The Devil is in the Dirty Work

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Lately I’ve been realizing that I need to do more.  In pretty much every area of my life.  More cardio.  More planning.  More thoughtful gestures.

The thing is, in each of the areas of my life I’m sitting at at an OK level.  My body doesn’t look terrible, and I can pull off a tight dress if I want to.  My teaching meets acceptable standards, and I am confident that my students are learning things in my classroom.  My relationships are all fairly solid, and I know that there are few, if any people who would have bad things to say about me.

But come on—this is a scenario that is easily applied to SO many other people, and dammit, I want to be at the TOP.

This is something that I’ve written about before, and sometimes it’s frustrating because I have the personality where if I feel that something needs to get done, than dang it, I’m going to try to get it done NOW.

But I’m slowly starting to realize that transformations like this cannot be accomplished NOW.  They are not a one time thing.  Rather, they are achieved through DAILY dedication and eventual mastery of the habits and mindsets that only the great people have.

Which means that you have to do the dirty work.

Every single day.

It’s one thing to set your alarm for 6am on a Saturday morning and go for a long run and feel accomplished about it all week.  It’s another to consistently get up at 5am and get your cardio in and go to the gym after work for weights and watch what you eat every day not just weekends and do that day in and day out and never. ever. falter.

That shit is HARD.

It isn’t fun AT ALL.

Yet the people who have enviable physiques, lives, and results all do the unenviable on a daily basis.

It all comes down to a decision.  It’s really that simple.  When the moment comes, you can either decide to do the thing that is hard or do the thing that is easy.  And so, so, so many people choose easy.  Hell, I choose easy a lot of the time.  It’s easy to pop in a couple chocolate covered raisins rather than resist.  It’s easy to “forget” to go on the stairmaster. It’s easy to throw together a plan last minute and call it “good enough”.

But every single person that I read about who is winning chooses hard.  Not because they are a masochist or because they think that the more pain they put themselves in the more noble they are, but because they know that that is what it takes.

Most people can’t see past the immediate.  They see the sweat and sacrifice and do an about-face.  But nothing great was every accomplished by retreat, and we need to forge our own warriors mentality with everything that we do.  Battles are not won only on the battlefield, but during every day that leads up to the final epic clash.

So how do you ensure that you will, in fact, be victorious on the battlefield?

Become a leader.  I was listening to a podcast by Andy Frisella on how leadership isn’t about bossing people around but being willing to do the smallest of things every single day.  Essentially, if you are a true leader, you may have someone assigned to do the dirty work but if you see it needs to be done, YOU do it.  Practicing doing what needs to be done on a daily basis, regardless of who is ‘supposed’ to do or when it ‘should’ have been done is a surefire way to ensure self-respect.  And people who have massive amounts of self-respect are unstoppable.

Stop the excuses.  There are so many times I have told myself “It’s Friday…one treat won’t hurt” or “I did a really hard workout today, I don’t need that extra cardio.”  If you want better than normal results, you have to put in more than normal effort.  This is a hard and fast rule that really can’t be bent, broken, or manipulated.  Our excuses are like fast food-convenient in the moment but over time they add up to a shitty lifestyle and a fat ass, neither of which are appealing.

Educate yourself.  If my goal is to be the next female body builder, I could dedicate myself to running and eating low calorie all day long, but I will never achieve the results I want.  I have to be willing to spend money on the best trainers, dedicate time to researching my nutrition and exercise, and constantly be prowling for the best and newest information.  Learning does not stop after we graduate high school or college.  If you want to truly succeed, you must constantly try to learn new things.

Do the dirty work.  I cannot stress this point enough (especially to myself).  I cannot expect to accomplish any of my grand ideals if I don’t grab a shovel and start clearing the hole for a solid foundation.  And once that foundation is made, I need to grab a hammer and nails and start building.  And once the structure is made, the drywall needs to be hung.  And so on and so forth.  The point is, you can image the most beautiful house in the world, but if you don’t actually break a sweat to get it done, it will remain naught but a fantasy.

