Let Them Eat Cake: Embracing An Attitude of Gratitude

“I have to work on my birthday?”

For most people, the idea of working on their birthday is anathema. For me, it was an advantage. More specifically, the “presence” of my students during part of my recent birthday was a priceless “present.”

Teaching is my passion, but I would not be a teacher without students. I am therefore thankful for my students, my priceless “birthday gifts” with whom I am privileged to learn.

Case in point: I celebrated my birthday yesterday, February 22, and was fortunate to end the day teaching a “Marketing Research and Strategic Applications” class for UCSB Extension (where I have taught marketing classes since January 2008).

To my surprise, and sincere gratitude, my students — many of whom I  taught previously in a “Buying Behavior” and/or “Principles of Marketing” class — had baked and brought a cake, brownies and other treats.

February 22, 2012: Celebrating My Birthday at UC Santa Barbara

They also sang “Happy Birthday” to me — which I recorded and threatened to upload to YouTube, but out of gratitude for their kindness, spared them!

It has been a long time since I experienced such kindness from people I primarily know professionally. I was never this thrilled to have “worked” on my birthday (although I enjoy teaching so much, I hesitate to call it “work”).

I spent the earlier part of the day (and President’s Day two days earlier) with my family and volunteered with my younger son’s class the day after my birthday, and planned to do the same the day after that with my older son.

Definitely an exceptional birthday week!

Nevertheless, birthdays offer me a moment of self assessment: a time when I look at where I’ve been and where I see myself going. I am hopeful for the future, despite some recent challenges. I am also thankful to feel fortunate about my career.

Unfortunately, as Henry David Thoreau once mused, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I interpret this to mean that most people live without ever realizing their dreams or getting a chance to “follow their bliss” (as Joseph Campbell would say).

For many years I was in that predicament. Pressured to support someone else’s dreams while my own were relegated to irrelevance, I knew my situation needed to change. Fortunately, I persevered and, when opportunities arose, I took control of my destiny and finally found my bliss.

This inspires me to surround my sons with unconditional love, impenetrable support, and rational guidance. I will do what it takes, regardless of the sacrifice, to help them achieve their dreams. I will help them see challenges as opportunities and problems as purpose.

Similarly, I discovered a September 19, 2011 convocation speech by John S.W. Park — Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies and affiliated Sociology faculty member at UCSB.

In his speech, Park encourages students “instead of just picking a major, pick a problem;” with the goal of solving that problem during their time at UCSB. Quite an inspirational approach to figuring out your life’s purpose!

Looking back to my years of “quiet desperation” I am grateful for the opportunities I had to pursue my professional dreams while growing personally.

So, will you celebrate having to work on your next birthday?