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Career or Calling: How a Professor Found His Calling at 51

By Rochelle Brenner

This is an introduction to an essay by Mr. Tim, the Head Instructor at Action Mt. Airy. Prior to earning his Black Belt from Action Karate, he trained extensively in Taekwondo. He enjoys and has taught archery at Awbury Arboretum. His wife is a black belt. His two kids are black belts. He runs a church out of his home and grew up running sub 5-minute miles in the hills of the Rift Valley, Kenya.

But for the longest time those were all hobbies. His day job for 20+ years was a 3d art teacher at several different universities. At age 51, he realized martial arts was more than a hobby.

Martial arts can help you discover your calling, Or it can be your calling. Either way, you will be challenged to identify the parts of your life you love, the ones you want to improve and the ones you want to pursue. Here is his story, in his words:

By Tim Wetzel:

I have been a teacher or leader for longer than I remember. Even when I was a kid, I know I was the one who often came up with the plan and figured out how we would get around the rules our parents had laid out for us. How would we get over the garage wall to the empty lot to build a fort?

Teaching & Leading is in my blood too. Both parents have been teachers. My father is a teacher of teachers! I was a resident assistant in high school and college. My first job out of college, I supervised a team of students not much younger than I. My roles of leadership and teaching continued into every other job I had.

I have been an instructor or professor for 20+ years. I taught college classes in 3d animation and modeling. I explained and demonstrated game design and game development. I enjoyed helping students create works of art. I really enjoyed learning new things and passing that knowledge on to my college students.

At the end of each day though, I went home. I graded student projects and dismissed them from my mind. I prepared for the next class and then set it aside. When I was asked about my classes, my answer began with how I enjoyed what I taught and then how I found many students frustrating to teach: lack of work ethic, turning in assignments late, cheating, or just not caring. I railed about how I didn’t understand how they could be that way.

Oh, I had good students and I loved to engage with them, to pull them upward and onward. But why weren’t they the ones I first thought of or talked about? I would go home and turn my mind away from what I had done in the day. It was a job, a paycheck. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part I enjoyed what I got out of my employment. I would have said that it was fulfilling.

A little over 3 years ago, I started leading at Karate. I was good at it. I was a teacher after all. I enjoyed being in front of the class, the control, and the continual learning of new content. Each week, I checked in – “What do you want me to teach this week?” I would take the challenge and teach it to the best of my ability. And when my classes were over, I would leave. After all, it was really, just another job. One I enjoyed and benefited greatly from, but still, just a job.

Then something started to change.

I don’t know if it was the students, the training or the loss of my professorship, but I started to come early to school, I started to talk with parents and students. I started to remember names, personalities, and histories, and I began to ask questions, to engage: “How was your test last week? How was your trip to the Poconos? And do you remember how you did that kick last week – that was amazingly high!”

I began to connect with each student more. I was starting to care. But I would go home and turn it off. The day was done. It was still a job.

2020 I started working at Action Karate Mt. Airy full time. At first, I felt overwhelmed and unsure. So much to learn and do – How do I text everyone? Where do we keep the gloves? Where are the curriculum files? How do I do…. – it was a lot. Each day I would finish my tasks and teaching and turn it all off. I was done for the day.

The other day, I was talking with a group of friends about my last 3 months at Action Karate. I was excitedly sharing about a single mom with a 3-year-old. I shared that I am so excited about how he is doing and how I can be a mentor for him. How I love to make sure my leaders know exactly how to help him. How I look for that student struggles to grasp the speed of the class and make sure she understands and connects with the class.

I reflect on each student and the potential I see in each. I am excited at what I can give each one so they become who they truly are.

And I am not really thinking about karate anymore.

I am thinking about how I can help each student become a better person individually. I can name them. [which is pretty amazing because I am notoriously bad at remembering names]

One of my friends said this: “Tim, in the many years I have known you, this is the first time I have heard you talk about your students in a positive way and in way that you truly care about their lives and where they are headed. It sounds like you have found your calling.” She continued, “You have always been a teacher, but now you have found your vocation.”

You know what, I think she is right. I am still growing into to it, and am still learning, but my job isn’t about me anymore, it’s about my students and my leaders. I want the best for my students, and I will make sure they get it. I want my leaders to achieve greater things than me. I still love my job, but I get excited and love helping people grow and thrive and change more. It’s my calling.

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