• Jaime Richards

It's Whom You're With


Describe the perfect week.

If you're typical, you'll dream about where you'd like to be and what you'd like to do. You'll imagine yourself on a sun-drenched tropical beach, near a serene mountain lake, in the middle of a vibrant city or – if you're 10 – at a Florida resort, surrounded by Disney theme parks. (Alright, you don't have to be 10.) You'll envision yourself spending your time sleeping peacefully, eating fabulously and enjoying your favorite activities.

If that's what you did, you fail. You don't get it. But don't worry. I'm going to straighten you out by reminding you about something you intuitively know.

But first, stop stressing about where you are. The grass is always greener, right? I learned that the hard way. I've taught at seven different schools – elementary, junior high and high schools – and I always thought some other school would be better. I've lived in six different places – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Dakota, northern and southern California – and I always thought some other place would be better.

What I learned is that no matter where you are, there's good and there's bad. When it's bad, you think you'd be happier somewhere else. Sometimes that's right, but usually it's not. Because when you move, you'll find the new place has both good and bad.

Second, stop stressing about what you're doing. The opportunity cost will drive you nuts. If you're in Orlando and choose to go to Disney's Epcot, don't spend your time wondering if Disney's Animal Kingdom would have been a better choice. Enjoy Epcot! It's a fascinating theme park. It doesn't have what Animal Kingdom has, but Animal Kingdom doesn't have what Epcot has. Where you are and what you do is important – but not that important.

What's most important when designing the perfect week is whom you're with. I swear this is true: If you're with the right people, being almost anywhere and doing almost anything can be great. And, if you're with the wrong people (or worse, alone), anyplace or any activity can be unbearable.

Picking up trash – if you're with people you like – can be enjoyable. Sounds crazy, but I know this is true. I've picked up trash in Oakland's Cesar Chavez Park and off the beach in Santa Cruz on California's Coastal Cleanup Day with student volunteers and had a good time. Conversely, spending the day at Disneyland with people you don't enjoy being with can be miserable. (Yes, I've had that experience, too.)

There are people around the world living in horrendous conditions. Their lives appear to be mostly miserable. But people everywhere still have blissful moments – moments spawned by the special people in their lives.

Start planning your perfect week by carefully choosing with whom you want to spend it. Whether it's at the beach, mountainside, city or resort won't matter that much. Just pick an interesting place and go. The same applies to what you do. Just do something you think will be fun. Where you are and what you do will be amplified by whom you're with. I'd much rather do something that might seem dull with stimulating people than something that might seem stimulating with dull people.

Back in the real world, stop stressing about what college you're going to attend, where you're going to take your date or what you're going to do with your time. Start stressing about whom you're going to spend your time with. Be picky. Very picky.

When it comes to planning the perfect week, tell me first about the captivating, inspiring, warm-spirited people with whom you'd most like to spend it. Then I'll know you get it.

ASSIGNMENT:

A. Describe your perfect day, week, month or year. But be smart and do it in the right order:

FIRST: Decide with whom you'd want to be. SECOND: Decide where you'd want to be. THIRD: Decide what you'd like to do. FOURTH: Share your answers with the people you chose!

B. Choose your "cabinet." (The U.S. Constitution allows the president to select a cabinet – a team of experts – to advise him or her.) To whom do you turn when you need advice? With whom would you most want to work on a vital project? Make a list of your cabinet – people with whom you'd most want to collaborate – and could realistically collaborate. Consider people with diverse backgrounds, strengths, talents, expertise and interests. Again, share your answer. Let your cabinet know you chose them.