Today I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I submitted my resignation from COSI.
In the summer of 1993, I applied for a job as a summer workshop teacher at COSI, a place I’d visited again and again in my childhood. Could COSI be my future? Could I be one of those people, like Mike Stanley with his ChemMystery show, Jarvis Carr and his trained rats, and Leonard Sparks, Mr. COSI himself, with his crazy Isaac Newton wig?
I decided to try. To really try. Not a sloppy, half-hearted attempt, like almost everything else in my life, but an all-out, no-holds-barred headfirst dive, the kind that my baseball heroes Pete Rose and Joe Morgan would have made. I decided to give COSI everything I had.
The day of my first interview, I was waiting by the pendulum. A little boy came up to me and asked me how it worked. The next thing I knew I was down on the floor with him, swinging a weight back and forth to help him discover the amazing secret: the Earth below us, seemingly so solid and unchanging, is in fact moving every day!
Heather (my first boss at COSI) came over to me and said, “You must be Steve!” I don’t think it mattered what happened in the interview after that.
Twenty years later, COSI has changed me in ways that I never expected. I knew coming in that I loved to teach, but I never expected to get such joy from performance. As a kid I was meek, painfully shy, quiet to the point of pathology. At COSI I found my voice. On my show sheets I always write, “I am the Black Swan”; my way of saying that I just gave everything I am and everything I have to that performance.
Even more so, I never expected to become a leader. I am overwhelmed by the kind words and thoughts of those who have told me, to my complete and utter amazement, how I have inspired them. I never expected the joy I would experience at seeing those whom I’ve guided teach others with that same passion, commitment, and love that I feel in my own teaching. Even more than that, though, is the pride and pleasure I feel when I see young teachers truly discover themselves, not just my influence, but their own unique inner truth. You know who you are.
When it became clear that I must leave COSI, my first reaction was anger – at myself. I had let myself care too much. I had loved a place, and that place had not loved me back. How foolish of me not to take the advice, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”
But then my colleagues came to me, one after the other. They told me what my passion and my love had meant to them. They told me how I had changed them, how they were different, better people for having watched me follow my bliss. And then I knew: it is personal. It has to be personal. You have to feel it. Yes, it makes the pain so much greater when it finally ends. But that pain is better than not feeling at all. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Some people believe that everything happens for a reason. While I deeply respect this belief, I cannot share it. What, then, do I believe? I believe that all knowledge is fallible, and therefore mistakes are inevitable. But, as a friend recently reminded me, we are teachers. We teach anyway. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.
I’m still in love.
Goodbye, everyone, and go find your starfish!