When I was a kid, my heart was set upon being a teacher. For many years of my childhood, I played out this dream, with friends, neighbors, and relatives being the “students” in my “classroom.” Not knowing then, but knowing now, they were each believers in my dream.
As a child, I had so many great influences in my life, my parents, my siblings, my teachers, and my coaches — each one leaving such a monumental mark on who I was and who I was to become. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to leave that same kind of impressionable mark on other people's lives. I wanted to help facilitate a drive in people that pushed them to be the best version of themselves — one that pushed them to dive deep, work through every struggle, and be defined by grit rather than circumstances beyond their control.
Living in Appalachia taught me that boundaries, location, and education will never define a person. Grit is what defines us. It’s what is within us. YOU determine the direction in which you will go. YOU choose the successes ahead of you and how you will navigate occurrences others deem as failures. YOU. The most integral part of the success in your life stems from one single perspective.
When I finished college, I had a decision to make. Should I move to the big city, working to earn a paycheck, moving hundreds of miles and hours away from home? Should I chase money and the mindset that so many of my classmates had — eagerly waiting to get out of Southern Ohio? Or should I plant deep roots right in the culture and region that shaped me, right here in Appalachia? I’d love to tell you the decision was hard, but it wasn’t. It really was simple. I wanted to grow roots of my own in the very place that shaped and formed me. I wanted my grit to become someone else's.
You see, you’re not defined by where you were raised, by who you were raised by, or by what you did (or didn’t) have. Instead, you’re defined by what you’ve done about it — what did you make of yourself, where did you choose to win, and what do you believe you can accomplish for the future. You control what is YET to come for your life! The destiny for your life lies in the mindset you adopt!
To the junior or senior that “can’t wait” to leave the small town, consider this. Sure, this is my story, but it can be yours too. Together, one student, one dreamer at a time, we can continue to rewrite the Appalachian story. A new generation of innovators, and dreamers, and teachers, and businessmen and women. Doctors, lawyers, and government officials. All that say, this is home, and it deserves the very best. It deserves me... and it deserves YOU.
I’m Megan. This year marks my 12th year of teaching in the Appalachian region, 34 years of living here, and many years to go. It’s my home. It’s my heart. And it’s my mission.
Written by: Megan Phillips