This is an article I was tasked with writing in a recent class I took. The course is titled Work as a Personal Journey and we were assigned to “imagine that a magazine (of your choosing) is going to do an article on your life and work and sends someone to interview you.” I found this an easy topic at first due to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience. However, there was an extensive list of criteria and prompts to include that teased out a much greater understanding of who we see ourselves as, and what we value and envision in our future. Here it is for your consideration:
A Journey Worth Taking is Never Complete…
By Michael “SY” Sisemore
It has often been said that a “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is certainly true of the journey that has been taken by Doctorate student and high school educator Michael “SY” Sisemore. More specifically, Sisemore tells Outside Magazine that this journey “…is ongoing…” and is nowhere close to being completed. SY, as he is more commonly addressed, looks at the journey of life, as a series of segments that provide an array of challenges, intentions, encounters, and goals. This journey of his was revealed to me recently, when an article was published in a local Upper Valley newspaper that featured his 12-year-old daughter Natalie. She and her father, SY, had just completed their final climb to the last summit (Mt. Moriah)0 of New Hampshire’s 48 tallest mountains. Completing what is commonly known as the NH 48 4K (mountains higher than 4,000′ in elevation) is a big deal, and even more so for a 12-year-old.
Introducing Challenges and Opportunities…
Our readers regularly ask for stories about adults who make a difference, and are bringing the next generation into the outside. Sisemore is doing just that with his daughter, but also with his students. For three years in a row, he has organized the entire freshman class of the high school he teaches at; and has taken them on a hike up Mt. Kearsarge- in Wilmot, NH. It is only a 4-mile round trip, but as Sisemore tells us, “for many of these kids, it is the first time they have ever set foot on a trail of any kind.”
Sisemore compares the hike to their time at high school. For some they will race to the top seemingly without effort, others will have to work harder but will still enjoy it and have a good time with their friends, a few of them will struggle a great deal, and may want to quit. But with determination and the support of others, they can persevere and make it. So far over 450 kids have made this hike with only 2 or 3 not making it all the way to the top. “Introducing kids to the outdoors is something that I am especially happy to do. I struggle to say that it is a source of pride, but it is incredibly rewarding, and I believe they see and feel the value in making this hike. It also provides them a chance to bond with each other, and several staff members in an environment away from classrooms.”
Seizing the Opportunity…
Hiking and being in the outdoors has been a big part of who Sisemore is since he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1999. Once his daughter was of an age to begin her own steps on a trail, he seized the opportunity. Natalie hiked her first mountain, Sunapee, at the age of 3; her first 4,000’r at 9 (Mt. Moosilauke) and has even hiked to the summit of Katahdin in Maine, at the age of 11. “She is the best hiking partner a dad could want. We have grown very close and it is a pretty cool way to bond with my little girl.” Hiking in the White Mountains of NH is rarely a simple thing. This is some of the most rugged and aggressive terrain in the East Coast. Many of the trails here have claimed hikers’ lives, and each year several people die, or are severely injured in these mountains. “Natalie is a natural. She has a wonderful manner about her, and has embraced the hiking world. It has taught her to be nimble, resilient, decisive, and strong. I use the hashtag #notasnowflake when I post pictures of her. The youth of today often gets labelled as fragile, ineffective, over entitled brats. But who makes them that? Not me.”
The Journey leads to adventure and Family…
I am having drinks at the place where SY, and his accomplice in life (as he calls her) Amber, and Natalie call home. They live in the semi-rural town of Sunapee, NH not far from a private beach and Mt. Sunapee, a very popular skiing destination, where he works as a snowboard instructor. Inside the 1850’s cape are many projects in various stages of completion, he works on them as he feels interest, and as time allows. The walls have many images of their travels and adventures together, and of himself and his daughter hiking and exploring NH’s mountains. His favorite photo is of Natalie at the age of 9, the sun is backlighting her in the woods, and the image is slightly out of focus, giving it an ethereal look. It could be any kid really “but she was singing to herself and looked so at peace with the world. I was lucky to get this picture, it is her true self.”
