Dolph & Lana Break The Rules

Picasso Couple

I don’t like very many people.


Well, that’s not entirely true – I like most people… in small doses. At a distance. At the right times. For a bit. I’m the guy in staff PD who took the personality test and ended up at a table by myself on the far end of the media center with 117 peers assuming I must have lied on the questionnaire because I seem nicer than that. 

But among the small circle of folks of whom I cannot tire and who energize me just by sharing the room is a friend from way back in middle school and his stunning wife. I’ll call them Dolph and Lana for reasons likely amusing only to me.

Both did fine in high school - one public and one private - and graduated easily. Dolph has a degree in journalism and a photographic memory, while Lana holds a ‘music ministry’ license she doesn’t like to talk about. But neither are committed to what I used to think of as ‘normal’ careers. They don’t have ‘real jobs’.

Dolph & LanaDon’t get me wrong – they’re not unemployed. They don’t require public assistance or loans from family and friends. They’re one of the more fiscally responsible couples I know, even managing periodic vacations and rather enigmatic social lives.

Oh, and they have a two-year-old, who almost makes me like kids. We’ll call him Hogarth.

Dolph is a musician, a painter, a freelance writer, and a producer. Occasionally he’s a graphic designer. I know, I know – these are collectively often used as euphemisms for “deadbeat”, but I assure you, he works long hours at a variety of things, all of which he’s ridiculously good at and mostly enjoys. 

He’s also one of the most involved fathers I’ve known in this life. It’s weird. 

Aside from his actual family, there’s nothing Dolph loves more than the endless hours spent crafting his original songs into reality and posting them essentially for free on Spotify or other outlets. Considering how insanely talented he is (I blame an imbalanced universe unconcerned with equity), it’s surprising how many hours this consumes to do well.

Music ProductionThose hours, however, pay very little, so he also applies his talents to producing music for others – which is rewarding in its own way, but still actual work. It’s not always fun, and it’s not usually easy. He plays in a local cover band doing music he doesn’t always like for crowds which aren’t always appreciative. This is the musician equivalent of a ‘day job’ – it pays the bills while still keeping you near your chosen craft and first love. He writes for periodicals which aren’t always reasonable about events he wouldn’t otherwise attend or people with whom he wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend his free hours – because that’s how ‘work’ works. 

Turns out even in the world of live music, painting, or writing, there’s an element of ‘grit’ and self-management required in order to thrive. One must be organized. Responsible. Creative, but rational. Able to communicate and to truly appreciate other points of view. To go around the leaf. 

But he does it, and he does most of it really well. In the process, he hones and stretches skills he applies to the stuff he loves. He takes care of his family, provides for them comfortably, and still lacks what I used to think of as ‘a real job’. More on that in a bit.  

Lana has been preoccupied with the lad Hogarth lately, but she too is a mashup of surprising talents. She paints, sings, and co-taught at one of the high-end private schools in these parts until the little person came along. You know those rare people who can explore the world of high-end teas or local sushi trucks and fill you in without making you feel stupid or proletariat about it? That’s Lana. Any suggestions she’s particularly gracious or sophisticated prompts pshaw-ery and eye-rolling.

She doesn’t see it. She’s just doing what people do, right? 

Laptop GirlShe currently works at home for a media company promoting independent film projects and other specialized artsy fartsy things. I not actually sure whether this is an innovative approach targeting enigmatic tastes and interests, or if she just manipulates us on Facebook for a living. No matter – I adore them both, and they’re incapable of ever being truly evil. 

None of what they do involves Algebra II, or Oklahoma History, or success on standardized exams. Some of their ELA classes may have been useful to a degree, and a few extra-curriculars stir fond memories, but by and large I’m not sure high school offered either of them much of substance – even though they both conquered it easily.

Dolph and Lana have found a way to do what they love for a living, not as part of that small sliver of the mega-successful covered by TMZ or E! or populating magazines in the checkout aisle, but as normal people who refuse to accept the unspoken ‘rules’ inculcated by public education, most universities, and society in general. 

They’re not standardized. They’re not career-oriented. They're not perpetually preparing for whatever's coming NEXT. While they have a quirky diversity of interests and tastes, they rarely put in time or effort mastering subjects they couldn't possibly care about. Their work ethic is unimpeachable, but both have passed up fiscal progress in order to live where they’re happy TODAY, and do that about which they’re passionate NOW. 

In short, they’re doing everything completely wrong. 

Staircase to Nowhere

And yet, by any meaningful definition, they are wildly successful. Happy. Interesting. Useful to themselves, their families, and their friends. Giving back to their culture, their community, and contributing to the economy. 

Crazy fun to be around. I don’t even know what we DO most evenings we’re together. They just… happen. 

Not wealthy, certainly, but hardly impoverished. Not famous, but beloved – they know everyone, everywhere, and it’s ridiculous how many people want to be their bestest friend evers. I’m telling you, it’s weird to watch. 

I’m not sure how you teach that, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the way we’re doing it now. I don’t know that it requires abandoning traditional subjects entirely, or burning every last textbook and desk. But I respectfully suggest that Dolph, Lana, and Hogarth are not outliers. They’re better at real life than most, but they’re not freak-of-nature unique.

How many responsible, happy, fulfilled and fulfilling adults find their ways in spite of rather than because of the bizarre endurance test we call high school? How many of those who succumb to our system grow old endlessly chasing that elusive point at which they'll be allowed to enjoy or care about what they’re doing NOW?

I'm sure I don't have an easy or clear solution, but before we continue our efforts to go faster and further down the road of #edreform or 'excellence', perhaps we'd do well to check our GPS and clarify exactly where it is we're hoping our students will go. Personally, I'd trade most test scores, a ton of future earnings potential, and a healthy slice of 'college & career readiness' for a few more Dolphs and Lanas. 

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From your post: "Happy. Interesting. Useful to themselves, their families, and their friends. Giving back to their culture, their community, and contributing to the economy." That to me represents the most appropriate definition if 'SUCCESS' I'm sure I've ever encountered!!! Most importantly, it starts with 'HAPPY' - I believe the most important goal for everyone!!!

If we educators wish to facilitate effective learning for our students, any success must be assessed relative to this definition. If our students are to have successful careers and personal lives, they must be assessed relative to this definition. If leaders in organizations are to be considered a success, they must be assessed relative to this definition. If any politician or policy person is to successfully serve the public (I know, I know, first they need to decide serving the public is their responsibility), that success must be assessed relative to this generation. Finally, any of us such as myself who seek to be a participant in ongoing efforts to rebuild our formal education pedagogy and associated resources must assess our efforts relative to this definition.

Dolor and Lana are, and I expect Hogarth will be, successful - certainly not outliers!!! Great post - Thanks!!!


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