This week, I got to teach some of my favorite principles in the world while teaching the character of “initiative.” These were things I have spent so much time thinking about, considering, and pondering. Things like “Just do it,” “You only live life once,” “Do Hard Things,” and “No regrets.” Yet even though I’ve talked about and tried to live these things for years, simplifying them into language that can be understood by 13 and 14-year-olds who barely speak English taught me so, so much more. I may have been teaching principles to live by, but I was the one learning to live.
I started by writing “Just do it” on the chalkboard, along
with the Nike symbol which they would recognize. I asked them why they thought
Nike’s motto was “Just do it,” and they would usually come somewhere close to
the answer I had: Nike is about sports, and they know that if you ever want to
succeed in sports, you have to just do it.
I asked them if they had a dream. Some wanted to go to
America. Some wanted to go to high school. I told them about the dream I had:
to go to China. Our dreams can be like a mountain; they seem so far away, so
big and hard to climb. During our trip to the countryside, we climbed a
“mountain” (stairs that led all the way up), and it was very hard. But instead of never trying, we just took it one
step at a time. I told them about the steps I took to accomplish my dream: talk
to my parents, email the principal, get a job, apply for a visa, book a flight,
and then come. “And now I am here, with you! You are my dream,” I told them.
And I reminded them again that to do great things, they must begin now. They must take initiative and just do it.
I wrote the words, “You only live life once,” on the board,
along with the Chinese translation, “你的生命只有一次。”Then
I drew a timeline with a baby on one end, and old person on the other, and a
little mark at the approximately middle-school-aged spot. “This is like your
life,” I said. “You only live your life one time. If you say, ‘tomorrow,
tomorrow,’” I drew a line along the timeline, “tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,” I
drew to the end, “you will get to the end of your life and not do it! Your life
will feel kind of empty. Do not say ‘tomorrow.’ Say ‘today.’” I drew an
emphatic vertical line on the mark representing right now. “And then tomorrow,
you can do something new, and again say, ‘today.’” Another emphatic line next
to the first. “Today, today, today, today, today!” I made mark after mark,
until the whole timeline was full. “Look how full this life is! You only live
your life one time; make every day special.”
I asked if they knew who said “You only live life
once” to me. They didn’t. But when I told them who was Jimmy, they all said,
“aaaah.” “He is a good example,” I said, “because he didn’t say ‘I will go to
China, maybe, someday.’ He said, ‘I will come to China, and I will do it now.’”
And because he just did it, this
school is changed. Students’ lives are different. Even I am here today.
I wrote the words “No Regrets” on the board, along
with the Chinese translation, “无悔.”
I told them that this is a very important idea for me. I showed them the
bracelet that I wear with those words woven across it by a man on a Mexican
street corner. And I told them that my bracelet and these words help me
remember to do things that I will be happy about after I do them, and to not do
things I would want to change later. I shared a picture and the story of my
friend Olga, who I saw on the Beijing subway. I knew I should say hello, but I
was shy. “Are you scared to talk to someone you do not know?” I asked, and they
usually all nodded quite strongly. “Me too. But I knew I should! But I didn’t
want to. But I should! But I didn’t want to. And then.. I saw my bracelet! And
I knew what I should do.” We said hello, and were soon sharing our lives over
coffee, dinners, and skypes, and we’re still good friends. It was hard to do,
but I am so glad I did it. I have no
I asked if they have done something in their life
that they are proud of. Some said that they were in a singing competition. Some
said they could speak English. Some said they learned to ride a bike after
being very scared. I talked about how they did something hard, or scary, or
difficult, but asked if they were happy they did it, and they always were.
So I wrote the last words on the board, “Do Hard
Things.” I told them that usually, things that we do not regret are the harder
things. I asked for examples, and they usually couldn’t think of any because
they were thinking too “big picture” and they’re always shy. So I asked them if
homework is hard. Big nods. I asked if saying “I love you” to their parents and
siblings is hard. Usually big nods. “These are hard things. But when we do hard
things, we will be so happy that we did it.”
Just do it.
You only live life once.
Do Hard Things.
What is it in your life that just needs to be done?
Maybe it’s that idea you had to give away half of your clothes. Just do it. Maybe it’s that trip across
the country. You only live life once.
Maybe it’s sharing the gospel with your neighbor. No regrets. Maybe it’s opening your home and life to a foster
child. Do hard things.
Let not your life be an empty timeline, void but
for the echoing of “tomorrow, tomorrow.” But shout out “today, today,” until
your timeline is full to the brim of deeds done
and life lived.