Success: Is it about getting to “the top” or just being happy?

successThroughout my career, I have always kept my eyes open for ways to advance in my profession. I’ve loved just about every teaching position I have been in, but no matter how great the situation, I always felt like I need to go higher with the next big job and the next degree. I had to get to “the top.” I had to be the best I could be. My drive to get to the top was so strong that I became disoriented and eventually lost focus of what I loved doing most. In addition, it put additional stress on myself, and had negative impacts on my family.

What exactly is “the top?”

In the teaching world, I often hear people say, “Oh, you are moving up from teaching middle school to teaching high school? That’s awesome!” Moving up??? Really??  After I won a tenure-track position to teach college full time, I thought to myself that I had finally made it. Unfortunately, there is a mentality in the field of education that often associates your “rank” or “importance” with the level of your students. How wrong this is!! The top is where you are happiest.

How do you really get to “the top?”

This fall, I’m moving “down” from the ivory towers of collegiate-level teaching and will go back to directing a high school orchestra program. I don’t consider this a move down at all because I’m finally making a move for the real me and will be going back to do what I love to do most. Simply put: I’m happiest when I’m working with kids in the schools. (In addition, this new position will have many positive implications for my family, which is of utmost importance!)

Success is an iceberg…

For the last four years I served as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Music Education at Kennesaw State University.  I was hired on to be the first string education professor and things went extremely well. I worked to increase student enrollment in string music education and helped make KSU the largest undergraduate string education program in the state Georgia. I connected with school orchestras and the community by directing a large number of outreach events and conducted an orchestra for the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra. I collaborated with my colleagues, developed new courses, refreshed old courses, served on committees, and endured some major changes in the music education curriculum and student teacher assessment. I made positive relationships with my students and felt their enthusiasm, energy, and pride. In addition to the work at the local level, I increased visibility to KSU and the School of Music by leading dozens of orchestra clinics, presenting at numerous conferences, conducting honor/all-state orchestras, and even presenting some research. The invitations just kept coming! My yearly reviews were stellar and I was well on my way to becoming a tenured Associate Professor. Success!! But even with all of the positive accolades and subsequent notoriety, I wasn’t truly happy. I never felt completely fulfilled.  Something was missing.

(KSU Rocks, BTW)

I do want to publicly acknowledge the sheer awesomeness that is Kennesaw State University (KSU)!!  It is an incredible institution with marvelous faculty and students and a great place to work, learn, and grow. It is THE university (and School of Music!) to be at in Georgia and is quickly gaining a solid reputation at the regional and national levels. I could go on and on about how great a place KSU is. I will dearly miss my colleagues and am thankful that we will always remain friends. In addition, I will forever be a fan, advocate, and supporter of KSU and always an Owl at heart. GO OWLS!!!

Be thankful for every day

Starting in the 10th grade, my dream job was to be a high school orchestra director. (Thank you Mr. Curtis Petersen!!) I started teaching in the public schools in 1996 and had unique experiences teaching wonderful students in Nevada, Florida, and Ohio. Some of the fondest memories of my career were during the times when I was teaching middle school and high school orchestra. Unfortunately, I took some of these experiences for granted and didn’t always realize how great I had it. For a number of different personal and professional reasons, I was always looking to get to that next level “up.”

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon

If you keep an open mind and are willing to make changes, life can take you places you never expected. I don’t regret any of the career changes I’ve made. Each place I have worked there were memorable experiences. Most importantly, along the way I met awesome people and developed so many positive relationships with my students and colleagues. These relationships have helped define my career and my life in ways I can hardly explain.  To all of my friends, colleagues, and former students:  THANK YOU!

If you ever question yourself and where you are, is very important to stop and smell the roses. It’s cliché, but it’s true: The grass is not always greener on the other side. But, unfortunately sometimes you have to experience alternatives to fully comprehend this. On the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t take any risks you’ll never know what you are missing! Decisions can be so difficult.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

No matter what, remember that being at “the top” is being (and staying) where you are happiest, not where you think you should be or where others see you. If you are unsure, dig down deep and follow your heart.


“Watching The Wheels” by John Lennon

(Listen on Apple Music)

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing,

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange,

Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,


People say I’m lazy dreaming my life away,

Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,

When I tell that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall,

Don’t you miss the big time boy you’re no longer on the ball?


I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,

I really love to watch them roll,

No longer riding on the merry-go-round,

I just had to let it go,


People asking questions lost in confusion,

Well I tell them there’s no problem,

Only solutions,

Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,

I tell them there’s no hurry…

I’m just sitting here doing time,


I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,

I really love to watch them roll,

No longer riding on the merry-go-round,

I just had to let it go.


Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable summer break! 🙂

One Reply to “Success: Is it about getting to “the top” or just being happy?”

  1. Another great lesson of life that few of us “get” until it’s too late …. if ever. I had the same expectations and goals during my careers …. the Navy….Broadcasting….Automotive …doing well but not fulfilled … and it took its toll on my marriages and other relationships. No matter how well I had done….or how “successful” I had been … there was something missing. After my divorce from Aunt Irene…. I collapsed the “picture” that had been my life. I knew that only I could change it….and as hurt and depressed as I was I knew it needed to change. I now was not just the financial provider for Tiffany and Randy..but their custodial parent. That was a year from hell….. My sister died in June…your Mom in July…. and Irene left right after the holidays. In my mind I likened my life to total darkness…..Then the first pin hole of light was I wanted peace…. no more anger and fear…..peace….. Then I wanted Love….from God….my children …. family and friends. And slowly I laid out the ideal way I wanted my life to be. It was my picture of how I wanted my life to be. It wasn’t easy … and lots of bumps in the road…. but I worked my way into a new me that became happier than I ever had been before. Keli and I shared this transition …. and we still asked each other “how is you picture looking….”
    Chuck I believe that the people we love and those that love us is the most important part of our lives here on Earth…… and I love you and your family And am blessed to have lived the life full of adventures that I have. I thank God for that every day.

    Uncle Lou

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