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Posted December 15, 2014on:
As I write this, the fall semester is officially over (with the exception of frantic English professors still grading those last few essays so they can turn in their grades by the 4:30 deadline). So it seems an appropriate time to reflect on and thank the people who unintentionally served as my teachers this year.
- To Donna, thanks for sharing how to suffer a great loss with dignity and love and for providing an example of courage and faith.
- To the ESL students who come to the library, thanks for reminding me how much persistence matters when going after a goal.
- To the LRC staff, thanks for being both supportive and honest, and never letting me be surrounded with a bunch of “yes men.”
- To the grumpy woman at the check-out counter, thanks for the lesson that a kind word can often deescalate a situation, but an angry word on top of another angry word will surely not.
- To Jeff, the IT guy who has an office in the library, thanks for demonstrating that it is possible to be patient and kind, even when asked the same question over and over and over and over again.
- To the constant complainer, thanks for reminding me that constant complaining is the surest way to drive people away.
- To that person who can never take criticism and advice, thanks for showing me how I don’t want to be.
- To the man who screamed at the Wendy’s employee at the drive-thru, thanks for not being in my life for more than this one unpleasant moment.
You get the picture. There are teachers everywhere if we’ll just pay attention.
In the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport makes a convincing argument that the passion hypothesis (that we must find our passion to have a satisfying and enjoyable work life) is wrong. His belief is that passion comes after we put in the hard work to learn a skill, not before.
This can be a very liberating philosophy. Instead of worrying that we’ve found the right career, we realize that we can do well and be happy in a variety of careers. It gives us the freedom to try new things, not afraid we’re missing out on our ‘passion.’
Whatever job we’re in, Newport recommends building “career capital,” so when and if we’re ready to make a move, we’ll have options:
- Work on a craftsman mindset. In other words, work on getting better at a job, not on trying to find the perfect one.
- Find out what’s needed in the field.
- Seek feedback.
- Minimize the time spent on activities that won’t improve job performance.
One of the major problems of the “Passion” mindset, according to Newport, is that we spend too much time worrying about what the job is giving to us instead of working on the contributions we can make. We end up with the same skills we had when we started the job, something that doesn’t make us look very attractive to potential employers.
So when we are giving advice to college students, maybe we need to back off on the passion part. Or at least temper it.
Last week in piano class, I was working on a song (A song for me is a piece that has two lines of music.), and my instructor said to transpose it to F minor. Yikes. This was the very thing that I’d been dreading. Although I now better understood the various keys and major/minors, I was still very confused about transposing.
While she moved on to the next student, I made myself take a deep breath and tried to focus on what I knew. And after a couple of practices, I got it. I was so excited that when my teacher came back around, I asked to play the transposed piece first. Which I did.
I finished and turned to her triumphantly. She then did her job: praising my accuracy but pointing out my rhythm was off. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t as excited as I was but then realized this was a personal victory. In fact, I had concentrated on not letting her know how confused I was about transposing.
Since then, I have made many more mistakes. But that one victory has kept me plugging away.
(And I had an extra raspberry fudge popsicle to celebrate when I got home that night.)
This is Thanksgiving week, and gratitude is the theme for many of us as we reflect on our health, our friends, and our families. But let’s also be thankful for the less-obvious things that make our lives happier as well.
Here’s my list:
- I am grateful for the plumbers who came to my house last week. They made my shower run again. So now I can take a hot shower without standing in a pool of water. And while I’m at it, I’m grateful for all the engineers and builders throughout history who learned how to create indoor plumbing, hot running water, and shower heads that can get thick, curly hair soaking wet.
- I am thankful that I could pay the plumber without having to put off another crucial purchase, something my parents had to do more than once.
- I am thankful for Susanne, who, every three months, takes on the job of cutting my crazy, curly hair. I am grateful that she enjoys her job and spends time learning new techniques.
- I am grateful for quick reflexes, which made me the neverending butt of jokes in junior high school. People always pretended to throw things at me just to see how fast my arms went up to cover my face. But this weekend, those same reflexes helped me steer my car out of the way when a woman ran a stop sign.
