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This we believe

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

For the final discussion session in one of my courses, the 15 students in the section had the option of sharing our This I Believe statements with the rest of the group.  Since class would have ended immediately if no one decided to share, at first we didn’t have any volunteers.  But then one person said she wanted to share her statement – and it was great.  She spoke movingly about rediscovering her passion for teaching and demonstrated more depth in the two pages of text than I’ve seen from her in two years of classes.  After that, volunteers came steadily.  Not every statement was beautifully written or perfectly articulated, but they all showed a lot of heart and thought.  I so often hear only about what my classmates don’t like and don’t want to do; hearing them present impassioned defenses of their core educational beliefs showed me another, much more impressive side of them.  I enjoyed, too, the camaraderie that developed as we shared.  Murmurs of “that was great,” or “wow,” followed many of the speakers, and people offered reassurance and encouragement to two girls who were hesitant to share.  We’ve spent most of our Masters program in classes with 50 or more students; on this final day of our final required class, we finally created some of the community we’ve been lacking.  Afterwards, our TA told us to remember this class session and the passion, idealism, and commitment we expressed.  After some days in the classroom, he said, we’ll lose our sense of direction or forget why we wanted to become teachers.  During those days, we need to pull out our This I Believe essays and think back to the ideas we shared this evening.  We know what our vision for education is, and shared experiences like that tonight help us recommit to it.

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Categories: Career Tags: , , , ,

Patience

April 28, 2010 1 comment

I was mulling over the idea of patience this week (at the request of my friend Lauren) when the funeral congregation was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer.  One section of the prayer seemed particularly relevant to the idea of patience, for reasons I promise to explain later in the post.

…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

So where does patience come from?  I think it comes from several sources.  First, it comes from a realization that most people are just doing the best they can. They may not be as quick, competent, or understanding as we’d wish, but they’re doing what they know how to do, how they know how to do it.  We all, in some way, are just scraping by, just faking our way through life.  When you come up against the limit of another person’s abilities there’s no use getting angry – just take a deep breath and either get through it or start looking for alternatives.  Few people are seeking to do you personal harm.  The checker at the grocery store doesn’t move like molasses because she hates you, your coworker doesn’t leave the dirty mugs in the kitchen because he wants to ruin your day, and your roommate doesn’t move the milk to get under your skin.  They’re all just going about their lives, being themselves.  Yes, some of them are making decisions that are easy for them and without regard for you, but no one’s actively trying to hurt you, so why take their actions personally?  We’re all self-centered, even me, even you.  Whether we know it or now, to someone else we are all the roommate who never puts the pans back where they belong, the coworker who forgets to refill the copier paper, or the person who should know the answer but who can’t answer a simple question.  What makes us think that our way of doing things is so right or our time so valuable?  Impatience is a prioritization of one’s own needs, wants, and point of view over those of other people.  It’s natural, but it’s not healthy.

So how do we cultivate patience?  It’s an on-going quest for me, but I’ve learned several things that help me manage the worst of my impatience.

1) Depersonalize the situation.  I remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s not a personal offense, and it doesn’t make sense to waste energy getting riled up by it.

2) My time is not as valuable as I may feel it is.  When everything around me feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace, I try to check my foot-tapping and remind myself that the world will not collapse.  I run through the worst case scenario in my head, and almost always come up with “I’ll be temporarily annoyed or inconvenienced” as the worst possible outcome.  There’s no sense causing myself annoyance in expectation of someone else doing so, so I try (albeit not always successfully) to let it go.

3) I pay close attention to people and try to figure out where their competency ends.  If what I need from them goes beyond what they can do, I stop impatiently waiting for them to do it and start making other plans.  I do this with customer service representatives, classmates, TAs, coworkers – anyone I need something from but who can’t quite give it to me.  It is simply foolish to expect someone to suddenly grow new skills or understanding merely because you want them to.  So I try not to set myself up for frustration by asking more of a person than I can reasonably expect to get.

4) Forgive us our trespasses.  I cut the people around me some slack in the hopes that they’ll return the favor.

For me, developing patience is a life-long process.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling the flashes of irritation, but whenever possible I try to cut off my negative thinking.  It’s made me a more patient person, as well as a happier one.

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Categories: Choices Tags: , ,

Birthdays and camping

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Today is special for one reason: it’s my 30th birthday!

Today is nothing special for another reason: it’s a Monday, and that means 6 hours of class.

Today is a reminder that my life stays constant, despite the passing years, for two reasons: first, my birthday was kind of blah, and second, there is no longer any furniture in my living room or dishware in my kitchen.

My birthday coincided with moving day for the person who used to live here.  Instead of leaving his common room furniture and kitchenware through the end of the lease, as he said he would, he came to pick it all up to move it into his new place.  On the one hand, I can’t begrudge him this. It’s his stuff and he needs it in his new apartment.  On the other hand, it’s a real pain in the rear end.  I can’t eat breakfast because there is no bowl for cereal, toaster for bread, plate for toast, or knife for butter.  And even if we did have all of those things, I would have to eat my meal on the floor because we have neither table nor chairs.  So I am faced with a choice: go to my storage unit and pull out all of my kitchenware, living room furniture, and the dining room set, only to move it all back to storage in one month, or stock up on disposable plates and cutlery and eat at the counter.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to live like I’m camping in my own home, and although I’m turning 30, I doubt it will be my last.  At this point, I think my pie in the sky goal for my 30s is to never spend more than 2 days eating off disposables or sleeping on an air mattress because of a move.

