At Minnesota School of Business-St. Cloud (MSB), you may be working toward a degree in veterinary technology, accounting or health care management, but what writing instructor Jeff Carmack wants you to know is that writing is an essential form of communication that will help you regardless of your profession. Oh, and by the way, it’s a great way to describe the variety of experiences he strongly advises you to seek out in your life.
Carmack is in a good position to give advice on life experiences, boasting a colorful resume which includes studying with Buddhists and beat poets, working as a taxi driver, barista and radio personality, and receiving a first place award from the
Associated Press for a documentary on Camphill Village in Sauk Center, Minn.
Life Lesson #1: Be Open to Possibility—aka—you don’t always know where you are going until you get there
Carmack has traveled and lived in various parts of the country in his quest to figure out “what I wanted to do with my life,” including New Orleans and Boulder, Colo. The people he’s met along the way and the diversity of experiences he’s enjoyed contribute to the professional he’s become. For example, from Naropa University and the school of poetics founded by Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, he learned to “notice what you notice” and utilizes this philosophy in the classroom, even when analyzing the position of a comma in a sentence. From being a taxi driver in Iowa City, he learned how to “creatively” talk people into giving him $20 tips, but also how to recognize when it is time to move on.
“From this job,” he says, “I learned much about human nature and being in the moment, but I also learned that there is always a time to move on. I have numerous friends back in those days because we shared some very strange experiences, but I am very glad that I decided I didn’t want to be on that path any longer and took the risk of leaving.”
All of his jobs and experiences, reflects Carmack, “taught me much about myself and allowed me to open up further opportunities along my path. I try to convey this to my students. You never know where you are going until you get there, and learning everything you can along the way will be the thing that gets you there.”
Life Lesson #2: Yes, Writing Matters
“Writing is a basic form of communication that we all depend on regardless of profession,” Carmack reminds his students. “Accurate communication is one of the most important issues that we all face both professionally and personally. Professionally, this is a matter of being more of an asset than a liability to your organization. If someone is constantly making communication mistakes, that person will eventually be looked at as a liability to the organization, and, well, how long is that person going to be around? On the positive side, if someone has a great idea, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to communicate the idea accurately and add to the organization?
Within our personal lives,” he adds, “we can also be an asset to ourselves and our friends and family through accurate communication. The logic and creativity of being able to express an accurate answer to ‘how are you doing?’ can be pretty important if we aren’t doing too well. Conversely, when a wonderful thing happens, it feels pretty good to be able to accurately tell someone about it.
Life Lesson #3: Be the Difference You Want to See in the World
With a tip of his hat to Gandhi, Carmack says that making a difference in the world is actually pretty easy, and you should do it. He regularly helps out with various non-profits in the community and has worked for both Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity and Boys and Girls Club. His work at KVSC radio in St. Cloud, Minn., also began as volunteering as, “the voice of the community.” His music shows then expanded to storytelling and further opportunities like a grant and employment as the Arts and Cultural Heritage Producer at KVSC (see Life Lesson #1) and recently landed him acclaim and the Minnesota Associated Press Award for Documentary/Investigative Reporting. (He also has been nominated for the St. Cloud Times “Best of Central Minnesota” Radio Personality.) Another grant-funded success includes the KVSC Granite City Radio Theater, which now partners with Pioneer Place Theater in downtown St. Cloud.
Life Lesson #4: Learning is Life. “I enjoy making up assignments that challenge the students to integrate what they are learning into their real world lives,” says Carmack. “Writing is about experience, and I’ve found that there are a lot of common experiences out there of which our students are mostly unaware. I aim to change that.”