- The fact that I’m writing this means that I live in a culture that values literacy for all social classes and for women as well as men. I’m very grateful for that.
- I’m grateful that I’ve discovered new authors to read, especially Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry) and Julie Schumacher (Dear Committee Members). I’m thankful for all writers who work so hard at inventing stories and telling them so beautifully.
So here’s my list. What’s on yours?
In her book Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, Professor Patricia Ryan Madison suggests that we say yes to more experiences in life, including supporting the dreams of others. Sadly, too often, I hear stories of how people face not only financial and academic obstacles, but also lack of support from the people in their lives:
- A student came by to pick up a copy of Tetrahedra (our literary magazine). She wanted to show it to her family because they said she wouldn’t be able to do anything in college. She wanted to show them tangible proof that she could.
- A friend told her best friend about something she wanted to do. The response: “What makes you think you’re special?”
- Another friend remembers being told by a professor that she was so gifted in art that it would be a shame if she didn’t make it her life’s work. Instead, she chose a government job because her mother didn’t believe she could make a living at art.
Let me be clear here. Our families love us and they want us to be safe and not get hurt. They are certainly not trying to kill our dreams but to protects us from danger. And, yes, there are some people out there who don’t want us to succeed. They think by keeping others down, they won’t have to deal with their own dead dreams. And then there are the realists: Every dreamer needs those to help keep the dream grounded. Still, there does seem to be a plethora of those who see the negative. And that’s not counting the number of negative things most people say to themselves each day.
So perhaps we should make an effort to be a cheerleader for those we care about:
- Say “yes you can” to students who are doubting themselves.
- Listen to someone’s plans without bringing up all the things that can go wrong.
- Don’t say “I told you so” when plans go awry.
- Offer to babysit or provide a quiet place for the person to work or study.
- Give a gift that encourages their dream. (I would suggest a book, of course.)
It’s nice to have someone in our corner. And everyone deserves that.
One for the Money
by Janet Evanovich
This is a mystery, and the detective is a woman bounty hunter. I love mysteries, so this is great. But, it is also one of the FUNNIEST books I’ve read!! LOL!!
Two weeks ago, I hit a wall in my music class. My instructor asked me to play my practice piece in a different key, and I had no idea what she was talking about. Then she asked me what key my practice piece was in. I didn’t know that either. So she told me to stay after class for a little individual tutoring.
Our tutoring session went something like this: My instructor drew a diagram on the board of something called the Circle of Fourths and Fifths. She obviously thought that this was going to clear up my confusion. She was wrong. Still, when she asked if I understood, I nodded yes. I don’t think she believed me because she went over it again. And again I nodded yes when she asked if I understood. (And I now have sympathy for all the students who nodded when I’ve asked similar questions over the year. There is a point when you are so confused that you know that nothing further can be done at that moment. And your only wish is to escape the situation.)
So I left class disheartened. It was clear that my lack of knowledge of basic music theory was a problem in this class. At some point in my past, I probably would have gone straight to the computer and dropped the course. But I was determined not to do that this time. Instead I got on my iPad and looked for an app on music theory. I found one that was cheap with good reviews.
Then I sat down to read and practice. The first time through I didn’t understand much more than when I started. And I failed horribly at exercise one, blindly hitting keys hoping that somehow I could find the relationship between the notes. I wasn’t much better the second and third times through. Two days later, I was at lunch, reading the instruction part again and suddenly one sentence made total sense. Working from that one sentence, I drew my own Circle of Fifths. And I finally understood. I still had a lot to learn, but at least now I knew what my teacher had been talking about, and I would be able to move on with the class.
When learning something new, there may come a time that you find you have a gap in your knowledge that is preventing you from moving on. It’s up to you to fill that gap: You can talk to your instructor. You can get a friend or professional tutor to help you. You can do what I did, go online and find an app or a program that will help. But don’t give up.