pecking order, often by violence, and that people are treated institutionally rather than individually. I did finally adapt well to the school system, learning to get the maximum return on grades for the minimum amount of work. This, combined with the God given high intelligence, allowed me to get into UMass Amherst on scholarships so that my family's savings was sufficient to pay my way. UMass also failed to push me academically, and I focused on many extra-curriculars that were very valuable to my development, especially Student Government and some event planning, both giving me many skills that would help down the line.

But, looking back, what the whole educational process did to me was to convince me that I was really smart and that I didn't need to work very hard to do well. By being trained into habits of laziness by easy achievement, I did not push as hard as I should of when my first great challenge, Phoenix Games, came along. This is not to say that I should have been pushed to work harder in school. I did recognize that much of what I was learning was not inherently valuable, and if it had been harder to get A's, I likely would have settled for C's. What was lacking in my education was real learning. All I got was book learning. I was never put into situations where my hard work or lack thereof,  my success or lack thereof, would lead to real results, or lack thereof.

There is no way that anyone who was not of my generation could have realized that. Our society changed so much from the 50-60s to the 80-90s that the tools needed to compete and succeed had changed as well. In my parent's generation, one could follow the traditional education track and be successful. The pie was big enough that there was enough to go around for everyone. Working class wage was living wage for the most part. Certainly not so in 2000.

My family did teach me many valuable things as I was growing my. My mother's father, whom I called Zadie, was a salesman and he taught me that sales is one of the best industries in the world. My father's father, whom I called Mana (for reasons completely lost to history) was a minister and he taught me a great deal about God that I would not come to truly appreciate for many years. My father started a business when I was 6 which continues to be successful to this day, and from this I learned that one can make one's own way in the world. However, I did not learn any details of these lessons, and this is mostly because I did not realize what I did not know and needed to learn and my family did not want to push me. I learned that sales is a great field but did not learn much of how to be good at it. I learned what it is to be a good person but did not come to know God until many years later. I learned how exciting the idea of entrepreneurship is but did not learn the details of running a business. I would come to learn these lessons on my own, and I only knew to seek them out because of what I had learned from my father and grandfathers. I certainly cannot fault them for not teaching me more assertively, but I can take what I see of that history and perhaps use that to inform what my child will need to be better prepared.

To be fair to my family, I had a very nice upbringing, and I did learn a great deal. Because I know that sales was a good place to be, I was able to follow a path that leads me to be relatively financially secure today. Because I knew that God was someone to know, I knew to seek Him out. Because I know that entrepreneurship was possible, I was able to take that path less chosen.

I should also especially mention my mother who taught me very much about dealing with people, particularly in an ethical and moral sense. She taught me the importance of respecting women, embracing diversity, and the value and reward of generosity, which is a hallmark of some of the most successful people I've every known.

Today, I feel that knowing what I do of my own education, and having an idea of what the world may be like going forward. I know how to replicate much of what strengthened me for success while filling in the gaps which left me waiting until my 30s to really find financial success. It's a matter of training the child for what is coming. Looking at those around me who are successful, finding the skills that make them so, and making sure that the child is trained in those skills.

How can I possibly know what life will be like in 2032? Obviously, in detail, I cannot. I can, however, be confident of a few things.

1) Society will be made up of humans who follow the rules of human psychology, regardless of how much technology those humans carry around on a daily basis.
2) Success will come of being able to work with, persuade, inspire and lead these humans.
3) Confidence and faith will always be key elements of success.

Obviously, society will change. Perhaps fast food jobs will all be done by robots and computer programming will be seen as menial labor, but wealth will continue to exist, and the clever, creative, confident, faithful person will be able to figure out where that wealth flows and work into that flow. This is a skill I am only learning now in my 30s, but I intend that the Koalid will get a great head start from my experience.

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