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What can we learn by exploring interests in our life outside the classroom? Explore this personal reflection of doing just that while in high school.

Breathing, it was all about the breathing. Inhale through the nose, allowing the breath to extend all the way to the belly, and then exhale through the mouth, slow and steady. Focus on the breath. 


Following a very long minute of this preparation, of this rhythmic breathing I had trained myself to master, came the force from within me to break through a two-inch concrete block with an elbow strike. This was the final hurdle of many to earning my 1st level brown belt, I was seventeen, almost a senior in high school. I did it,  and it was hard.

Prior to my sophomore year in high school, I was an average student, and a below-average participant in extracurricular activities, one with very little focus or interest to speak of. 

The successful warrior is the average (wo)man, with laser-like focus. — Bruce Lee

Growing up, I was a secret connoisseur of old Bruce Lee martial arts films. I loved them. I decided one day to give it a go and learn for myself. You’re never too old or too young to try new things, right? I was both surprised and inspired to learn how focused I became after I started the martial arts journey, in all aspects of my young life. I became resilient to the inevitable failures of practicing martial arts and confident with each new level achieved. My high school grades changed from low Bs to high As. I decided to take Japanese my senior year, because it was interesting, and because it was relevant. A different culture and community of people outside of the school day was now open to me, and I devoured it. I found that my ability to manage time and commitments changed for the better as well. The confidence I gained was extraordinary; it helped me navigate the many years of college and work that followed, and it has stayed with me to this day. 

Real living is living for others. — Bruce Lee

Today I work with high school students. I see that when they engage with the world around them in meaningful ways, they grow too, and become more focused, and often gain purpose and direction.  

I meet with 17 and 18-year-old students regularly, and I read a lot of their college essays. This is one way I can glimpse into their life outside the classroom. I get to see what makes them tick and to see how they can hopefully contribute to this world. The students who are engaged in activities that extend outside of the classroom are often the ones who do have a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of self-worth.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. — Bruce Lee

Whether it is from the responsibility of a part-time job, competing in a sport, drumming in a punk band, traveling, volunteering, or teaching young white belts how to properly breathe as I did, students naturally come to realize how exposure to other cultures, collaboration with others, and service are invaluable life skills. They instinctively appreciate that these skills and the humility and resilience they gain from engaging in their community in myriad ways beyond school ultimately mean so much more to their self-worth and well-being than a letter grade in a class. The moments that change us in life are those experiences that are hard and new—those that leave us challenged, nervous, and scared. Yet often with practice and perseverance, we eventually succeed. When we step out of our comfort zones, mess up, and eventually get it, we grow as humans.

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.— Bruce Lee

Tara Miller

Tara Miller, M.Ed. is the lead college & career counselor at Stephen F. Austin High School, in Austin, Texas. She spent the first four years after college getting her feet wet in the world of college student advising at Austin Community College as an adviser to both traditional and nontraditional students. This led to her current role in the Austin Independent School District, where she continues to work with the Austin community in all aspects of post-secondary planning and advising. With over 19 years of experience, much of Tara’s continuing education and professional development, consists of travel to colleges in and outside of the US, where she continues to learn and gain experience in the ever evolving world of college and career readiness.