It’s midsummer, which means that if you’re a teacher you’ve likely heard some version of “It must be nice” from some of your non-teacher acquaintances.
It must be nice to spend the whole summer doing stuff with your kids.
It must be nice to take all those vacations.
It must be nice to spend a random Tuesday at the beach.
It must be nice to visit a bar on a Wednesday night.
It must be nice to have all that time off.
It reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago. We were visiting friends in Wisconsin. He’s a lawyer with a private practice who has done very well. She’s a stay-at-home mom with four kids to watch, entertain, feed, and shuttle from place to place. Because he makes a lot of money, they sometimes hear, “It must be nice” from friends and family members. And it pisses them off. As it should.
Everyone can see the spoils of their success: the nice house, the cars, the kids’ private school educations, the boat.
But what’s unacknowledged or possibly forgotten are the sacrifices made at every step. No one ever said to them:
It must be nice to live in a cramped apartment with a newborn.
It must be nice to take the bus to law school and back because you only have one crappy car.
It must be nice to miss large parts of your son’s infancy because you have to study.
It must be nice to get up and go into the office at four in the morning and not get home until eight at night.
It must be nice to be home with four kids all day and have to do everything yourself while your spouse is at work.
It must be nice to have everyone assume that your success is the result of anything other than sacrifice and hard work.
“It must be nice” is code for “I’m jealous of.” When we look at other people and say “It must be nice,” what we’re really saying is, “I’d like to have that, but I don’t want to make the choices you made and endure the sacrifices you did to have it.”
That’s why it’s insulting.
When you tell someone, “It must be nice” you are ignoring what the person gave up to have those things.
Successful lawyers give up time away from their families.
Teachers give things up, too. Most of us chose this profession knowing full well the trade-offs. We knew our college roommates who went into business or medicine or law would likely make more money than us. They would be able to buy nicer things. They’d go on better vacations. They would be more respected by society.
Teachers chose time. We knew that going into teaching meant less money, but it also meant we’d have more time to do things other than our jobs. We knew we’d have more days to do what we wanted than our college roommates would. We traded one value for another. We traded the chance to earn more money for the opportunity to have more time. Many people choose the opposite, which is fine.
What’s not fine is for either group to wish they had what the other has, knowing they had the chance to make the same choice.
So the next time someone says, “It must be nice”, smile at them and say:
Then cheerfully remind them of their ability to choose:
“You should go back to school and become a teacher!”
And watch most of them backpedal as they suddenly picture themselves spending nine months in a classroom instead of three on a beach.
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