The Second Coincidence

Truths often appear in paradox.

We discover them through their opposites.

One of my favorites is no exception: discomfort leads to growth. It is a paradox because we all must grow, but none of us would choose to be uncomfortable—at least, we live in a modern world that is growing more comfortable everyday, for we fortunate few who benefit from technology.

You know the cliché: “No pain, no gain.” But the slogan is applicable to the treadmill runner jogging in place while watching daytime TV in a climate controlled pleasure dome.

The sort of discomfort this post addresses is the knot in your stomach you feel when nervous.

I had a great conversation with an Uber driver while traveling this weekend. She said, “Nervousness is good because it brings about change.” I really like that. On my forty-five minute drive with this stranger, I was challenged and nervous at times. I grew from our conversation. We discussed issues that weighed heavy on our hearts. I’ve never had an Uber experience like that before. I doubt I may ever have one again because the truth is that the majority of people prefer comfort to change.

It doesn’t help that we are wildly adaptable to new comforts and deeply offended when they are taken away.

Watch what happens if the internet promised on a cross-country flight malfunctions. The convenience of web surfing at four thousand feet—opening up the intoxicating world of all things virtual as you fly over mountains—gets taken away and we act like our very right to breathe has been violated.

If I were to theorize the basis of the modern American dilemma, it would include the idea that we enjoy our comfort so much that we wage war to protect it, advance technology to enhance it, and deny truth to maintain it.

I’m no different. On a different day, I may have put on my headphones instead of talk to my driver and denied the challenging experience altogether. I over-indulge in my creature comforts often. I prefer to rest in what I know than exhaust myself with all I don’t. Why I’m different is because I’ve learned that the only way to grow is to leave your comfort zone. So I force myself to do it.

That’s why I love teaching. I have to concern myself with what’s uncomfortable and challenging on a daily basis. My role as teacher can be translated as creator of acceptable discomfort. I move among the aisles, cold-call on students, breach controversial topics. I love discomfort because I know it allows real change to occur. I’m hooked on that growth, in spite of what my love of comfort urges me to do.

I haven’t always been this way.

 

I used to think that skills were static elements of the human experience.

As in, I used to think that once you learned how to scramble eggs that your human capacity to scramble eggs has been fulfilled. I used to think that intelligence was an acquired resource, something some people had and others didn’t. I was wrong on both counts because both examples fail to explain the exponential nature of growth.

There simply is no end to the growth potential in a human being.

Cook scrambled eggs your entire life and then use Worcestershire sauce instead of milk to mix them, spend one day trying to learn something new instead of worrying whether you are smart or not, and you will experience what I am describing here. No worthwhile measure of human experience is calculable in number or object or color. The worthwhile measures are intangible, and they relate to our willingness to endure discomfort in the name of growth.

This is the kind of stuff I had the privilege of speaking with my Uber driver about. I’m trying to tell you, it was one wild ride.

I know you’re expecting a coincidence in this post, as it is the second in the series, and I promise I’ll get there. And no, the coincidence was not having an intellectually challenging Uber driver share my trip to the airport. That was only proof that if you stay open to good conversation, the next stranger picking you up can change the way you see the world. And, whether she’s reading this or not, I thank her for that.

The second coincidence in the series is about the time I first learned discomfort is a virtue and the right choice to make.

 

I began to hone the art of teaching in my first year—an art whose rewards are intangible, non-quantifiable. I’ve never had a student say to me, “That was a great lesson, Mr. Goodson. Thank you for teaching me.” And, as a teacher, you certainly don’t feel the validation of being a good provider. When your paycheck comes, you must be grateful with the idea that you can be a provider at all, not necessarily a good one.

The true rewards of teaching come well after the teaching is over with. A few times a year, former students visit. I’ve had one visit to tell me that he majored in philosophy in college because of the transcendentalism unit I taught—a unit I cut the following year because I thought the students didn’t get it, or at least, didn’t enjoy it. Teaching is the opposite of student-ing; we don’t get any feedback while our job is to give it incessantly. Teachers have to keep the faith that they are making a difference in spite of the daily and overwhelming teenage angst and defiance that communicates the opposite.

It is exhausting.

I was so exhausted in my first year that one morning I slept through my alarm clock. It went off—the old sort of alarm clock with the annoying beep beep beep—for four hours before I stirred. My body had had enough, and revolted against waking up. All that effort into my first year teaching and at the end of it, I had no idea if I was any good. I was utterly clueless.

So, naturally, I was nervous and uncomfortable when the seasoned veteran asked me to sit down with him in the spring to discuss the results of my first round of teacher evaluations.

Here’s where the coincidence comes, I promise.

The veteran, a real guru, the kind who has perfected the subtleties of effective pedagogy no matter what the discipline: the teacher stare, the tone in which he delivers the words, “See me after class,” the animated arm movements needed to garner attention. This was the guru who at the start of the year told us to not concern ourselves with content for the entire first quarter, but to focus instead on classroom management and respect. He was right. Nothing gets taught without first establishing a respectful and well-managed classroom.  

The guru has, like many gurus do, a white beard, thick glasses, and he stares at you with curious, attentive eyes.

That afternoon eight years ago, he shuffled through all the surveys.

“I went through your students’ comments, really only looking for trends,” he said. “I want to lead with this comment from a sophomore student: ‘I love learning in this class.’”

He paused. “And there are others.” He read both positive and negative trends. The consensus was I taught with enthusiasm, but no one could read my handwriting on the chalkboard. Also, the period-long lecture was very unpopular. Turns out it’s not normal how much I love books.

Nonetheless, the guru turned to me and said, “Mark. It is clear that you have it. You can teach.”

