My proudest teacher moment this year came in the form of a Christmas note from a student –
“You taught us that it’s okay not to be ‘perfect’ and that is how we learn…from our mistakes.”
I used to have a really hard time admitting that I made a mistake. I would endure the repercussions instead of allowing that I made a poor choice and seeking an alternate. I would quietly jump through hoops to mitigate the consequences of my mistake instead of copping to it and asking for assistance.
I saw my mistakes as personal failings and their consequences as natural punishment. Instead of seeing opportunity in mistakes, I saw shame.
And in that environment, small mistakes can become large ones.
When my marriage imploded publicly and spectacularly, I was forced to come to terms with many mistakes of my own making – I chose to marry this man who obviously had some traits that were incompatible with marriage, I was ignorant of the deceptions and financial transactions that were occurring under my own roof and I further made the error of extending blind trust to another.
And for the first time in my life, rather than feeling shame and shutting down from those mistakes, I allowed myself to see opportunity and feel motivated by them.
And you know what? It was okay.
The world didn’t end because I had made a mistake. My loved ones didn’t turn away in abject horror. The lapses in judgement didn’t define me and the only thing they changed was my conviction to learn how to do better the next time.
And instead of fearing mistakes, I started to accept them. Sometimes even welcome them. (A tip of the hat here to my husband who does so well of admitting mistakes without excuse or defensiveness. I’m still learning from him!)
By admitting to a mistake, you take the first step towards fixing it.
By admitting to a mistake, you allow for other solutions and other perspectives.
By admitting to a mistake, you invite others into the search for resolution.
By admitting to a mistake, you set the stage for learning and create opportunity for growth.
By admitting to a mistake, you silence the shame and normalize the experience of not getting it right every time.
By admitting to a mistake, you give yourself the gift of empathy and understanding.
We ALL make mistakes. It’s what you do with them that matters.
In fact, the excuses are real. I just choose to ignore the solutions.
But I’m tired of living that way.
So I refuse to anymore.
This past week, I had an opportunity to water ski for the first time.
Let me clarify. It was not the first opportunity in my life to water ski- I’ve had many of those over the last 20 years. It was; however, the first opportunity I chose to accept.
And, like all fears, it seemed so silly after it was faced and the excuses so easy to overcome.
And, like all fears, facing it and mastering it brought an incredible feeling of strength and potential.
My lessons that day are embedded within water skiing, but they apply to facing most any fears.
Surround Yourself With the Right People
The situation on the boat this day was perfect. I had a teacher/driver/guide/coach that I trusted and who was patient and positive. There were other skiers on the boat who had only a few more hours practice than me – watching them showed me it was possible. When you’re with the right people, you feel supported enough to take a risk.
Accept Your Weaknesses
My primary excuse for avoiding water skiing over the years was my fear of losing my (very expensive and very necessary) contact lenses. On this day, I brought a pair of swim goggles. Rather than allow a weakness to hold you back, find a way to work around it.
Learn From Your Failures
On my first attempt, I got up but then immediately fell back into the water. After a quick debriefing, I learned what I did wrong and corrected it on the next try. Failure is a teacher, not an end.
Capitalize on Your Strengths
My form was not ideal on my first, 3-minute run. But I could use my strength (literally, in this case) to make up for my lack of finesse. Your own strengths can help to balance your weaknesses. Let them.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
There were some VERY good skiers on the boat. I didn’t compare myself to the woman who grew up on skis. That would be silly, pointless and disheartening. I compared myself to the Lisa who always said, “No, thanks” to the offer to ski. Rather than use others as your benchmark, look to your own progress.
Prepare But Don’t Overthink
I had a boat lesson on the proper form (tight ball with skis up) and most important tip (keep your arms straight) but, once I was in the water, I silenced the brain and let the body tell me what to do. Overthinking tends to make something simple into a complicated mess.
Set Realistic Goals
For some reason, I always had a fear of water skiing. That meant that I had a bigger hurdle to overcome than many on their first attempt. Allow for your fears and create realistic expectations for you.
After my three minute ski, I crawled back onto the boat and was greeted with cheers and high fives. Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling that comes from tackling something new. It’s pretty awesome.
In residential real estate, the value of a property is often found through market comps, the comparison of the property in question to other, nearby residences that are similar. Of course, no property is identical to any other, so adjustments are made to the sales prices of the comps to arrive at a value for a given property. It’s as much art as science, learning the values of the various adjustments, adding here and subtracting there in order to create a level playing field.
I like this strategy – using comparisons yet also recognizing individual character and worth. In fact, it’s not a bad game plan in other areas as well, as I discovered this past week.
We just returned from our second (hopefully) annual ski trip. Last year, it was just Brock and I. This was perfect, as I was very nervous about tackling the sport. For some reason, going downhill is panic-inducing for me. Like, limbic system lockdown panic. This only happens when I am the one in control of steering and slowing – rollerblades, bikes, running and even driving. Roller coasters and sitting in a passenger seat on a fast descent are no problem – in fact, I love them.
