Lessons from School

Today was the official first day of the new school year. Though it wasn’t really a difficult day it seemed it. The challenge was the transition back into the school year from the summer work schedule which is so much more relaxed. I find during the summer months at work I have plenty of time to contemplate, to plan, and to reflect on every choice I need to make. Today, with everyone back and being thrown back into it, suddenly it feels like I am back to no time to think about questions, and problems, and solutions. Suddenly, from one day to the next, it’s back into the hectic high school day.

So I ended this day as I often do – taking a brisk walk in the woods behind my house. And brisk it was – that being one way that I often relieve stress at the end a day – bulling and jamming my way along the trail while my mind spins just as briskly trying to work through all the challenges of the day. I was about two and a half miles in before I realized what I was doing and reminded myself to slow down and take time to actually notice and enjoy my beautiful surroundings. Only seconds after this realization I looked up and there stood a yearling watching me from only about 10 yards away. I stopped and acknowledged her – inviting her to pass. She did not. I could hear what I thought was another deer in the woods nearby and asked the yearling if she were waiting for her friend. She did not respond. I finally decided she was waiting for me to pass, so I continued up the trail, turning briefly to watch her bound off into the trees, white tail bobbing.

There you go, I said to myself. Lesson learned. Slow down and take time to appreciate the world around you. Sometimes you have to get outside of your head to see what’s really important. That was the impetus I needed to shift my thinking and spend the rest of my trek thinking about my day in a different way. I asked myself what went well that day – what did I appreciate?

There were several things that came to mind. First was the student, who last year raced into my office, offering no greeting but instead a steady stream of complaints and an unwillingness to listen. We worked on that a great deal last year. I viewed each visit from him as a learning opportunity. Well, today he came into my room and we worked together and resolved his problem in less than 2 minutes. He went off politely and very pleased with the outcome.

I also appreciated a co-worker’s enthusiasm for his students and the program. Despite wanting to talk about more change on the first day of school, I must acknowledge that his heart is in the right place and I have confidence that his passion will allow him to come up with a great plan.

Thinking about the several people who are new to our school I value how they have been able to step in without hesitation and do an amazing job of helping the school run and serving our students well.

My personal goal for the year is to carry this lesson with me – to take the time each day to get outside of my head and the problems to be resolved and appreciate all that is right with the world.

Guilty? Probably Not

One of the greatest challenges I have encountered again and again over my lifetime is guilt.

Being laid up recently reminded me of the common phenomenon many of us face daily ~ taking care of the self. While my educated mind knows with no doubt that the best thing I can do is to take care of myself. Without a healthy and robust self it is difficulty to do well in ones job, take care of a family, maintain the lifestyle that you hope to have for yourself and others.

However, it never fails that the guilt kicks in. My first reaction to the doctor’s orders of “two weeks with no work” was excitement and my mind even went so far as to say “this is a well deserved break.” Then that guilt reality kicked in and I immediately backed that up to one week off from work (how could I possibly be away for two weeks? Not now – there is so much to do!) and writing the email to school personnel explaining the circumstances and need for time off was difficult. I kept feeling that a week off was excessive – so what if I’d just had surgery – I’m no wimp!

Again, my educated mind knows that my body had been through some significant trauma, that surgery of any kind is to be taken seriously, and that there is nothing wrong with allowing yourself time to heal. Yet that uneducated, well-trained mind insisted on interfering with
the most unhelpful thoughts – What are you going to do all week? You can’t read, sleep, bake cookies when you should be at work? Seriously? You don’t feel THAT bad, get back to work!

Sure I can shut those voices in my head down, for awhile. But they keep coming back. They say things like, you’re lazy; you’re a slacker; you will never get anywhere by doing nothing.

Psychotherapist Birgit Woltz says, “Guilt can be seen as the price we pay when our behavior violates some standard or belief we hold. As long as our behavior is violating this standard, guilt will follow.”

Dr. Woltz suggests that guilt is a response to 1. unrealistic expectations or standards we place on ourselves, 2. maintaining some remnant of ‘magical thinking’ from out childhood, and 3. the ‘illusion of control’.

Often, as a result of our upbringing, when we were made to feel responsible, through blaming or fault finding, when things didn’t go well. This may have led to feelings of over-responsibility and development of what is called the ‘inner critic’ – that voice in your head that reminds you often of your foibles – real or imagined. The inner critic may actually have developed as a protective measure for the self, to delay the effects of the external critics.

As young children we learn how powerful we can be. When hungry, or in need of something we learn early on that a sound can produce solutions to our needs. We thus begin to see the self as possessing some magical skill and believe we are actually the center of the universe. (Some of us never grow out of this stage.) When, around the age of 8 or 9, we begin to understand the concept of cause and effect we do grow out of this ‘magical’ thinking. Though, as we mature, most of us retain some of this magical thinking. Remember those times of tragedy, when you wondered what you had done to cause that thing to happen or what you should have done to prevent it? That’s magical thinking – as if you have ‘the power.’

Finally, people often believe that they have control over things that they do not. If we believe that we are in control at all times then we must believe, when wrong doing happens we are somehow responsible. If we believe we are in control we have difficulty believing in inevitable situations.

As I go through the many and varied stages of my life I am getting better at doing several things to alleviate guilty feelings. First of all I am can readily recognize when the guilt crops up. It’s a sure sign when I hear that inner critic start yammering in my head. These days I try to limit the voices ‘floor’ time, and hush it up right quick. That doesn’t mean it isn’t persistent and likely to keep coming back trying to have its say. As I practice it is getting easier to notice and acknowledge that self criticism and then move on to ask, Well, what is that all about? Why would I feel guilty? Is it warranted? And most importantly, do I have any control over these events or not?

Most often it stops there. Done deal, because I have no magical abilities, nor am I the center of the universe. Now, a good question I can ask myself is what is my intention for this current action or thought that is making me feel guilty? So, I’m taking a mental health day from work because I am overworked, under appreciated, and generally stressed out. Well, hello, that sounds like a valid reason for taking a day off from work. And in my line of work if I’m generally stressed out I may not do very well at my job. I can’t help others if I don’t first help myself.

The good news is that with experience and time, it does get easier to take care of the self. Allowing yourself to be aware of the feelings that come up, identifying the origins of those feelings, and then figuring out if the actions or thoughts warrant any guilt. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes we behave badly with out colleagues, our spouses, our children. Sometimes we are painfully human. It’s okay, because now that I know my intentions were not so good, I can fix that. I can apologize or counteract that bad behavior by admitting it was bad behavior. It’s okay.

Gratitude #7

Today I am thankful for people who challenge me.

I know, it can be frustrating, when someone pushes your thinking,

or your limits,

or their expectations for you,

or what you thought you always believed. . .

Yet, today, when someone challenged me with an idea that I disagreed with, I found myself thinking, not
“Gosh dang it, why are they suggesting this absurd idea when it simply cannot happen.”

Instead I found myself thinking,
Gosh dang it, this idea makes me uncomfortable, I wonder why that is.”

And that is oh, such a wonderful thought. It is freeing in so many ways, because it allowed me to look very critically at the idea being presented and try to understand it. By understanding it I was better able to articulate why I felt it needed to be looked at from a multitude of perspectives. If I had not considered why it made me uncomfortable, but instead barged ahead with “NO NO NO NO NO, this WILL NOT work!” it is likely that I would have ended in an argument with my challengers rather than a discussion of WHY I was concerned and HOW my concerns could be alleviated.

Whew. It was a challenging AND successful day.