I am a reformed workaholic.
And while I don’t work as hard as I used to and I don’t create as much work for myself as I once did, I still know that my default tendency is to make work and then work hard at completing said work.
The work isn’t just professional. I can make all sorts of work out of everything. It is my way. And so I try to objectively analyze things I want to add to my to do list to figure out if I am complicating things or if the work is really necessary.
Recently, I’ve had two conversations that were real eye openers for me.
Conversation # 1
Last week, an acquaintance who is head of the educational studies department at a nearby college asked to meet. He wanted to know if I was interested in teaching in his department. As you know, education is a passion of mine. I am a former high school teacher and I care greatly that our community, in general, have a better understanding of why education matters and that those who are considering teaching have a better idea of both how to do that work well and how to do that work in a way that won’t wound them. The topic that I was asked to teach was fascinating and a passion of mine, and this acquaintance is someone who I really respect; we were first year high school teachers at the same time and working for/with him would be a wonderful thing.
Still, I wasn’t terribly interested. I already teach a college course I love and I feel like I do it really well. When I am in semester, I am all in with my class because that is my default and so teaching one class at a time is one way to put my crazy in check. A few years ago, I taught three classes in one semester and I ended up– I kid you not- with over 2000 papers to grade in one semester because I required 15-18 papers per class, had over 100 students, and then offered my students 3 extra credit papers per class (for a measly 3 extra credit points each). It was like my crazy went up exponentially with each added class. So, the next semester I adapted my syllabus, requiring a lot less papers (adding a few quizzes and tests for variety’s sake) and dropped back down to two classes and stayed with that load for 3 semesters and then this past spring went back down to just one which had always been my intention and ideal.
“You are going to do it, right?” My sister asked when I told her about the meeting.
“I doubt it,” I said. “I know myself well enough to know that teaching brings out my crazy. And I just can’t afford to be that compulsive.”
Still, I did my due diligence and came up with the topics for the proposed class, some readings for it, and the assignments for it. At the very least, this would let my friend see a vision for this class and maybe the research would help him in connecting with someone else to teach it.
Then, as we were talking, I got even more excited about the subject. And about his philosophy. And about the uniqueness yet importance of this offering. But, still, in the back of the mind, I was wary.
When we got to the part where we talked about what the assignments for the class would be, his eyes got bigger and bigger. He’s a crazy smart guy. I know he teaches a powerful, challenging class. Did he think my ideas just weren’t right, challenging enough?
“Um, this is just too much,” he said. “You can’t ask this much of yourself. I would take this and this and this out. Don’t make this so hard for yourself so that you can’t enjoy it.”
That advice was such a flash of insight for me. I know that my class design and work load are significantly improved from how I used to do them but I had no idea what they were like compared to a typical workload. Were they reasonable, demanding or really demanding? And how did what I create impact me? Those were things I never had perspective about until this particular conversation.
I have no idea if I will end up teaching the class we talked about that day, but I do know that that one conversation will be with me for every single class I teach in the future.
Conversation # 2
Last Friday, I finished my to do list for the day early.
And because I am dutiful, my plan was to get a head start on my Monday to do list.
Then a friend said, “why don’t you go hang out on your hammock?”
Hmm, why wouldn’t I? I had a little bit more time before Happy would be home. It was a Friday. It was sunny and warm. So why not indeed?
I took her advice and went and took a nap on the hammock.
Perspective. Sometimes, even if we have it, it is through the lens of our own experiences and so we are comparing ourselves to our own history which may not be all that full of actual perspective.
And so, for this week’s spark, I want you to get some perspective outside of yourself.
Consider what your default tendency is that you have to (or should) deliberately keep in check. Identify someone with whom you can talk and get some perspective about your approach to the issue and what you might do differently. Hearing someone else’s philosophy and approach can be eye opening for you. I know that these two conversations made me consider where I was expecting too much from myself (that I didn’t really realize was too much because it was so much less than what I used to expect) and to consider the possibility of just being rather than strong arming work and effort into every minute labeled “work time.”
Where do you need some perspective? What is your default in that area? Who might you talk to about it?