Please Don’t Be My Valentine!

Have you ever had a day that didn’t go as planned? You created this perfect scenario in your mind, but the reality that unfolded didn’t even come close. My (very short) career as a first-grade teacher many years ago taught me about planning for the unexpected.

On Valentine’s Day the other teachers were complaining at lunch about how much time it was taking to distribute the valentines. As a brand-new teacher I couldn’t help but wonder, “How long does it take kids to put valentines on each other’s desks? These women must not be organized!” MY plan was SO much better … until reality took over.

Thirty minutes before the dismissal bell rang I passed out the cupcakes and announced, “Boys and girls, you can give out your valentines now.” As I calmly waited for them to start circulating around the classroom, placing their valentines on each other’s desks, Angela thrust her bag at me. “I can’t read the names my mom wrote on the envelopes. Will you give out my valentines?”

I smiled and took her bag. Then I turned around. A line had formed. Thirty children held out their bags and pleaded, “Can you give mine out too?” OK, let’s do the math. 31 students x 31 valentines each = 961 valentines … to be distributed in 25 minutes. That’s 38.4 valentines per minute. I definitely needed a new plan.

In a calm voice I announced, “Children, put your cupcakes down, come up to the board and stand in a straight line. When you hear me call your name step forward, put your hand out and take your valentine. There will be NO talking. If you talk, you will not hear me call your name. And that means you will not get any valentines. Do you want to go home with NO valentines?”

Picture 31 solemn little faces, eyes wide open, heads shaking wildly back and forth. My new plan worked. Every child went home with 31 valentines. I went home with a massive headache. As you’ve learned by now, every experience (good or bad) can be a learning experience.

Professor Randy Pausch died of cancer at the age of 47. His last lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” delivered to 400 of his colleagues and students at Carnegie Mellon University became an Internet sensation and a bestselling book. One of his profoundly wise statements applies directly to my story. “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

You will learn something from every experience, good or bad. Think ahead. What are you planning or working on now? What are your expectations? What are others’ expectations of you? Have you planned for the Unexpected? How will you get results without creating stress for yourself and others?

Even if things don’t go as well as you hoped, you can always take what you learned from the experience and apply it to your future! Oh… and before I forget … Happy Valentine’s Day!


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