Everyone in this world has a vision of what they would ideally like their life to be, but there are only a few who actually roll up their sleeves and dig in enough to make it happen.  We have one life.  Why wouldn’t you brave a few cobwebs and dust bunnies to uncover the potential treasure trove that lies beneath?

Grab a shovel, friends.  It’s time to get dirty.

 

 

 

Routine: The Essential Ingredient for Success

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It’s been summer vacation now for exactly two weeks.  It’s been amazing to have time to do whatever I want to do, and in those two weeks I’ve been to Orlando with fellow bloggers, partied it up in Vegas with my awesome friends, celebrated, and I mean CELEBRATED, the 4th of July, and squeezed various other fun summer activities inbetween.

The one thing that I haven’t been is productive.  I am out of my normal routine, so I’ve been seriously slacking the the fitness department, completely forgotten about my real estate venture, and haven’t made a dent in any of my books I was eagerly anticipating reading this summer.

In short, in everything besides enjoying myself, I’ve been a complete failure.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time to decompress and shake the manacles of stress off your ankles after a long, hard slog.  But at some point, there needs to be a ‘come to Jesus’ moment where your life straightens back out.  And for that to happen, it is absolutely essential to have a routine.

Having a routine gets a bad rap.  Oftentimes sticking to a schedule means that you are viewed as someone who is unable to be flexible with planning or considered someone who is No Fun.  However, having a specific plan for each day of the week is the best, nay, the ONLY way to reach your goals that you have set for yourself.

Having a routine ensures consistency.  If you have ever tried to lose weight or make some gainz, you know 100% that you will NEVER reach your goal if you are not consistent.  Eating a healthy amount of nutrient dense food as a habit ensures a lower body percentage just as a regular gym routine lends itself to increasing muscle density.  In the same manner setting aside specific times to work on whatever you want to accomplish (and keeping those times sacred) is the only way to ensure steady progress towards those goals.

Consistency is the key aspect that can make or break a long-term play.  Once the steady pace is broken, the momentum falters, and it takes quite a bit to get it going again.  Keeping all your goals in forward motion is the key to gathering speed and cutting down on time and effort once things really get going.

Having a routine does allow you to be flexible.  If you know that you always read an hour before bedtime, even on Fridays, but all of your friends are checking out the new wine bar opening on Friday, all you need to do is simply move up your hour of reading or break it up during the day to get it done.  If you have established that something is important enough to you to get it done on a daily or weekly basis, you will find the time to fit it in if other things come up.

Flexibility is the key to not going insane.  There are some routines that should never be compromised (such as brushing your teeth or hitting the gym/being active every week), but having specific tasks to accomplish shouldn’t mean that every aspect of that task is set in stone every.  Being rigid in what you want to accomplish and soft on how you accomplish it at times is a recipe for success in all aspects of your life.

Having a routine guarantees results.  If you do something on a regular basis, there is no way that that dedication will not show.  Read ten pages every day, and eventually you WILL finish the book.  Read ten pages today, then 6 pages next Friday, then 15 pages in a month, and that book may still be sitting on your nightstand two months from now.

On the flip side, your results may come from negative routines.  Sit on your butt in front of the TV every night munching on Cheetos, and there is a 100% chance you will end up fat with unhealthy innards.  Simply show up to your job, do what you are told to do, and then skedaddle home will guarantee that you are in that exact same position 20 years from now.  You get what you give, and if you consistently give your mind, body, and soul all the wrong things, it can only reflect that negativity back to you.

Overall, we as humans need to have a routine in order to feel satisfied.  Even if their lives are chaotic and they are in France today, China next month, and back home only sporadically in-between, healthy people make sure that they have set patterns within the turmoil.  This may be always completing a room workout no matter where they land, or making sure to take 10 minutes morning and night to meditate and reflect on their day.

No matter what you need to set in place for yourself in order to feel accomplished and continually grow, the fact remains that there does need to be some regularity held sacred in order for the benefits of routine to be the most potent.  

Think  about where you want to be.  Everything starts from this knowledge.  If you have a clear vision of where you’re going, it is much easier to read the map to get there.  While you may end up somewhere pretty cool simply by wandering the streets, it is more likely that you’ll end up taking a wrong turn and stumbling down the alleyway on the wrong side of an invisible territory line.

