When I was in elementary school, my Grade 8 teacher, Mr. Willis had 1:1 meetings with every graduating student about their future. He held these meetings at the end of the year, so we all knew they were coming.

Many kept what he said to them a secret. I was one of them.

Because what he told me at the time was very upsetting.

When it was my turn, Mr. Willis leaned forward in his chair and said he wasn’t worried for me, but that he didn’t think I was the smartest person in the class by any means. He told me some people are just naturally gifted and I wasn’t one of them. But not to worry, you don’t have to be the smartest to be successful.

I was insulted.

I knew I was in the top tier of my class, so how could he say something like that to me?

I was hurt.

He knew how hard I had worked all year to get the grades I had… what was he talking about?

I was angry.

He saw my face and then took a long pause.

I was tearing up.

He then said “I know you hearing that you’re not one of the “smart kids” is hard to hear, but what I am going to say next is the reason why I am not worried about you. You are one of the top students in the class because you are not afraid to work hard for something. You are not a student who sits in class bored, doesn’t study and then aces a test. You study, you work, and you take notes and ask questions. You get involved, you become interested in the topics. By doing this, and honing these skills, you can and should be more successful than your peers that are naturally smarter than you who put in no effort. Intelligence can breed laziness and boredom, and those are things I worry about for some of the students here. But not you. You have drive and that drive will take you anywhere you want to go. Don’t set limits for yourself.”

I didn’t tell anyone what he said to me that day because I was ashamed I no longer had the label, nor did I ever have the label of “smart” in his eyes. I wanted to prove him wrong. I was smart, I am not going to be lazy, and I will go further than anyone thinks I can. I know I can. I must. I’m stubborn that way.

Today, when I am overloaded, overworked and stressed and feel like giving up on things… I remember this conversation. Intelligence breeds laziness. Intelligence breeds boredom.

I may not be the smartest person in the room, I may not even deserve the praise from friends and coworkers for being smart. But what I do deserve is to be exactly where I am right now. I put the time in. I said no to invitations, I chose work over play sometimes, and now, I wake up early on really tough days and still get myself to that 8–5 office shift every week. I am willing to sacrifice the now for the future.

Am I smart?

I don’t know.

How do we even qualify that question these days?

Am I lazy, though?

No. I am certainly not lazy.

So whether Mr. Willis knew he was tapping into my inner ego by turning on the engine to my drivers, or not… Thank you Mr. Willis.

I was too young at the time to understand what you meant. If he had told me to “carry on, you’re doing fine” would I be where I am today? Who knows. But what I do know, anyhow?

I know this:

I drove myself here. And I’m not getting out the driver’s seat anytime soon.

I encourage you all to buckle up in your own seats and drive. It’s exciting when you can steer your life in all the directions you truly want. Leave no excuse for later, do not be lazy with your dreams and goals.

No one is going to drive you to your own destination, so you best find your own vessel and fuel from within.

As for me? I’m currently working on an essay for yet another class I am taking on the side of my full-time work. Grueling work, yet fueling the engine, keeping the drive alive.

I just drive.

I can already see the sunset on the horizon.