Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fresh Starts and Broken Hearts

When people think of the phrase "fresh start" it conjures positive images.  I always think of new life, grass and flowers, springtime, and infinite sunshine.  Most fresh starts, however, do not begin in fertile soil already tilled to perfection.  They originate in the hardscrabble, rocky dirt of brokenness and neglect.  Fresh starts begin in desolate, bereft fields full of potential but not much else. They are fields that require intense hard work to make them ready for new growth.

This morning my friend told me that without the knowledge of the opposite thing, a person never really knows the truth of the original object.  Fresh starts are born of this knowledge, this slide along the spectrum of emotion.  They come from having known both happiness and sadness, right and wrong, light and dark.  The desire to move back into the lighter aspect of the spectrum from the darker end creates the catalyst for positive change.  It is what motivates a person to begin the painstaking work of digging out the rocks and weeds in one's life to prepare a field for newness and growth.

I never regret feeling badly about things that go awry, people that disappoint me, or failing myself through my own behaviors.  Being upset, hurt, or angry allow me to understand myself better, to have a deeper knowledge of the truth of the entire emotional spectrum, to acknowledge that for which I am grateful just as much as being happy, joyful, or peaceful do. Life is a series of fresh starts.  It is, by turns, fields in their full glory of blooming health and barren scraps of dirt and desolation. You can't have one thing without the other, and I want it all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Second-Guessing My First Impression

I think we are all our own worst critics.  Second-guessing oneself is such a hard thing not to engage in and often it becomes difficult to clearly assess our actions because we cannot see ourselves as well as others do. We have too much floating inside our heads that obscures the view.  Thoughts whisper that this could have been stated better or that could have gone more smoothly. The whispers increase in volume until all one hears is the criticism and none of the truth. Second-guessing sucks and it really holds no true value or benefit for a person. It doesn't motivate oneself to do better, it just causes excessive worry over things outside of one's control and tears down one's self esteem.

I sincerely wish that I could correctly gauge my performance in interacting with other people.  Speaking with people is purely subjective.  How I see myself when engaging with others isn't how they view me.  They form their own opinions based on their reactions to what I say and do, and all of it is personal. There are no benchmarks and standards to hit, no discrete objectives to definitely accomplish in conversing and interacting with others. Sometimes I desperately wish there were.

I remember performing clarinet solos and being nervous about performing in front of judges. I wanted to come across as poised, skilled, and confident. The good thing about sharing a skill, however is that I knew if I played each note correctly, kept time accurately, and did what I was supposed to do, I could accurately discern what my score would be and what kind of impression I had made on the judges.  Engaging with people has no objective standards as such, so it is much more open to interpretation and self-criticism.

The best thing I can do when trying to assess the impression I make upon other people is to not think about it.  It is over and done with and how others perceive me is beyond my control.  The proverbial milk has already been spilled and how others react to it is up to them.  It is out of my  hands and there is no sense in worrying about what has already happened, second-guessing one's actions, or even attempting to interpret what another person thinks.  It wastes emotional and mental energy that could be best put to use elsewhere and only creates a fertile breeding ground for self-doubt and negative self-talk. So I'm just letting it all go.  It is what it is and what is done is done. I am not going give space in my head to over-analysis and rethinking.

Besides, as long as I am honest in my presentation of self, genuine and sincere in my thought and behavior, and being authentically me, there is no room for second-guessing my first impression.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Someone Who Made A Difference

Teaching has infinite rewards.

At the end of my grandfather's memorial service, my mother, my father, my sister and I stood in a receiving line to accept condolences.  Most of the people who hugged us and shook our hands we knew well, many recalling stories of my grandpa and recounting what an amazing man he had been.  As the line thinned, a man in his late sixties slowly walked up to my mother, his face etched with sadness.  None of us recognized him, but we could see that my grandfather's death had profoundly affected him in some way.  As he shook my mother's hand he said, "You don't know me, but when I read about Mr. Mayfield's passing, I had to come and pay my respects. That man changed my life and I wouldn't be here today if it were not for him."