The great thing is, you can know where you want to go and still enjoy the scenery and unexpected detours along the way.  Perhaps you weren’t expecting the croissant shop that materialized on your way to the Eiffel Tower, but you can still savor the warm pastry while navigating the streets towards your destination.

Life is a balance between enjoying the journey and accomplishing an end goal, and the reality is that if you are continually growing, you will never reach 100% of your goals right away because they will get bigger and better.  Life is 99% the experiences along the way to that 1% goal.  Routine will push you to reach that 1% while still allowing full exploration of that other 99% if the right attitude is put in place.

Don’t be afraid of committing to different patterns for different times in your life, but don’t make those lines so rigid they can never be crossed.  Live your BEST life, and set up the parameters to make that possible.

 

Nobody Cares if You’re Motivated

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The past couple of weeks, I have been mentally out of the discipline game.  I haven’t gone off the deep end where I’m running around eating, drinking, and doing whatever I want, but I feel like I definitely have allowed myself a lot more slack than I normally do.

This might not be the end of the world, but for me, who is used to carrying things out in a timely and orderly fashion, I can completely tell that I am not at the top of my game, and I hate it.  I have so many things that I want to accomplish, yet I seem to keep sliding backwards when I should be striding forward.

I desperately want all of my goals to be accomplished.  So why is my motivation not propelling me forward in the way that a burning desire should?

Motivation isn’t the catalyst.

I read or heard something recently that you don’t need more motivation, you need more discipline.  This could not be more true in my experience: I am completely motivated to get my real estate license and to lose the last 5-8 lbs that I need to lose in order to be completely happy with my bikini bod, but the last couple weeks with discipline being completely thrown out the window, I can tell that my body is a little softer than it was 4 weeks ago, and I’m still on my first real estate book when I had planned to be on my second by now.

And so, here I sit, no real estate license in hand and jeans a bit more snug that I would like.  Nobody wants to hear about the time you were motivated to almost finish a race or almost start your own business.  We love stories about actual results.

Why, then, are people so quick to blame lack of motivation or claim they need to do all these things to get motivated to do something?  Why don’t they simply put their nose to the grindstone and start to see results?

 

Sadly, the truth isn’t exciting.

Quite frankly, discipline sucks.  No one WANTS to constantly resist all of the tempting foods that are constantly being shoved in our face.  It’s definitely not FUN to stay home on a Friday night once again so that you can pop out of bed bright and early on Saturday morning.  It’s BORING to sit down to the table to read a chapter for the 17th day in a row rather than flip on the TV to the latest hit show.

Motivation, on the other hand, is addicting.  It’s highly enjoyable to get all hyped up about something, especially if you are getting pumped up in a crowd.  You see people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish.  You hear about how they achieved this body or that amount of customers or traveled to this many places, and their story inspires you to make more of a push for your goals.

But the thing is, most goals are not going to be accomplished in the hour or two where your motivation is at peak levels.  If motivation is the only that that is fueling your fire, than you will be shivering in the cold long before the end game is in sight.

It takes discipline to go the long haul.  You are going to have to go out to the woods, chop a tree, bring it back piece by piece, and do this over and over again to keep that fire burning.

Simply put, discipline is the ONLY THING that guarantees your results.  The very nature of discipline implies consistency, and if you are consistent with anything long enough, you will eventually achieve your desire in one form or another.

Any time that I look at what I have or don’t have and try to mentally complain about how it’s not fair that I’m not at this or that level, I can always force myself to look back and see the lack of consistency that led me to where I am at that moment.

Discipline is hard.  But eventually, discipline leads to habit, and once you’ve reached habitual levels of consistent effort, your progress will speed up tremendously.

However, life still likes to throw roadblocks at you in the form of unexpected events.  When I have a week where my routine is uninterrupted, my food consumption, gym attendance, and learning schedule are unchallenged and go off without a hitch.

But throw in a random meeting or two, life responsibilities that take a lot of time in my otherwise normal day, and people who are visiting or who want to hang out, and my discipline goes out the window.