I leaned back with a sigh. That afternoon was the long-awaited affirmation that I was in the right line of work.

We stood up to shake hands. He left the lunch table and I was in a strange state of bewildered contentment. The day’s bustle over, I was wholly content to stand there. I thought of all the difficulties of that first year teaching. It occurred to me that to keep this bliss, I must continue to challenge myself in new ways.

Then it happened.

My first step to leave slipped on an index card that I bent over to pick up. A student had abandoned a vocabulary flash card. I read the words and felt they were written by the hand of God: “Persevere: to continue in a difficult course of action.”

The coincidence was a direct message: I must persevere, not only persist in the trials life gives me, but continue to seek new trials to persevere through. God’s will for me has ever been made clearer. And what made it clear was coincidence, me stepping on the very word that defined my unspeakable joy.

The notecard is pinned to my cork board next to a growing list of journals that have sent me automated rejection notifications.

I keep writing anyway.

13 Responses to “The Second Coincidence

  • Mark Decker
    3 weeks ago

    Love this post Mark – it’s full of goodness and power. The theme of life’s paradoxes is one of my favorites and is a timeless truth. Keep on keeping on…………you are making a difference

    • Thank you Mark!

      I keep awaiting my next edition of “The Evolution of a Love Story”. Is the next one in the cue?

      Every Thanksgiving time I think about you and the entire Decker clan. How we used to get together during Thanksgiving and the fourth every year. Miss those days.

      I love that paradox theme as well. In fact, just finished writing a coming of age novel about the subject–and others.

      Mark

  • I LOVE this post. It’s such an affirmation of the many “coincidences” that have guided my own journey. I now believe there are no coincidences. And the teachers I had that were passionate about what they taught influenced me profoundly. I’ve never let any of them know this.

    On another note, I have been without creature comforts for a few days (NO POWER!) due to the storm that blew through the South, and I’ve been whiney and irritable, all because I’ve been uncomfortable. And I’ve been complacent in moving forward on the very things I know I am being led to do because of discomfort. So once again, YOU have been my wake-up call from the universe.
    Thank you, Mark. I can only imagine how profoundly you affect your students. ; )

    • Your comment is graciously received! Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful feedback.

      I feel like I come a long way in this blogging thing. I used to care so much about the numbers, now I only care about the reach. As in, who the post is truly reaching and changing. So I’m thrilled to get a comment like this. It’s why I do it. Have a great week!

      And I hope you get your power restored soon! As much as discomfort is an asset, it’s sure nice to have the refrigerator working again.

      Mark

  • Rosalia
    3 weeks ago

    Wonderful Mark, thank you! The hand of God is everywhere, its a bleesed moment when we reach out and take it.

  • “I must persevere, not only persist in the trials life gives me, but continue to seek new trials to persevere through.”

    Never have words been so strongly felt as those are right now. Under much different circumstances than yours were at the time, I am going through an overabundant period of trials as I forge my way into a new period of my life. Believing that coincidences and miracles and sign from the universe exist are my way of keeping hope.

    Congrats on the 10 years.

    • You’re comment is so gladly received Mrs S.

      Really, it makes my day. This is what blogging is all about. Connecting across oceans for the united cause of self-improvement.

      On a personal note, I hope you keep the faith that there always is light at the end of the tunnel. There truly is! Not in the cliche everything works out for everyone way. I’ve found the light is usually not what I expect it to be. And I always find that the way I got out of the darkness was exactly how I was intended to get out–not my choice, but THE WAY OUT, in a universe leading me way.

      Keep blogging, keep reading, keep trudging!

      PS: Do I have your permission to use your comment, (not your name) on a Facebook Post? This is why I blog. And I wanted to post that on my social media feed.

      • Yes. Of course. And feel free to use it as Mrs. S with the blog link. Im all about everyone connecting to make it through the good and the bad together.

  • Love this post Mark. Just want you to know I am here and reading…..persevere. A good word for today.

    • Thank you Annette. It’s always good to know someone is reading. This writerslife is definitely some lonely business.

  • Hi Mark, You have probably given up getting that confirmation of my address. I couldn’t send it because my blog (with and extension) was a mess. I just came back from trying to understand Squarespace for almost a year and my addresses began to change so fast I couldn’t get in on some days. The process has finally begun and I have two brand new URLs. Each was built from what I already had, so they are easy for me, but may be confusing for some. First, my
    email is gardengirl761@gmail.com ( the old wp to the new wp is ——gardengirl761.wordpress.com/ (this blog name is Upward Bound)
    upwardboundme.com/ is the new extension I referred to and this one is the one you need to use because mail will come to this one.
    I had to do this because I was having up to 4500 pieces of mail in my box and I wouldn’t get anything until it was a day late, so I am using your banner regarding coincidence and hoping this is a happy coincidence…see there it just popped out that last time. Since this is all new stuff and I had just read your (I guess it was the first) article and I was so impressed, I used your written expression about it being out of the hands of God. I apologize that I didn’t ask first, but I am using your name as the author. My blog has always been to God’s honor and the tag line you may have seen is Exploring the visible and invisible realms of God through writing and pictures and(I added) circumstances and coincidences). The extension I named As Author’s Muse and the tag line is I believe coincidence in reality is the Divine intervention of God – by Mark Goodson (Please tell me it is ok.)

    • I’m honored you’d include me on your blog! Thank you for quoting me. I appreciate that. Words are hard to come by as you know. We have to work hard to harvest them.

      Sorry about your difficulties with Squarespace. I’ve had my own issues with WordPress. And I have to admit, I’m afraid to try anything new on my site in fear that it will crash or slow. Those plugins aren’t always the best.

      If I can help with anything else let me know.

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