He had driven several hours to attend the funeral of his high school science teacher and coach, fifty years after having been his student. Fifty years! It's such a long time to have held someone you never saw again in such high regard.  The man related to us that as a teenager he had been troubled and in trouble and that my grandfather took an interest in his well-being.  He recalled vividly one day when my grandpa took him aside and basically laid out what would happen to the young man if he did not straighten up and begin taking life seriously.  He had also reassured the boy that he was valuable and worthwhile and deserved to have good things in his life and therefore needed to work towards success. The attention my grandfather showed him as well as this particular conversation stayed with this man for his entire life, and he credited my grandpa with putting him on the right track and changing his view of himself and his abilities forever.  Because my grandfather had "saved" his life, he owed it to him to say goodbye and he told my mother that it had been a privilege to know my grandfather.

I could help but cry at his story.  I cried in acknowledgement that I would miss my grandfather forever as well as knowing that he would be immortal through the lives he had touched.  My family knew how amazing my grandfather had been. They knew the obstacles he had overcome to develop into a strong, moral, kind and productive man.  Being young as I was, I hadn't realized that he had touched so many more lives than my own, and he had touched them so deeply as to leave life-long impressions.  In that moment, I knew that being a teacher, regardless of its hardships and difficulties and lack of respect, was a career that had  infinite rewards.

It is a privilege to be an educator. It is not a career that comes with wealth, prestige, or even respect, but it is still a gift to be able to influence, to shape, and to develop young minds. Not everyone is given the opportunity to touch the lives of so many in good and positive ways.  It is a powerful position, even though society often does not recognize it as such., and with great power comes great responsibility.  The good teachers realize this, and like my grandfather, they strive everyday to do what is right and best for each student that crosses their paths.  They understand the ripple effect of their actions, recognizing that what they do and say can last a lifetime for some students. They know that they may not ever see the flowers bloom from the seeds they planted, and they accept the fact that the rewards of teaching aren't immediate or even consistent. Yet they persevere anyway, connected to the big picture, the long duration of time--knowing that in some way, somewhere along the line they will have made a difference in the lives of their kids.

The lucky educators hear a thank you now and then, they may get flowers on Teacher Appreciation Day, or acknowledgement from administrators and professional organizations for a job well done.  Mostly, however, the true rewards come when they get to see the fruit of their labors in young people who go on to college, to build careers and families, and to live happy lives.  Teaching is not a job meant for just anyone.  It takes a special person to realize there are things more important than monetary gain or social prestige or hearing thank you.  I count myself as one of the privileged and the lucky to have chosen a career in education.  It is something I have never regretted and I can only hope that when my memorial service happens many, many years from now that I am remembered as my grandfather was remembered--someone who made a difference.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Not Quite The Advice You Wanted

I have a friend who is about sixteen years younger than me.  We have the most interesting conversations because we come from such disparate backgrounds, yet we have a lot of things in common, especially personality types. He often comes to me for advice about things because for some reason he believes that I have all my shit together. He couldn't be further from the truth and I tell him as much, but he still wants to know my perspective regarding how he should handle certain situations. So I try my best to give him my honest opinion.  It generally all boils down to me telling him that he's young yet and as life progresses he'll gain a better understanding of what he should do.  Advice is helpful on occasion, but it doesn't replace learning lessons on your own.

Currently, he's been agitated about the direction of his life and concerned about his level of motivation and dedication regarding work that he'd rather not do.  He wanted me to write about how to motivate oneself to work harder, to graciously accept responsibilities and obligations, to be happy with what is. I could do that, write a general article about motivation, but I think his problem is something deeper than just motivation.

 He's having what I would consider a quarter-life crisis.  I don't think he's particularly happy with his current situation and feels somewhat trapped by his circumstances.  Even though many people would find his circumstances enviable as he has a career with room for growth, financial security, and strong familial and religious ties, he's unsatisfied with his life because he's not in charge of it.  This dissatisfaction manifests itself in seeking constant distractions, a lack of concentration and follow-through, and a general sense of ennui. Even though he'd never admit it, I think he might be a little depressed. I've been there, done that, and bought more than one t-shirt. I know the signs.