It would be easiest for me to avoid those situations that require me to trust my ability to control my speed and direction. Easiest, but also limiting. And, if there is one takeaway lesson from my divorce, it is not let fear ever limit me again.
Last year’s trip was the first time I ever really tackled this fear of the downhill head-on. And it was quite a meeting. Seriously, check it out, if only to laugh at the pictures of me looking like a newborn giraffe attempting to take its first steps:)
This time was a little different. I knew a little more what to expect, which tempered some fear but also provided scaffolding for expectations, which I had avoided year one. Furthermore, we were not alone this time; we were joined by three friends, two who as accomplished skiers and one who was brand new to the sport.
On the first day, I went with Brock straight to the easiest green run that I had skied last year. I was nervous as the lift neared the top, wondering if the feeling of my skis on the hill would be familiar or if my body would remember how to move. It wasn’t bad. I bailed soon after my skis hit the snow, which I also did every time last year. Once I stood up and took a few deep breaths, I was ready to tackle the slope. I never fell, but I sat down (my reaction when panic set in either due to excessive speed or fear that I couldn’t steer around someone) several times. I went down that same slope several more times that afternoon, each run a bit better than the previous.
But I still hadn’t mastered my nemesis. That run has a short, steeper portion about halfway down. It’s a bit tricky, not only due to the increased decline, but also due to the curve, steep, treed drop-off and the heaps of other beginners who didn’t make it down in one attempt. Each time, I would stop at the top of the hill and wait for a clear (or at least clearer) path. Each time, I would make it about halfway down the slope before panicking and bailing. As the attempts went on, I grew more and more frustrated with myself.
It didn’t help that this time, I was also comparing myself to another – the brand new skier in our group. By about run number three, he was able to make it down that entire green slope without falling. I saw him, another novice, as comparable to myself. So when I fell short, I felt defeated.
I carried that feeling into day two. That, plus a serious sleep shortage and a not-too-happy belly, led to a limited day. But it still had its bright spots.
In the morning, I again did “my” run, this time with one of our friends who is an excellent skier. He was trying to encourage me to give up on the snow plow method of braking (which is what I was taught the previous year) and instead use turns to control my speed. By the end of the run, I was starting to pick up his suggestions and become comfortable in their application.
Brock then joined me on my next run. I had two firsts – I made it off the lift without bailing and I made it down my nemesis without ever touching the ground (which my bruised butt appreciated!). Once I realized I made it down intact, I was distracted and fell soon after. I was surprised to feel tears on my cheeks as I stood up. Tears not from pain, but from the satisfaction of facing and conquering a fear. Not unlike the tears that fell during the marathon.
At that moment, it didn’t matter that there are many that could ski that hill backwards and blindfolded. It didn’t matter that our novice friend mastered faster than me. All that mattered was that I faced my fear, stayed with it and learned to trust my ability to make it through. I had been using comps to judge myself, but I had failed to make adjustments. Unlike our friend, I had some repair work to do before I was ready enough to gain confidence on the slopes. Once I allowed time for those restorations, I was right on track.
By midday, I had graduated to a more difficult and longer beginner’s run. I again made it off the lift (this time one with a VERY steep ramp at the offload) without bailing. And, although I fell several times, I handled each hill better than the last and allowed my speed to pick up more and more. At one point, alone on a lift, I thought of the trust fall activity where one person with eyes covered, falls backwards, counting on a partner to break the fall. Until that day, I hadn’t been letting myself fall. On that day, I learned that I could let go and trust myself to get back up.
By the third morning, I approached the slopes with confidence rather than trepidation. I made it through six beginner runs without falling or bailing (yes, including my nemesis!). My legs were giving out but I could feel that it was no longer as taxing on my mind. I was no longer facing a fear, the hills had become known. Maybe not allies yet, but no longer adversaries.
During the entire trip, Brock had been pushing me to try an intermediate blue slope. I kept pushing back, convinced I was not ready. I think I surprised him when I met him at the bottom of the slope and asked him to run a blue with me. I knew I was ready yet I also knew it would be a challenge. It didn’t let me down. Well, actually, I guess it did, as my flawless beginner runs gave way to multiple tumbles (including a spectacular face plant).
But you know what? I never panicked on that run. I never got frustrated. I didn’t compare myself to the other newbie who had been skiing blues for two days by that point. All I thought about was the progress that I had made.
Because regardless of the comparisons we make to others, we are all unique properties with our own areas of strength and weakness. Rather than trying to compare yourself to the others, work on your own renovations, making yourself the best you can.
As for me, I may never be the best skier around, but I am the best skier I can be. At least until next year, when I plan on mastering those intermediate slopes:)
So December 2013 is another month marked by yet another school shooting. It’s almost commonplace now yet as I looked around the excited faces of our middle schoolers at their annual basketball pep rally this afternoon, it’s unimaginable. I cannot envision one of them turning on their classmates and teachers with a deadly weapon. I cannot picture an armed intruder entering our school.
And I don’t want to.