So, in reality, I’m actually not that disciplined.  If I was, I would be able to navigate those stumbling blocks with ease, and keep my eyes on what it is that I want long-term.

This is a sucky thing to admit to oneself, especially if you have an image in your mind that encompasses all you WANT to be, versus where you really are.  And once again, I have all the motivation in the world to want to be fit and advance my learning in general, but when it comes down to it, desire doesn’t matter.

Your body doesn’t react to what you WANT it to look like-it shapes itself based on what you do to it and how you feed it.  Your business doesn’t grow based on what you WANT your revenues to be, it yields tantamount to the consistent effort that is put forth by you and your employees.  When it comes down to the wire, your efforts will show, no matter how much you will them to be different than they are.

There is no shortcut to any success.  Motivation may cause an initial burst of energy that will get you past the breakers, but it is the slow, steady strokes, hand over hand, that will get you across the channel.

So sit down with yourself.  Acknowledge where you want to end up, and how far you are away from it.  Steel yourself for the long haul ahead.  Write out a specific plan for your days, and how you will handle routine interruptions.  Settle into the reality that it’s not going to be a high-energy, full speed ahead race where the finish line is reached in mere seconds.

The journey is long.  It’s arduous.  It’s full of moments that suck.  But in the end, the steady turtle of discipline will outpace the bounding rabbit of motivation every. single. time.

Appreciation is a Powerful Drug

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Last weekend, all of my friends got together and had an amazingly fun girls night-without me.  Whomp Whomp. I had prior obligations, and while I was sad that I couldn’t be there, I know it’s only a matter of time before it happens again.

What made this event stick out to me, however, wasn’t the fact that I was missed out, but the fact that they all took the time to tell me that they wished I was with them and to make sure I knew that they would have rather had me join in the fun.

Now, having a group of girlfriends is probably old hat to most women my age, but I haven’t yet had this experience: I grew up fast, working all the time, and I was married throughout college, the time when most people are forming solid friend groups for life.  This show of appreciation for, well, just being me made me feel amazing.

This got me thinking: how often do we take the time to let people know that they are appreciated simply just for existing in our lives?  When do we take the time out of our day to write a text, drop a note, take advantage of a pause in conversation just to say hey…you’re awesome.  Thanks for being in my life.

Polite habits are ingrained (or should be ingrained) in us from childhood.  Say please and thank you.  Write a thank you letter when you receive a gift.  Make sure that if someone does you a favor you pay them back somehow, someway.

Yet we rarely take the time to appreciate people just for being them.  And let me tell you from one who has received an abundance of ‘just because’ recognition lately: it feels damn good.

When it comes down to it, appreciation is simply showing that you notice and you are grateful.  Writing a thank you note for that brand-new wedding crock pot is a formalized way of saying Hey!  I liked this thing you picked out for me.  I am really happy that I don’t have to go get one myself.  Thank you!

When you tell someone ‘thank you’, or ‘miss you’, or ‘wish you were here’, it’s saying that you notice them and you’re grateful for what they bring into your life.  You observe what they do when you’re around, and you care when they are not around.

There are so many people in your world that deserve appreciation.  

That barista that makes you coffee every morning?  It would make her day to hear a heartfelt greeting and sincere words of acknowledgment on how much she kicks ass every morning.

That office lady who always greets you with a smile, no matter what?  It would mean the world to hear even the smallest affirmation of  how well she does her job.

That coworker who keeps his head down and just does his job-but does it well?  He would love to hear that people notice his dedication.

No matter how much we tell ourselves that we can give ourselves our own props and it doesn’t matter how other people notice, when push comes to shove, this is complete and total bullshit.  While we can, of course, keep going without cheerleaders and can accomplish anything we want sans pats on the back, the truth is, receiving that acknowledgment and recognition from others around us can act as high-octane gas in our fuel tank.

Sometimes, our encouragement just serves as as a touchstone for others on their journey, a sign that they are doing what they need to do.  Other times, our confirmation can be the push that sends them soaring beyond anything they dreamed they were capable of, that little rev on the engine that sent them shooting beyond the mark they made for themselves.

