Forever and ever I’ve wanted to be an author. And forever and ever I thought that was impossible. See, I’ve got this eye thing from childhood seizures (long story, I’m fine now) that makes it really hard for my eyes to see typos (I also CANNOT find Waldo, but that’s a story for another day). And to me, that felt like an insurmountable problem!
It’s not like people didn’t like my writing… they would read my blogs, and told me they enjoyed my emails… but I assumed they liked it because I have a quirky sense of humor, not because it was GOOD or anything like that.
Or at least that’s what I told myself because:
What comes to mind when you read this: “VICTORY!”
Is it an image of a sweaty, smiling, totally fit person with all the right gear arriving at the top of a mountain, gazing in wonderment at the vista she’s earned?
Sometimes it’s like that. And isn’t it nice!
Sometimes, however, it’s something more like army crawling through an abandoned and collapsed coal mine, ravaged by intense claustrophobia, coming face to face with rats, and totally cut off from the light of day. When you finally emerge into the still dark cave before the opening into rainy day beyond, there’s no happy dance. You just put your head down and ask, “Can we be done now?”
It’s the victory of making it through burnout. It’s the victory of really being there for someone you love who has cancer. It’s the victory of coming out the other side of an autoimmune flare up. It’s the victory of launching a product that flops. It’s the real stuff of being a hero.
Be proud of these victories, too.
My imagination had been captured by TedX many years ago, when I saw Shawn Achor talk about his sister Amy. He convinced her she was a Unicorn and stumbled upon the power of happiness to shape a life (and evade consequences). I’ve talked about Amy the Unicorn many times since then in my classes, coaching sessions, and in conversations. Ted’s mission is to promote ideas worth spreading, and I’m doing my part! Then it occurred to me… do I have an idea worth spreading?
Thus inspired, I set out to discover how I might also give a Ted Talk. What I learned is that there are many, many independently organized Ted events– referred to as TedX events. In fact, in the last known accounting of TedX events (July 2015) there had been 13,522 TedX Events, in 3174 cities, in 143 countries. (By the way, featured TedX talks had received almost 600 million views on youtube, during that same time period. That’s a LOT.)
Each of these independently organized events accept applications, conduct interviews and choose 9-12 speakers… which, If I could apply to enough of them, felt like good odds!
Last year I published an article in Quartz arguing that teacher burnout is one of the biggest social justice issues of our time. I really meant it… if our passionate teachers continue to burn out and leave education, our most vulnerable kids will suffer, the opportunity and achievement gaps will widen, and the health of our economy will continue to erode.
But do you know who else is suffering from work burnout symptoms? Therapists. Yes, there is a therapist burnout and it’s at least as important! Feeling stress and burnout is so painful when you are passionate about your work. It feels like a major betrayal to the part of you that loves your role as the caretaker.
Is there something that you want to do for yourself… but no matter how good your intentions, you just don’t do it? You aren’t alone.
I met Andrea back in 2014 (3 years ago, almost exactly) at a conference for transfer school educators in New York City that takes place every June. I complimented on the cover photo on her phone, an adorable picture of her then-three-year-old daughter at Easter. The photo captured the little girl’s intense delight with the stuffed bunny in her basket, and it was just the right mixture of adorable and silly.
A third-year teacher had great, innovative ideas about how to help her English Language Learner students, but she was never given an opportunity to try them out. Finally, she decided to partner up with the teacher across the hall and just get started. As they gained ground with the ELL students, the administration took notice, offering them the opportunity to share with the rest of the team.
A churchgoer wished her church had a choir. She had been in show choir in high school and missed singing in public. She mentioned it to her pastor but was told her there wasn’t enough interest. She finally decided to get a few friends together and meet at the church on Saturday afternoons to sing and play instruments together. Over time others at the church started coming until the pastor had to admit that he had been wrong, and the group was invited to sing and play at the weekly service.
A woman told her husband for years that she would love to learn to speak French. For two years, she dropped hints around the holidays and her birthday about a French class at the local travel bookstore, and the French Cultivation Society that does movie nights, but nothing ever came of it. Finally, she confronted him. “I know you don’t want me to, but I am going to learn French! I’d like to sign up for this class.” Her husband looked at her, dumbfounded. “What makes you think I don’t want you to learn French? That class sounds like fun, you should do it.”
About a year ago, I was up to my ears in full-scale burn out. I hadn’t had a real break in months and the pace of work seemed to be ever-increasing. What I remember disliking the most about that time was how generalized my unhappiness was. Everywhere I looked was more work; I just couldn’t see the joy.
One Saturday, my son (who was 3 at the time) was standing on our coffee table wearing star shaped glasses, holding a crayon like a microphone, singing “Let it Grow” from the Lorax. I, on the other hand, was obsessively conveying some story to my husband about how something had happened and then someone said something and then something else happened (you know that story, I’m sure. It’s NEVER interesting.). He looked at me and said “Ok, I hear you, but right now- look at this.” and he physically turned me around to face my son.
Those of us in the helping professions (therapy, coaching, education, nursing, social work, etc) are really, really good at taking care of others…. and really, really bad at taking care of ourselves. We give everything we have to our clients and if we aren’t careful, we can end up wrung out and miserable.
This has to stop. And the first step is the hardest.
For three years I worked with hundreds of educators to create classrooms where students are better able to persist when their school work gets hard. As the standards are raised more students are struggling and many of our students are shutting down in response. We worked to shift mindsets so that students would believe that they could overcome these challenges, and would be willing to keep going when things got hard.
As is true with all work done in schools, some educators took it on, grappled with it, made shifts to their day-to-day life and had transformative effects. I’ve heard stories of students who had never worked independently before suddenly asking questions, finishing their work and doing revisions! Those stories are amazing and they make the work worth doing… but let’s not forget that there are also schools where nothing really changes. Though the schools have new data, classroom cultures aren’t shifting and students aren’t transforming. Why?