Why I Teach

My motivations behind my choice of vocations.
Jul | 16 | 2018

Jul | 16 | 2018


Every once in a while I write an existential or contemplative post. Eight years ago, I felt compelled to articulate why I write. Today I’ll cover why I teach. I’ll start with some personal reasons and then move into institutional ones.

Stability and Reduced Stres

The vast majority of writers and public speakers don’t realize anywhere near the success of Malcolm Gladwell. These exceptionally well paid folks represent the exception that proves the rule: Booking lucrative speaking gigs ain’t easy. The same holds true for book advances.

My professor salary is hardly exorbitant but it ensures that I’ll be able to live comfortably. ASU benefits far exceed those that I’d be able to obtain on my own. I don’t have to worry about selling books, landing new writing and speaking gigs, etc. When they do come along, I’m happy to oblige, but my livelihood doesn’t hinge upon landing them. Put different, in this increasingly chaotic world, a little stability is invaluable.


As long as I do my job, it doesn’t matter where and when I prepare.

During my consulting career, I’ve always struggled with the idea that I had to be glued to my seat for eight to ten hours per day. When I accepted my full-time professor gig two years ago, I was sure about two things. First, no one would be tracking my hours. As long as I did my job, it didn’t matter where and when I prepared. Second, I’d still be able to maintain my writing, speaking, and consulting practices—at least to a certain degree. I can continue to read books, hit the gym, play tennis, and live a balanced life.

Colleagues and Personal Interactions

My previous writer-speaker life was at times a bit solitary. Don’t get me wrong: I continue to enjoy working at home. Still, I wasn’t going to collide with anyone in the office. As much as I enjoy my downtime and privacy, sometimes it’s fun to grab lunch with a colleague or have an impromptu hallway conversation.

The Academic Environment

There’s just something fundamentally cool about surrounding yourself with (mostly) people who want to improve themselves. Rather than immediately dismiss my recommendations (as many of my consulting clients did over the years), most of my students listen to me. (For instance, I love how they have taken to Slack.) I feel a considerable amount of pride when they run with one of my ideas and expand upon it.

Students and the Two-Way Learning Street

I enjoy my interactions with almost everyone. This goes double for my best students. Being able to reach students, see progress, make them think critically, and solve problems gives me hope for the future at a time when I certainly need it.

Throughout my career, I have loved disseminating knowledge. Ideally, though learning should be a two-way street. I’m the first to say “I don’t know” when that’s the case. There’s so much to learn about technology, data, and analytics. I really enjoy it when a student shows me a new tool or tip in an existing one. (For instance, I didn’t know about Orange until a gifted student in my analytics class introduced me to it. Last semester, a student informed me that Excel for the Mac finally supported pivot charts—something that power users had long requested.) As I’ve said many times before, surrounding yourself with smart cookies makes you smarter.

The Challenge and the Rewards

Try getting 50 Millennials to pay attention to a lecture for 80 minutes—at 8:30 in the morning no less.

It’s not easy but rewarding things rarely are. I like to think that I thrive on challenges. Trying to reach to 21-year-olds surrounded by technology falls into that bucket. No professor reaches everyone, but I’ve accepted the challenge and I’m making progress. Case in point: my student evaluations have improved considerably since I started.

I can’t really describe how good and powerful it feels when a student offers genuinely positive feedback. A few have even sent me thank-you notes after the semester ended. These put a smile on my face.

Future Friendships and Professional Opportunities

I have no doubt that many of my students will go on to do great things. I stay in touch with a decent number of them. Whether it’s on a personal or professional level, I suspect that many of these relationships will benefit me down the road.

This is happening sooner rather than later. Last year I started 5marbles with some of my very best former students. It’s not that I want to quit academia; I just would love to work with these ridiculously talented rock stars again. I’d be shocked if other opportunities don’t come my way over the forthcoming years.

Simon Says: Why I teach isn’t all that complicated.

All in all, I enjoy the professor life. To paraphrase Walter White, “I like it. I am good at it.” It’s really that simple. This decision to become a professor changed my life for the better.

Sure, it’s still a job and if I were king, I’d made some changes. Nonetheless, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. I enjoy developing new in-class exercises, trying new tools, and recommending articles and sites to my students.


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