Don’t Stop Believin’

13 Oct

 

 

Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT

 

Changes are afoot!

It’s been a while since I posted anything, but as I reminded students all last term, “One thing at a time.”

My journey continues as I find myself taking a second job in order to help build my New York City fund.  That’s not the only reason I am taking this second job, but it’s a big part of the reason why I can dig down deep and find the will to work more.  I’m also excited about the opportunities this new job might open up, and even if it doesn’t end up being a direct stepping stone, it will be something I enjoy doing.  Or at the very least, something I learn from!

During my blogging hiatus I thought a lot about what it is I need in order to shape my life into something I really love, and last week I think I came up with some basic answers.  I was inspired to do so because, a few weeks ago, the head of the Academic Advising center where I teach asked me to give the key note address at our Honor’s Brunch.  So, last Friday I showed up with a Power Point presentation for a talk entitled “Success: How to Achieve and Maintain It.”

Those who know me would probably be surprised to know that I was scared to give the speech.  Why?  Because I don’t know that I know what success is, and because I was afraid of embarrassing my students in front of their guests if I didn’t know.  I need not have worried so much.

I explained to the audience that I think success is about the combination of attitude and action.  The three factors that I see as most important to achieving and maintaining success are: dreaming, trusting, and choosing.

 

Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT

 

This blog contributed to my first point – we need to give ourselves permission to dream big, we need to plan, and we need to adjust.  It always amazes me how inflexible people become when they don’t get exactly what they want, but then for a large part of my life, I’ve been one of those people.  It wasn’t until I realized that the branches on a tree that survive the storm, are the ones that bend and sway when the storm hits.  The ones that lack flexibility are the ones that crack and come crashing to the ground only to wind up in the wood chipper.

Motivational or depressing?  You make the call.

The second point I made was that we need to learn to trust.  Mainly, we need to learn to trust ourselves, and this is a constant struggle – for me, anyway.

 

Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT

 

D. once told me that the key to happiness is to “…do what you want to do, and don’t do what you don’t want to do.”  The first time he said this to me, I got defensive because it sounds like such a selfish life philosophy.  There are many things I don’t want to do, but are necessary if I want to live within civil society!  Over the past year, I’ve done some very deep soul searching about this, though, and I’ve realized that he’s right.

Everything I want to do is what makes me happy, and everything I don’t want to do ends up undermining my confidence in myself and leaving me feeling unhappy.  I may not love the administrative work related to teaching [recording grades, filling out forms, or attending meetings], but I love reading my students work, seeing evidence of their successes, and feeling like I’ve contributed to making our school a better place in which to get an education.  So, when I really think about it, I am always doing what I want to do – even when I think I’d rather be doing something else.

I think the key to trusting oneself is to follow your heart.  When you are doing what is right for you – you know it.  You feel it.

However, in order to be able to trust yourself, you also have to build a network of people who are willing to give you unwavering support, honest feedback, and the gift of truth — even when it hurts a little.  And you have to be able to trust that those people are the ones whose investment in you is in helping you find a way to express your authentic self and live a life that makes you happy.  However, you also have to realize that each individual has their own wants, needs, hopes and fears, and that sometimes even the best intentions of the people you trust will conflict with what you feel is right for you. That’s when you have to trust yourself.

As I told my audience, “You need to know that everything that has to do with your life – who you are, how you behave, what you believe and feel – is all about you, and everything that is outside of “you” has absolutely nothing to do with you.”  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  Believe me.  I know.

 

Slide by MAG, Photo by Sandra Arundini

 

The third point I made was that life is all about choosing.  Many people argue that emotions are not things that can be controlled, and on some basic level they are right.  It’s  not the emotion that can be controlled, it’s the choices about how to express those emotions that are absolutely within our control. Every single reaction, emotion, and response to every situation in our lives is about choice.

We shape our own reality.

A few terms ago, I had a student in one of my classes who was my resident skeptic.  She didn’t believe a lot of what I was teaching because it didn’t fit her view of the world, and I recognized that it was partly because she needed her views in order to fortify her own well-developed defenses.  What was interesting to me was that she never missed a class, failed to complete an assignment or hesitated to participate in a discussion.  She just needed to find her own way and all I could do was supply the information she’d need to make her own choices.

On the last day of class, I asked the students to write an honest review of the class, the materials, and the teaching methods.  I explained that since I had been evaluating them all term, it was only fair that they have the opportunity to evaluate me.  This is a difficult exercise for a lot of people because we are taught to say what we think we should say rather than what we really think. Students, in particular, don’t want to say anything critical because they recognize that they are not in positions of power, and critical comments could adversely affect their grade.  However, one of my basic beliefs is that honest feedback should always be welcomed because it’s the only way we ever learn anything.  As a result, I try and model the kind of behavior that instills trust – and then teach students diplomatic ways of expressing their truths.

My skeptic hemmed and hawed about writing the review and proclaimed, several times, “I just can’t write it, Ms. G!”  I assured her that I had no doubt that she could write it, but that she was choosing not to.  I finally reminded her that if she chose not to complete the assignment, the consequence would be that she’d lose the points.  After about 30 minutes of protesting, she got down to some serious writing.  Her responses about the class and the materials were helpful, but it was her response to the teaching methods that was fascinating.

She complimented me for directing the class and maintaining a stable, peaceful environment in the classroom, and then she added, “What probably needs improvement is her perception of reality (I guess).  She has her own opinion and she needs to be more open to the real world.  I think she lives in her own little optimistic, chirpy bubble.”

I stared at the paper for a few seconds, and then I started laughing out loud – at myself! She was right, I do choose optimism!  I choose to see the good in people and situations, I try to be understanding of human frailties, and I try to be kind whenever I can – we’re all fighting a hard battle. I recognize that this can be frustrating and annoying to those who choose to see the glass as half empty because it conflicts with their protective mechanisms.  I explained to the audience that I could see how many instructors might view this kind of statement from a student as overly critical, and they would act defensively, and that I understand why they would.  However, I chose to see my skeptic’s assessment as an indication of the trust she had placed in me – she trusted that she could tell me what she really thought, and that I would read it with an open mind and understand.

I did.  Whether or not she intended it to, it took my breath away.

To sum up my talk, I put up a slide that contained the words to a poem that is commonly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but was actually written by a woman named Bessie Stanley.  The poem is called “Success.”

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of
false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden
patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

We all have the potential to be successful.  We just have to have the courage of our convictions and do what makes us happy — the rest will follow naturally.

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