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The Best Answer To The Question, “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

August 26, 2014

Today was my first day of teaching for the fall semester.  On the first day of class, I always ask students what they want to be when they “grow up.”  Beforehand, I take them through my career journey.  I tell them about wanting to be an engineer when I was 17, then realizing by the time I was 20 that the world was better off without me mixing chemicals or building bridges.  I tell them about thinking law school was the answer for me and chasing a career of entertainment and corporate law.  I tell them about the misery I found in my first legal jobs and literally being nearly unable to coax myself out of bed some days.  I talk to them about being honest with myself and realizing that my greatest passions in life are writing and sports.  I talk to them about the luck I’ve found since making that realization.  I tell them all of this on purpose, so they can realize that it’s ok to not know what they want to do and even more acceptable to sometimes have to change your plan entirely.  

As a sports law professor, I realize that only 15 to 25-percent of my students have any interest in going to law school.  Thus, I need to create value beyond the in-class material for the rest of my students.  For me, I work on creating that value by hopefully inspiring them to do something with their lives after they leave my classroom.  Whether it’s narrowing their focus upon a particular career, finding an organization they want to give back to or deciding where they want to call a home, I want to leave them with something deeper than textbook lectures.

When my students went around the room today, I heard many of the answers I was prepared to for:  Professional baseball player (which is realistic given our program at the University of Miami), NFL scout (also realistic), brand manager, agent, athletics director, general manager.

Sitting in the corner of the classroom was one of our basketball players.  When his turn came, he looked at me and said, “I just want to be happy.”


In the three semesters I’ve done this, it was the first time I’ve been given that answer.  And I told him it was the best.

So often in life, we get carried away making plans that we forget our happiness.  We worry about relationships and careers, houses and bills.  In the midst of all of that, happiness slips away.  Real, pure, unadulterated happiness.  Then, we wake up one day and realize that the opportunities we had to foster our own happiness and to build a life greater than any other have all but disappeared.

There is a real epidemic in this country when it comes to happiness.  We tell and demonstrate to our children and young people that happiness is based upon things.  “You’ll be happy when you get married.”  “You’ll be happy when you buy the new car.”  “You’ll be happy when you move into the new house.”  “You’ll be happy when you get the promotion.”

It is true that many of those things can cause happiness.  However, they are not capable of creating permanent happiness.  Permanent happiness, rather, is internal.  It’s created from within.  It’s born from a spirit that life–as it is–is enough.  It’s generated from the realization that waking up on any given day is reason enough to celebrate.  A blessing.  A gift.  A cause in and of itself to be happy.

For nearly 30 years of my life, I believed that happiness was a contingency.  Happiness was based upon degrees, men, new shoes and where I was living.  It was found in events and trips and expensive dinners.  Truth be told, I looked for happiness everywhere but in myself.

I’m grateful that that cloud has parted for me.  I’m happy that when I wake up in the morning, I stretch my arms and whisper a little prayer that most days goes like this, “God, thank you for legs strong enough to walk and eyes bright enough to see and for giving me this day.  Let me do something good with it.  Thank you for this happiness.  Thank you for this life.  Thank you for this gift.”

I’m going to teach young people about sports law for the rest of the fall.  And while I hope they take away how to interpret case law and read statutes, I want them to walk out of my classroom with knowledge greater than that.  I want them to understand that they are capable of anything.  And by anything, I mean what they are the most capable of, is creating their own happiness.  

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