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Categories: Choices Tags: , ,

Waiting around for creativity

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Story 1: I have a big final project due next week in a class I really care about.  The professor told us to start thinking about the project at the beginning of the semester, and while lots of professors have told me that before, this time I actually listened.  All semester I’ve been mulling over ideas for the project.  I’ve come up with, and discarded, at least a dozen formats or approaches.  This morning I sat down with a promising idea, got about an hour into it, and realized it was stupid.  Got about 20 minutes into a second idea and discarded that, too.  Sat around for awhile thinking really hard, then finally gave up on everything and went downtown.  Sitting in a coffeehouse, pouring a cup of tea, I realized exactly what the project should look like.

Story 2: Years ago, I started writing a novel.  I mostly wrote when I was waiting around during the long, lazy days of the college admissions spring travel season, or riding to and from work on the empty train cars.  In these quiet times the characters became real – they talked to me and to each other and I had to write it down.  As life got busier though, the characters faded away, and even when I sat down and tried to write about them, nothing came.  Now as I try to figure out how to spend my summer, I sometimes daydream about doing nothing for three months – just hanging out.  And whenever I start thinking about this, the characters start talking again.

So what’s the point of these stories?  I think the point is that we can’t force ourselves to just sit down and “be creative.”  Creativity takes hard work – it takes turning ideas over and over, trying out paths and abandoning them, and mostly, it takes time.  To be creative, we have to give ourselves time for thinking – thinking of all kinds.  The mulling, the daydreaming, the trying out, the discarding, the staring out the window and the making tea.  All of this is important.  I need to give myself this time for creating and to remember that time spent considering creative work is not time wasted.

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Categories: Books Tags: , ,

On life, death, and not writing

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Despite what it looks like, I haven’t ignored the blog this week.  I have drafted posts almost every day only to decide that they are not worth publishing.  I think the lack of published material stems from the fact that I’ve been writing drafts on issues that I don’t really care about and ignoring the one thing I’ve been thinking about all week: death.  (I know that sounds dramatic.)

You see, my friend’s mother died suddenly this week and I’ve spent most of the week thinking about it in one way or another.  Early in the week I was thinking about how we share news in the digital age and how some things – like notes of condolence – should still be handwritten.  Later in the week I was at funeral home visiting hours, the church memorial service, and visiting with the family at home.  These experiences had me thinking about what it means to lose a wife versus lose a mother, how we never really know the shape our lives will take, and what comfort there is in old photo albums.  I spent a lot of this time, too, grappling with my own religious beliefs and trying to figure out exactly what I believe happens after death.  Big thoughts, and not easy things on which to come to quick conclusions.

Indeed, none of my thinking felt firm enough to write about, so I looked for other topics — but no other topic worked when I was thinking about something else.  And hence, my silence.  I hope that with the memorial events now wrapped up and life (as it so relentless does) returning to normal, I will be able to think again about other thoughts, and to share them in this space.

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Bringing our best selves

April 20, 2010 1 comment

Most of us work with other people, and any group of people inevitably encounters conflicts.  The way the group members treat each other ultimately determines how enjoyable (or not) their work environment is.  We all hold the power to make the lives of the people we work with more enjoyable – or miserable.  Therefore we owe it to each other to bring our best selves to work each day.

What does it mean to bring your best self?  It means letting go of the people and events that put you in a bad mood at home and deciding to say good morning anyway when you walk into work.  It means treating other people with respect and patience, even if they sometimes annoy you.  It means remembering that conflict is inevitable, but rarely personal.  Let go of small slights and stay focused on the group’s larger goals.  Bringing your best self also means coming to work ready to do your job, doing that job as well as you can, and taking special care to excel in the parts of your job that affect other people.

Bringing your best self to work may sound selfless, but it’s not – there is a significant selfish component.  The people I’ve met who work in this way are happier, earn greater respect in their office and their field, and have an easier time getting projects done because people want to work with them.  They develop reputations as being easy to work with and valuable to their employers.  For people used to showing every up and down, feeling every slight, or expressing each frustration, this way of approaching work won’t come easily, but isn’t increasing your own and your co-workers’ happiness a goal worth working towards?

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Categories: Career, Choices, Relationships Tags:

Match me if you can

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I am in an on- and off-again relationship with Match.com.  I like that many people are on the site, that it allows initial communication beyond ridiculous multiple choice questions, and that it’s relatively cheap compared to eharmony.  I do not, however, like its automatic subscription renewal, its deceptive teaser emails once a subscription is cancelled, or its scraping of the bottom of the barrel after just 2-3 weeks of “Daily 5” suggested matches.

All that said, Match.com and I are “on” again.  They are celebrating their 15th anniversary and are passing the joy on to me through a 50% discount.  I weighed the pros and cons, considered our past relationship – both the joys and the disappointments – and decided that for $54 over six months, Match had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  So instead of doing schoolwork (of which I have a lot right now) or updating this blog (which I’ve neglected), I spent yesterday afternoon updating my profile, uploading new photos, and searching for new matches.  Given our history, I can’t say for sure how this new phase of our relationship will turn out, but I am approaching it with optimism and energy.  If nothing else, it should provide a great way to procrastinate on my class work.

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Categories: Hobbies, Relationships Tags: ,
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