One of their most prized items hangs on an upstairs wall. It is an original sign board from 5’Olde Nugget Alley, a long-time institution (now closed) in Hanover, NH that represents so much of their lives. “We were introduced there, right after I moved to Hanover, from Georgia, after completing the AT in 1999. We spent countless nights and afternoons at 5’Olde. So many friends were there, we knew the owners, and all the regulars. Our lives as a couple began there and allowed us to truly grow as a family. We are nothing without the human connections that we make on our life’s journey.”
He was given the artifact by a friend, who rescued it from the dump, when the establishment was closed after many decades. “I owe most of what I have in my life today, to a few people who have made a huge impact on me. Amber is the capstone that has allowed me to be who I am. She has encouraged me to pursue challenges and opportunities that I may not have on my own.” Sisemore believes that with incentive and motivation, the human element can accomplish nearly anything. Wealth and power may incentivize some, but those are fleeting and elusive pearls of success. Friends and relationships are where the real treasures of life will be found, easily held onto, and nurtured to bring a richness that economics cannot quantify.
It is easy to appreciate the intimate ease that SY and his partner Amber carry their relationship. It is clearly one of independence and an awareness of self, but has an intense strength and reliance of two people who have combined their intricate identities into a symbiotic symmetry that works well for them and their daughter. “We know who we are, but more importantly, we understand that we are individuals as well as a family. We all need to do our own thing occasionally. And that’s okay.”
A Life’s Work…
You have a very strong grasp on your personal life, what is going on in your professional life, where are you focusing your energies and interests? I have had a few careers in the past, really, but they were just jobs. A means to an end most of them were. At the time is was okay. I find that I am inherently lazy when it comes to being motivated to do certain things. The most important factors that motivate me these days are other people, not simply monetary gains. What I do now I consider to be my life’s work, a continual pursuit of skills and abilities to enhance my professional presence. Being an educator is a process of exploring knowledge and people. Teachers are not just repositories of information, designed to deliver it to students. We should continually pursue learning and push our own understanding of we are not growing ourselves, how can we expect to nurture or encourage others to challenge themselves.
Teaching is incredibly complicated and relies upon relationships and sincere interactions to be highly effective. I find students to be a fantastic mirror to our abilities. They provide great challenges and motivational inspiration to be better at what we do/. They will be stark and honest in their feedback if they trust you.
The world of education is where I have found and developed my work passion. The rewards are far more that financial in nature. Which is a good thing, as teaching does not pay particularly well. I think that passion allows our work to transcend the idea of a jobs burdens.
One of my best achievements is discovering and becoming me, my true self. This part of my journey was arduous, transformative, opened many doors and opportunities. This achievement is forever connected to the most difficult time of my life. A difficult divorce after 10 years in a miserable relationship led to a desperate search for purpose and joy in life. The divorce was the end of one life segment and the beginning, or catalyst to start another, better existence. The search took place on the AT, and involved a complete severing of all prior ties to friends, and community. A literal manifestation of the idea that we can “walk away from it all.”
That’s a great sense of awareness that you have. Considering that, what would you tell your younger self if you could? “Oh, that is an easy one! I would say-RUN AWAY NOW!!! And put every cent you have into Apple Stock.” Winning on both fronts there. Brilliant advice to be sure. What would you tell our readers, a piece of advice or wisdom that you could pass on? I would encourage them to not take things too seriously, laugh at yourself and your mistakes, chill out, have fun with your friends, talk to strangers, listen to loud music, and go outside every chance you get.”
What do you see in your future? “I am going to be better then than I am today, strive to be as good a dad and accomplice in life as I can, change the way high school is conducted, and in two years I will sachet across the stage and accept my Doctorate in Education. This will happen.”