While I was subbing in P.E. last Friday, an adorable second grader approached me at the start of the very first class of the day and said with the utmost sincerity as she gave me a hug, “Mr. Naughton, I’m so glad you’re here. Old people are awesome!”

Travis Naughton

I wish I could have come up with something witty to say in response, but all I could do was laugh. A lot.

Although children seem to think I’m ancient, I take solace in the compliments I’ve received from several adults recently. Just yesterday, yet another person told me that I look like a teenager. The grey hairs on my 45 year-old head and face tell a different story, but after three months of exercising and eating and drinking right, I will admit that I do look a little younger than I did in 2016.

I don’t think I look like a teenager, but I almost feel like one. Yesterday I ran three miles in under 30 minutes, and when I stepped on my bathroom scale this morning, I weighed exactly what I did when I was 18 years-old. In the last 14 weeks, I’ve lost over 25 pounds, or 15% of my body weight. After dropping three inches from my waistline, I’m wearing the same size jeans I wore back in high school.

It may sound like I’m bragging, and maybe I am a little bit, but you know what? I’m pretty proud of the positive changes I’ve made in my life—and the results I’m seeing. On December 31, 2016, I was an out-of-shape, self-loathing, barely functioning alcoholic. Sure, I was a fairly decent father, husband, and friend, but why should anyone settle for being fairly decent when they could be great? Why should people settle for being anything less than the best version of themselves?

I’ve been asking my students that very question for years. Whenever a child acts in a self-destructive manner and can’t seem to get out of their own way, I try to pull them to the side and have an honest and important conversation with them. “What’s going on with you today, friend? Why are you behaving this way? I’ve known you for a while now, and I know this isn’t who you are.

“You, my friend, are a great person. And you can be great right now—but you have to choose to be great.

“Think about it: are you happy with the way you’re acting right now? Is this who you want to be? Of course not. But guess what: you can choose to do something about it right now. You can fix this. “You can choose to be better.

You can choose to do what you know is right, and you can choose to be happy. I believe in you, and I know you can do it. No one else can do it for you, though. You have to make it happen.”

I found out, at the ripe old age of 45, that this conversation works equally well with adults, too—especially with one’s own self. I guess this old person can still learn a thing or two—including how to be happy—which, if you ask me, is pretty awesome. My sweet and unintentionally hilarious friend in P.E., who I will see again later this week, will be happy to know that.