Never overlook inspiration, even when you find it in the oddest of places . . . . I watched Cars 3 with my husband the other day. This was one of those rare, special movie sequels that did not disappoint. Through a number of unexpected twists and turns in the plot, the movie culminated by glorifying coaching/teaching as a career, which I appreciated, since I find myself in the role of a music teacher, but sometimes need to be reminded of the vision behind what I do. But the thing that really inspired me about this film was the scene where Lightning McQueen asks the legendary "Smoky" for help. Now, normally, McQueen comes across as a little bit cocky. He's a great guy, but you see him go through many growing processes throughout these films to get there. He tells a character in this film that, starting with his very first race, he "never thought he couldn't do it." In other words, he got used to winning from a young age and always saw himself as a winner. Very effective in achieving what you want to achieve in life . . . ? But it impressed me in this show when he got to the point where he no longer had the answers. When he talked to Smoky, he candidly admitted he didn't know what kind of help he was looking for, but that he knew he needed help. He asked for it sincerely and humbly.
I posted a version of this on my other blog, myquestionsandreflections.blogspot.com, a few years back. And then I kept thinking about it, and thinking about it . . .
Like Lightning McQueen, I’ve gone through my own gradual transition from performance days to days focused more and more on teaching—from the time as a youngster when I “never thought I couldn’t do it,” to now. This transition’s not always easy. I miss the glory days!
Like McQueen, I don’t feel I’ve somehow become less talented, and I certainly haven’t “given up racing.” I love performing when given the chance. But what has floored me over the past two years is how much I’ve enjoyed teaching, too!
Part of it is I’m more comfortable with my role, the older I get. I’m more comfortable within the growing age gap between me and high-schooler’s. There’s a distance between us now that engenders respect. And I’m not as nervous, knowing I’m one of a distinctly older generation who is in a more natural position to pass on wisdom.
A big part of the enjoyment is that I’ve earned the respect of colleagues. Just as sibling rivalry lessens when kids become adults and no longer have to live under the same roof, peer-to-peer competition lessens when many of my friends and myself have moved on to a different stage of life with different priorities, without as many scholarships or cash competitions to vie for. Some of us have kids of our own. We do want young people to succeed.
Of course, there are more practical reasons for this teaching enjoyment, too. I’ve been burned too many times in my teaching career to not be careful about future burnout. I’ve been blessed to only teach part time. For me, this is what works. I don’t do grading or daily lesson plans. I'm not accountable to a distant administration. I keep variety abounding: public and private teaching, different roles (being a beginning Suzuki private violin teacher, conducting a youth symphony, being a community ambassador for music education, running sectionals, judging festivals, and giving presentations in various schools, as well as teaching religion classes to adults and teenagers), a broad range of ages, a diversity of environments, etc. In a nutshell: respect, age, sensible hours, and variety have all helped me in this transition.
But even though I see these natural, positive changes, I’m still completely shocked at how capable and excited I feel as a teacher, and how much I’m enjoying being a cheerleader of the next generation, rather than focusing primarily on my own solo career. See a prior post about past experiences for some contrast. There are some good kids out there! Life will be full of hard knocks for them. I want to be one who eases their own difficult transitions. I’m glad I have a chance to love and encourage them!
Spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen Cars 3: Lightning McQueen allows someone else to finish his potentially final race under his own number. Not just anyone. Someone who has proven her talent, been a friend, and undergone much of the same training. And he does a great job coaching her along the way. By giving up the glory, he gets to share in it with her. It’s a win-win situation for both of them! He was acting unselfishly, but the rewards found him anyway.
I guess for me, the moral of the story is, even when we’re less than perfect, the more we try to live for others, the better chance good karma will find us. Plus, regardless of the outcome or the road conditions, it’s best to take a few friends with us for the journey of life.