What would you consider your motto?

752826962-neil-gaiman-sandman-fear-of-fallingI love learning things. No, that’s not my motto, at least not my main one, but it’s still a truth I live by. I have a feeling that while I write this particular response, I’m going to come up with several of these truths, all of which could be considered as mottoes. Anyway, to get back to that opening line. I love learning new stuff. For example, just now while looking up the specific definition of the word “Motto” on Wikipedia, it says that the word itself is derived from the Latin muttum, ‘mutter’, by way of Italian motto, ‘word’, ‘sentence.’

This I did not know. And that’s pretty cool.

Further, the definition goes on to say that “Mottos are usually found predominantly in written form (unlike slogans, which may also be expressed orally), and may stem from long traditions of social foundations, or from significant events, such as a civil war or a revolution. A motto may be in any language, but Latin has been widely used, especially in the Western world.”

All of this is fascinating to me. It means that what I consider my motto is really more of a slogan, and I’m okay with that. I had always generally understood that a motto “is the general motivation or intention of an individual, family, social group or organization” and that’s how I’m using it here. For me, then, a motto is really my words to live by.

And the first one would go back to that opening line. One of the things I firmly believe in is curiosity. I had a student once tell me I take stupidity personally and while I don’t really think that’s true, what is true is that I take a lake of curiosity personally. I will often say that “not knowing is fine, but not wanting to find out is not.” In other words, there’s too much information in the world to ever know everything* but you can always learn more about whatever interests you. Maybe this is what drives me as a teacher, the thought that I know stuff and want to share that with other people.

Every semester, I explain to my students that “smart” is a silly societal construct and doesn’t really mean anything beyond having the potential for something. That the only reason I’m standing at the front of the classroom is because I happen to know more about this particular subject at this particular time. And that’s it. It’s not because I’m “smarter” or anything else.

This goes along with another saying I like to expound upon: “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you,”** which in turn ties into an old T.S. Eliot quote, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” That last one I first encountered as a poster hanging in an 8th grade classroom, you know the kind of posters you used to get as fold-outs from Dynamite magazine or from Scholastic Book Fairs.*** For some reason, that one resonated with me quite a bit, certainly more than the ubiquitousness of the kitten, hanging on to a small rope for dear life with the caption “Hang on, Friday’s Coming.” That one never made any sense to me, even as a school kid, since from the time I was old enough to understand it, I was doing shows on the weekend, so Friday was just another day. But the thought of extending yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to find your true boundaries, and then, pretty much by definition, extend them, that made sense in a way that, as I type these words, makes me realize it’s where my actual, true, 100% motto comes from, the one phrase that is the answer if someone asked what, beyond anything else, is the concept which guides your life?

Don’t let fear stop you from doing anything.

That’s it. That’s the big 8 words which have determined the course of my path more than any other. For me, this is a huge, umbrella-like idea that enfolds all the others within it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should be reckless, not by any stretch of the imagination. Fear is a good thing; it helps to keep us alive. People who are fearless are, ironically, pretty damn scary.

But that said, just being afraid isn’t a good enough reason to stop you from doing whatever it is. Don’t rush into it foolheartedly, sure, but at the same time, go for it. There have been movies and books about the idea of just saying “yes” to things and I think that’s a great idea. Just this morning, Rasa and I were discussing the weird places life has taken me (being older than her, I’ve had a few more adventures) including celebrating ten years living in Lithuania and having an amazing family, something I couldn’t have done if I had let my fears overtake me.

I was absolutely terrified when I started my backpacking trip in 2008, or when I moved to Hungary in 2010, or when Rasa told me she was pregnant. All of these things changed my life for the better. And even those decisions I made which didn’t work out so well…I learned from them, too.

So there ya go…my words to live by, my motto. It’s led to some pretty wonderful things in my life. Now I just need to get it translated into Latin and put on a crest!


*I’ve heard that there was a point in the late 18th century when the sum of human knowledge surpassed the capabilities of a single mind to hold it, but I can’t find the exact details.

**Which I just learned is credited to Zig Ziglar. Interesting.

*** boy, do I miss Scholastic book fairs!

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