We never know where anyone is in their life journey.  So seek out opportunities to appreciate others.  These opportunities can be as big as letting someone know that you think they’re doing such a great job that you’re going to recommend them for a promotion, or as small as saying thank you to the random stranger who holds open the door for you.

There are so many situations that we fail to take advantage of; appreciation opportunities are actually quite frequent; you simply have to pay attention:

Tell your friend that you miss them when they aren’t there.

Tell your spouse that you feel lucky to be married to them, just because.

Tell your coworker that they are doing amazing, especially when you can see they’re having a tough day.

Tell your boss that you appreciate his communication.

Tell your mailman that you appreciate his service.

Many times we tend to think “well, it’s just so-and-so’s JOB to do that.  I don’t need to acknowledge anything”.  Who the hell cares?  It’s MY job to teach, and guess what my favorite thing in the world is: hearing ‘thank you’ from a student.  People may be getting paid to do something, but money exchanging hands should not be a determining factor for with-holding gratitude.  Besides the light that you will bring to others, it also serves to make YOU feel amazing.

Take the time to reflect on who actually is a help to you, who makes you feel amazing, who is there for you when shit hits the fan, who makes you laugh, who knows you inside and out, and who is doggedly keeping your life running in the background.  After you’ve realized all the amazing people that you know and who is true gold in your life, take the time to sincerely tell them ‘thank you’.  And then, every once in a while, just so they don’t forget…tell them again.

Quilting Happiness

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Recently I had a conversation with someone where they helplessly said “I don’t know…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not happy with anything in my life.”  Hearing that broke my heart; living unhappily is such a terrible existence.  And yet, so many people live the majority of their lives in a permanent state of misery.

Sometimes, this misery becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t even feel like misery.  I had no idea that I was living such a wretched existence until I separated from my ex-husband and felt little inklings of happiness stretch like tentative rays of sunshine after a storm.  While I certainly knew I wasn’t ecstatic, I had no idea how bad that life really was while I was in it.

In this moment, if you were to ask me if I was happy with my life, I would unequivocally answer “yes.”  This may seem strange if you know my present circumstances: recently laid off, freshly single, one million minor crisis’ happening at work on a daily basis.  And yet, overall, I am joyful.

This got me thinking: WHY am I so happy?  What is it that I, or anyone with a constantly positive state of mind, do or don’t do that contributes to this feeling of joyful contentment?  After some contemplation, I settled on several key factors:

Have a reliable, positive, and multi-leveled network.  This is such a big component because we as humans are wired to interact with others.  However, you cannot have all surface acquaintances or all deep bosom buddies; our connections need to be varied.  I have a couple of extremely close friends, several good friends, and lots and lots of positive shallower connections.  Going through my recent breakup, I lost one of the major keystone connections in my life, and had he been all that I had, I would have been completely at a loss.  However, with the help of my close and good friends as well as my continued positive interactions with everyone else, I have been able to stay afloat and keep my spirits up.

Putting in the time and effort to create and maintain these relationships may seem like a burden, but I firmly believe that if you do not have quality relationships in your life, it is impossible to be truly happy.  However, these relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot simply mooch off of someone else, and you should never allow someone to mooch off of you.  When both parties put in the same level of effort, that is when this piece of happiness falls into place.

Exercise.  As much as we like to deny the hard science of how our minds work, putting in some sweat equity on a daily basis is a serious piece of the happiness puzzle.  Although starting a workout is pretty much the worst thing ever, finishing it is one of the best feelings in the world.  Your endorphin’s are kicking, and anything that negatively effected you throughout the day simply fades away into a haze of “ahhhhhh that was awesome”.

And lets face it, it’s hard to be happy when you don’t like what you see in the mirror.  Presenting the best version of ourselves physically primes us to be the best version of ourselves mentally.  It’s difficult to be miserable when you reach for something and notice a little baby bicep flexing as you bring it back.  Hard work is hard freakin’ work, but it seriously boosts your mood to see results.