After Brock heard about the latest incident on the news, he brought up the idea of doing some pro bono training for teachers. This is a man who has made his life’s passion about protection and defense. I have no doubt that his empty hands against a gun would at least result in a fight. He wants to share his expertise so that teachers could be better prepared. I appreciate and understand his motivation and intent.
But I don’t want to.
I don’t like assuming the role of a security officer at school. I am stretched enough as teacher and counselor and social worker and nurse and cheerleader. And playing police defeats those other roles. The roles I signed up for. I don’t know if I possess the capacity for the duplicity required. Middle schoolers don’t respond to clinical detachment; you have to form relationships. But how do you build a relationship at the same time you train how to take them out? Perhaps it is something that can be learned.
ButI don’t want to.
It makes Brock upset. And, I’m sure, scared every time he hears those reports. He knows techniques and strategies that could potentially help. It frustrates him that I don’t want to learn those operations. But I don’t know if I can and continue to work in my role as a teacher.
I never learned this in school. I was taught how to attack curriculum, not people. I was taught how to motivate kids, not take out adversaries. I learned how to break apart the processes of math, not the bones of others. I am sure I could learn these other lessons, these techniques more suited to SWAT than pep rally.
But I don’t want to.
Maybe it’s my way of keeping my head in the sand. Keeping the possibility at a safe enough distance. Maybe it’s because being a teacher is overwhelming enough and I can’t imagine adding another layer to balance. Perhaps I’m just not made of the right stuff to be able to respond tactically in chaos. Maybe it seems futile because I can not (will not?) dedicate the time needed for real training.
I don’t know.
But I do know that these reports always shake me to the core.
The hard slap of reality delivered with a frightening regularity.
I do know it makes me want to hug my students.
And assure them they’re not alone.
I do know it changes the way I feel, walking into my job every day.
I have a friend whose young daughter narrowly escaped a tragedy this past summer. Around the time of the event, the mom could speak of it relatively matter-of-factly, with only the slightest tremble of the hands and tightening of voice belying the pain and fear beneath.
For the first few months, mom strayed strong. She distracted the child and went on about life. She held the trauma of the near-tragedy at arm’s length with only periodic glances that confirmed its existence. She was okay.
And then the child got sick. Nothing major, just a normal fall childhood illness, but it triggered the fear of losing her child in the mother.
She was facing what she couldn’t before.
The first time through, she didn’t know if her daughter would be okay. That was unfaceable at the time.
This time through, she knows that her child will be okay and so the pent-up emotions are released.
And now she can face them.
Often we begin to face things only when we feel safe.
Maslow talks about how basic physical and psychological needs must be met before self-actualization can occur. When faced with trauma, our basic needs of safety and security must be met before we can address , face-on, the emotions at the root of the pain. If you try to face it too soon, while your existence is still precarious, your mind will grip and refuse to let go. If you fail to face it, choosing to keep your gaze averted, it will become like a cancerous growth, slowing releasing its toxins.
Acknowledge that trauma is often too big to process all at once. Think of it like untying a knot, teasing away at it until it unravels completely. Be patient with yourself. It’s tempting to pretend to be healed because of the calendar. But the mind doesn’t understand time. Stay with it as long as it takes.
Recognize if you are turning away from the whole of the pain because it is too big to bear. Be gentle with yourself, Do not force it, yet do not ignore it either. Face it in time. Total lockdown is no way to live for long.
Look for ways to help increase your feelings of emotional safety or security. These must be met first. Look for tangibles that prove you are okay. Have a back-up plan. Find people that have your back.
Breathe. Pain has a way of shutting down the breath, as though the trauma whispers in with each inhale. Allow the breath to flow, releasing tension with each exhale.
Recognize that healing is a process, not a switch. It comes in waves, following the pain. Just because you do or not feel a certain way right now, does not mean you never will.
In the first couple months after my ex disappeared, I didn’t feel much. I was scared to open the dams, not sure if the impending emotions would be too powerful to bear. I was still in shock. trying to make sense of it all. And, I was trying to push it aside so that I could attend to the necessities of life.
But I knew I couldn’t do that forever.
I booked a short stay at a meditation and yoga retreat with the intention of opening the dam with the professionals there as flotation devices. I left all of the distractions (which I was so good at using) behind and steeled myself for the face-off: woman vs. trauma. Go.
It was pretty unimpressive. A few trickles of loss. Some tears. Some aching void.
But nothing on the scale I feared.
Because I wasn’t yet ready to face it. Again, trauma doesn’t speak calendar. It doesn’t respond well to scheduled appointments.
It likes to show up on its own time.
Even though I didn’t engage in an epic battle with my trauma at that time, the trip was valuable. I learned that I could let the pain in, that it wouldn’t flatten me. I learned that I could work away at it a little at a time. I learned that I couldn’t force healing on my terms. And I learned that my responsibility was to address the pain when it did arise (which was never at a convenient time).
It’s easy to see pain as a bad thing. But maybe it’s a sign of healing, an indication that you’re ready to address it.