I don't think he'll listen to the advice I am going to give him.  I don't know that he's ready to hear it, and even if he is, he's definitely not ready to act upon it, but I'm going to give it to him anyway.  In order for him to be happier, more focused, motivated and productive, he has to figure out what he really wants to do with his life. He needs to prioritize what is most important and then regardless of whomever it displeases, act upon attaining those things.  He is caught at a crossroads of sorts.  If he chooses to go after what he really wants to do, something creative, dynamic, and ultimately self-satisfying, he will disappoint those people in his life whom he loves most.  They have a different agenda and timeline they believe he should follow.  I think he should do what he wants.

One thing I've learned over the course of my life is that if a person spends his time pleasing everyone but himself, no one gets their happy ending. Devoting one's energy to making sure everyone else is content leaves very few resources to ensuring one's own contentment.  Unhappy people cannot create lasting joy for others if they themselves aren't happy. Discontent will manifest in a variety of ways even though people try their damndest to reconcile what they are doing with what they actually want, and everyone feels it and sees it.

My advice is that he needs not to fear the consequences of choosing his own way.  The people who love us generally just want us to be happy, productive and satisfied.  They eventually get over not being in charge or being disappointed when they see the positive end result.  He needs to have faith in his own ability to  make wise and sound decisions regarding the trajectory of his life.  He needs the courage to live it as he sees fit, incorporating those things that work, removing those things that don't and discovering new elements that will add positively to it.  Looking back, I have instances in my life where I would have done things differently.  I would have made decisions based solely on my own interests and needs as opposed to doing those things I knew would please others. If I had, my life might have been quite different in regard to my personal levels of satisfaction and my levels of confidence.  So, instead of motivational advice for doing things you don't want to do, I hope he accepts this heartfelt advice on living an authentic life where he's happy and where it's his satisfaction with life, rather than his acquiescence to others' desires that make the people in his life happy too.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Everyday Can Be Saturday

Everyday can be a Saturday.

I like reading my Facebook feed on Saturdays.  I have about three hundred friends on the social media site and while not all of them actively post, it seems more people than not write something on Saturdays. Most of the updates on Saturday have a typical theme of spending time with family and friends engaged in something relaxing and fun. People are hiking, camping, going for motorcycle rides, attending events with children, having dinner parties or going out with a group of friends. Regardless of how rough or mundane or tiring the previous week had been, almost to a person, people share optimistic, excited, and entertaining news with one another.  It's quite possibly the happiest day of the week and I like sharing in that.  Even people who use their Saturdays to catch up on household chores or running errands have a light-hearted approach, as if for twenty-four hours the potential of what one could do, takes over and all is well with the world.

Even though its still the weekend, I don't think people enjoy Sundays as much.  There are quite a few family-oriented posts on Sunday, but Monday looms ahead in a few short hours so the inherent joy of the day is somewhat tainted with the knowledge that the weekly grind is about to begin.  Unlike Sunday bordered by work, school or obligation, Saturday is time suspended.  It is an insulated bubble where work has been left behind on one end and is far enough in the future to forget about it for awhile. I think it would be amazing to maintain that feeling every day--the positive feeling of potential.  

Why do people compartmentalize their time as much as they do? Why do they imbue certain hours with certain emotions and other hours with something completely different?.  An hour on a Tuesday afternoon is the same hour on a Saturday afternoon.  It's just how we frame it in our minds.  It's how we package time and how we distribute our feelings regarding time.  Most people don't even realize they do this--really live for twenty four hours in the middle of the weekend and just function the other six days of the week.

I would love reading random, happy Monday morning posts and exuberant Thursday afternoon updates. Everyday should be treated like a Saturday.  Every hour, minute, and second has the potential to be amazing. We just need to think of it that way.  Time isn't just something to be slogged through, it's something to be embraced and enjoyed.  Just because it is expected that people hate Mondays doesn't mean that we all have to have a bad attitude about it.  It's going to happen every week anyway.  We aren't going to wake up one morning and realize that Monday has ceased to exist. What we need to do is not change the Monday we are looking at, but change how we look at it.  It's all about taking time and framing it in the best possible way. Time is an artificial construct anyway, so why not bend it to our liking, rather than bend to it? Make every day feel like a Saturday.  Feel the potential of the new day when you wake and keep the thought that every moment can be special in the forefront of your mind.  You might just surprise yourself in how much you begin to enjoy the other six days of the week.