Work towards something specific.  Throughout my entire life, I have always had something to work towards.  First, it was my degree.  Then it was finding a job.  Then it was my Masters.  Now, I am working on getting my real estate license and have plans for an admin credential and possibly a life coach certification within the next ten years.  The point is, I am never resting on my laurels.

If you are working towards a specific goal, it is obvious if you have achieved it or not.  And working to get that accomplishment tucked under your belt gives you a sense of purpose, which contributes to happiness.  If you know you are on the road to achievement, you feel excited about getting up each day and have the gumption to persevere through the rocky patches.

Actively seek improvement.  I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person and teacher.  If I hear of an awesome teaching strategy, I try to implement it in my classroom.  Outside the confines of my work, I am constantly reading all different types of books and online articles as well as listening to podcasts on various topics.  I love getting into deep conversations about the world.  All in all, I am always trying to be better than I was before.

Truly desiring to make yourself better requires a humble acceptance of yourself as you are right now.  However, acceptance does not mean stagnation.  Just because you have accepted that you have slid into the ditch does not mean that you stay in the ditch.  Seeing yourself grow and looking back to see how much you’ve changed for the better is a big piece of long-term happiness.

Love the majority of your day.  There are very few parts of my day that I dislike.  I love breakfast.  I love jamming to my tunes as I drive to work.  I love getting organized for the day.  I love interacting with my students.  I (usually) love the gym.  I love writing blog posts.   I’m ok with learning new real estate things (although I’m not going to lie, I’ll be pumped when it’s over).  The only things that I truly hate about my day are when I have some students act like a-holes, or when something goes awry that I did not forsee (usually traffic-traffic puts me in a TERRIBLE mood).

If you genuinely LIKE/LOVE 80% or more of your day, it is highly unlikely that you will be unhappy.  So many people tie themselves to jobs, people, or circumstances that they hate, and then wonder why they are miserable.  If you find yourself unhappy with something, make moves to change it.  Money, “security”, and comfort are NOT worth a constant state of misery.

Be ok with YOU.  You have to be ok with who you are as a person before you can truly settle into a state of contentment with your life.  I recently went through a period of time where I thought that my career goals and life aspirations were not good enough because I saw other people passionately pursuing other things that seemed ‘better’ or that might bring in more money.  My happiness severely diminished during that time.  When I mentally slapped myself and replanted my foot firmly on the soil of MY dreams, my joy returned.

You are a unique person.  It is impossible to accomplish the exact same thing that someone else has accomplished, so it is silly to even try.  You know what gives you joy, you know how you want to live your life, and you know what gives you a sense of purpose.  When you fully embrace what YOU want, not what the yoga masters, hardcore businessmen, or spiritual gurus tell you to want, THEN you can embrace your personal happiness.

Overall, your happiness is like an old, hand-pieced multicolored quilt that has been in your family for generations.  It blankets everything.  It is handmade.  No one else has one just like it.  Sometimes, a square or two might come loose, but if it’s a quality quilt, those squares aren’t completely lost and there are still enough squares to cover up with until the damage gets repaired.

If you find that you are unhappy with your life, take stock of all of the pieces.  Magnify those squares that give you joy.  Mend the squares that let in the draft.  Sometimes, an entire square might have to be replaced, and that’s ok.  Happiness IS something that you have complete control over, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and argue that we do not.  Take charge now; in the end, our money will be spent or given away and our possessions will break or change hands.  It is only the intangible-our relationships, our integrity, and our happiness-that we will get to keep for all time.

Things My Students Taught Me

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In the last couple of days, I’ve had to face the truth that I may have to find a job outside of teaching.  There are limited positions available in along the coast, and I refuse to move somewhere that I don’t want to live.  While the hunt for the perfect fit is not yet over, I am steeling myself to face the worst if the stars do not align.

The reality of doing something else for a living is heartbreaking.  I absolutely love what I do.  The ability to have a career where I am able to get a taste of pretty much every other job on the planet is a beautiful experience.  The best thing is, while I’m teaching my students, they’re really teaching me.

My students taught me the power of laughter.  Humor is such an underutilized tool.  I have had far greater success with my students gently nudging them to do the right thing with a well-timed joke or an exaggerated sigh of exasperation that they know is fake.  My favorite times are when a students makes me bust out laughing in the middle of class because they did or said something completely off the wall, which inevitably causes the class to send out gales of laughter too.

Laughing at something together creates a powerful bond.  It actually takes quite a bit of vulnerability to truly let out a giant belly laugh over a joke or a certain circumstance.  Laughter is also the best way to ease hurt, and if you can make your students laugh or even bravely put on a smile through their tears, you are helping them more than you realize.

My students taught me the power of mutual respect.  I go to great lengths to show my students that they are respected in my classroom.  I ask them to do things instead of order them.  I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, even when the compliance is not enthusiastic.  I make sure I listen to student’s concerns fully, even when my eyes are mentally rolling so far back in my head they are in danger of becoming lost in my gray matter.  99.9% of the time, I know that I have my students’ respect.  It those times when I indulge in my own bad mood or snap at a student in frustration that their respect for me becomes diminished.

Knowing that you’re respected in any given situation is an empowering feeling.  No matter how many times a student shows disrespect, holding out any token of respect causes them to shift their mindset and usually ends up in changed behavior and a mumbled apology.  No matter how tempting tit for tat may be, clinging to the higher standard of dignity as an adult in any situation is immensely gratifying and highly useful.

My students taught me the power of simple gestures.  Many, many times when I’m feeling down, a student has given me a picture that they have drawn, or stopped to say a personal goodbye at the end of class, or randomly told me that they think I’m a great teacher.  Small things.  Simple things.  Free things.  But it truly is the little efforts that make a huge difference.

So many times we move along our paths without taking advantage of the opportunities offered along the way.  Is someone visibly harried and stressed out?  Compliment them.  Is there someone who is usually a ‘background person’ in your life with whom you don’t interact much?  Stop and say hello, maybe make some conversation.  Did you buy two chocolate bars but really only want a bite?  Split them with a friend.  Don’t listen to the voices that tell you nobody will care or notice your efforts; trust me, they will.

My students taught me the power of listening.  Teachers like to talk.  That is our job.  Yet this becomes a problem when the words flowing out of our mouths cut off the words trying to get to our ears.  Whenever I take the time to bring an unruly student aside to chat with them, they inevitably articulate some problem or issue either outside or inside of class that is affecting their behavior.  Even if I cannot resolve the problem for them, my simple act of listening usually does the trick to change their demeanor.

Most of the time, our actions are simply bids for attention.  Some people may need the attention just to validate their existence.  Others need it to get through their struggles.  Whichever way you slice it, taking the time out to listen is always a deposit in the bank of that relationship.  Feeling listened to is a deep human need, and those who are able to provide that service freely and without expectation are rare and valued individuals.

My students taught me the power of love.  As a teacher, I want nothing less than for my students to suddenly awaken to the fact that they actually love to read, they can’t wait to write the next essay, and they can hardly contain their exuberance for the next class discussion.  As much as that would be my dream come true, the reality is that there are some students who will never ever reach that point while they are with you.  Sometimes, they are not hungering for knowledge, but simply starving for love.

Giving your love to someone without stipulations is a powerful thing.  The more trouble a student causes, they more they desperately need that affirmation, that feeling of security, and that knowledge that your love is a constant.  Love does not have to manifest into like; many students/people are unlikable.  Yet there is not one who is completely devoid of anything to love.

Overall, my students have illuminated to me over and over the deep need that every individual has for human connection.  Those attachments range from deep, soul-connecting conversations to shallow mentions of the latest fashions, but at the core, all of our interactions are building small threads person-to-person in our network, which web out to create the unique fabric of our lives.

As much as possible, take the opportunity to make your connections full, deep, and rich.  Give of yourself so that you may receive of others.  Take a step back and allow everybody to teach you something, regardless of their role in your life.  Be the first one to show vulnerability.  Trust.

My students may leave my class knowing how to write an essay, but I will leave knowing just a little bit more of my purpose in the world.  And that, my friends, is more valuable than any Harvard education.

 

When It’s Out of Your Hands

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If you know me in person, you probably know that I am a bit of a control freak.  Not the kind that tries to control everyone’s thoughts and actions to the tiniest degree, but the kind that has to know what’s going on a month in advance, who is taking care of what, what are the exact time specifications, and so on and so forth.

Lately, the universe has been whacking me over the head with the knowledge that sometimes, it’s just not up to me.  Along with some personal things that are simply out of my hands at the moment, today I received the official notice that I am, indeed, being laid off.

Knowing that you MIGHT be laid off and knowing that you ARE laid off are two completely different feelings.  And control freak me does not like it one bit.

A song that has been playing over and over in my head has been Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”.  While I am not religious, the sentiment of the song seems quite applicable to my life right now.  I have done all that I can do to prepare for everything that is out of my control right now.  Personally, I have said my piece.  Professionally, I have applied for new positions.  Practically, I have made arrangements with my roommate.  And now all I can do is wait for opportunities to present themselves and snatch them up.

I was reflecting back on some of my earlier posts where I discussed needing to have a direction in life and actively steering where you want to go.  The recent turn of events made me think back on that sentiment: what if the steering wheel suddenly gets taken from you?  What if you are rowing merrily along and suddenly hit a rock hidden just beneath the surface?  What if the rushing stream you had been following suddenly dwindles to a mere trickle?

And then, I shook myself out of it.  Having a direction and the drive to do something in life does not guarantee smooth sailing.  In fact, it usually means the opposite.  Just because you know where you want to end up doesn’t mean that you’ll get there walking in a straight line.  If you don’t have direction, you’ll end up stopping, backtracking, or simply changing your end goal to fit the easiest route.  Sticking to your guns means climbing mountains, fording streams, and whacking through underbrush to make it through.  Having things taken out of your hands is not a stop sign for the determined, but merely a moment to pause and look at the compass before forging on ahead.

So how do you know if something is TRULY out of your hands or if you’re just telling yourself that as an excuse?

If something is out of your hands, you will have done everything that you can up to that point.  If you get laid off from a job simply due to numbers, there is nothing you could have done to prevent that from happening.  And if you were truly doing everything that you could, you will have killer recommendations to move to the next opportunity.  If you give your all to a relationship and they choose to leave, there is nothing more that you can say or do if you have honestly laid it all out on the table.  Your ability to be vulnerable will only be a positive in your subsequent relationships.

If something is out of your hands, it couldn’t have been prevented.  Having your house catch on fire and losing everything due to the stove being left on could have been prevented and thus isn’t really something that is out of your hands.  But losing everything in a record flood that was completely unexpected isn’t in your range of control.  You cannot prevent every disaster, unexpected life twist, or people’s reactions based on their personal issues; all you can do is deal with the aftermath.

If something is out of your hands, you can’t change it after it happens.  I cannot go back and reverse the decision of the school board.  There is no way for someone to persuade an ex to take them back after they have already mentally moved on.  No one can recreate a reaction to something that could potentially lead to negative consequences.

However, with all that being said, just because something in your life is out of your hands does not mean that your life itself somehow follows suit.  There are circumstances that suck, things that happen that you would give the world to change, and people that choose to leave of their own volition.  Yet even with those elements removed, there is still so much raw material to work with.

Our lives are an adventure.  And if every single thing was in our control, we probably wouldn’t find the awesomely unknown opportunities or get to experience the joy of figuring shit out for ourselves.  So in a way, I’m lucky: I’m being forced to discover things that I may not have taken the chance on if I would have kept my position.  Who knows what amazing things I may stumble upon?

Facing the unknown is a scary place to stand.  The path disappears into the night, and there are no friendly lanterns to guide your way.  But if you take a couple of strides forward, you’ll find that you have enough light from within to keep illuminating the next small advancements, and really, that’s all the light you need.

So strike out with courage, befriend the cold hands of fear, and never ever let uncertainty prevent you from taking those tentative yet oh-so-important first steps.  Usually, you’ll find that greatness lies just beyond the edge of the dark, and the velvet black that seemed so threatening from your comfort zone is able to be melted away by a simple brush of the hand.

(PC: This guy)