Math and Natural Sciences
Although it’s more of a novella than a book, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy has stuck with me since reading it in college: write your own obituary, then try your hardest to live up to it.
This is the first day of classes here, and it’s nice to see new and returning faces, full of hope and anticipation. One of the nice things about working in a college is all the beginnings we have: every few months a new semester and a new start.
So in the spirit of beginning anew, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotations:
“All things are difficult before they are easy.”–Thomas Fuller
“We cannot start over but we can start now & make a new ending.”- Zig Ziglar
“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.”Barabra Sher
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which, more than anything else, will determine its successful outcome.” William James
On Saturday, I wandered over to the playing fields to watch my three-year-old friend begin his soccer career. It was not the most auspicious beginning. Someone upset him right before the game, and he refused to play. To show his disdain, he stood on the other side of the field with his back to the game, to the spectators, and to his family. Despite pleas from his parents, grandparents, brother, and his brother’s friend, he refused to budge. He was not playing soccer this day.
Despite Gavin’s lack of participation, there was plenty to see. Americans sometimes complain watching soccer is boring. But this is definitely not true when the under-four set play. You were never quite sure where the children would take off running. One boy, each time he came to the end where his parents sat, ran off the field, took a swig from his mother’s water bottle, and then returned to the game. Another boy, when his name was called, was nowhere to be found. After five seconds of panic, he was spotted, a good hundred yards away at the concession stand.
My favorite moments came from the other team. Each time they were closing in on the goal, one of the players (a different one each time), in his excitement, picked up the ball and threw it in the goal. Each time, the coach gathered them in a little circle, held his hands up, and said, “What do we do with our hands in soccer?” And the kids raised their hands and yelled, “No hands! No hands!” Which they immediately forgot again in the frenzy of the game.
But the coaches were patient. They reminded the children of the big rules (don’t grab the ball) but never reprimanded. Gavin’s coach asked him several times if he wanted to play, but when Gavin didn’t respond, he let it go. The kids were having fun (well, except for Gavin). And they will learn a little more with each game. And one week, Gavin will rush on the field with the other kids and will have as good a time.
Watching three-year-olds play soccer is a good lesson in realizing that sometimes it’s better to let things be and live to fight another day.
Warning: This post was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. However, I am reading it in French, so there’s a chance that I have totally mangled her meaning.
Are you a person who needs gratitude? Do you often go around wondering why your family, friends, boss, and/or colleagues haven’t thanked you for all you do? When I’m talking with friends who are unhappy at work or in relationships, it’s not long before the word ‘appreciation’ shows up: “I spent four hours, four hours I didn’t have, on that cake, and no one said a single thing about it.” Or “My boss never thanks me when I turn in a report or give an update on a project. What’s wrong with people?”
Let’s even take for granted that your family should have appreciated the time and effort you took in making a cake and that your boss is a total Bozo for not thanking you. And yes, it’s nice to be appreciated. But when the lack of such appreciation ruins your day and even threatens to ruin your relationships, you need a better approach.
And that approach is to change the situation around to a “I did it for me” attitude.
Let’s say you buy a raspberry gelato at Whole Foods, then sit outside and eat it. Would you expect appreciation for that? Probably not. It’s something that you do for yourself.
So try thinking of other activities in that way as well.
If you decide to make a cake for a party, then say it’s because you like making homemade cakes and experimenting with different kinds of icing, that baking is a type of creativity for you. The party is just an excuse for you to use those skills.
And when you’re working on a report, tell yourself that you’re doing it for your own career advancement or because you don’t want people to think you do shoddy work. You do good work because that’s who you are.
And the best thing is that your feelings are no longer dependent on your oblivious family or your Bozo boss.
After last week’s post about the “One Minute Rule,” Jessica Rabb, from the Math and Natural Sciences division, sent me an article about the danger of ‘precrastination.’ During some ingenious experiments on college students, researchers found that people will often do inane and even unnecessary things to lighten their cognitive load.
Especially in our wireless world where the dings for emails, messages, posts, and tweets never stop, we can easily mistake being busy for being productive. We might feel good after getting our in-box down to fifty emails, but we may still not have gotten to any of the important business of the day.
When I taught composition, I lectured my students on not worrying about how a word was spelled at the rough draft stage. “We’re working with content here,” I’d say. “You may not even have that word in your final draft. Don’t edit until the end.”
Students often did not like my advice. After all, finding out how a word is spelled is easier than taking out whole chunks of text and rewriting. And it can certainly feel like something is being accomplished.
t’s probably worthwhile to remember Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant. He divided tasks into urgent/not urgent and important/not important. By looking to see where a task lies in the quadrant, we can make wise decisions about what to do first and what to perhaps omit all together.
Unfortunately, the past two weeks have taught me that I am some sort of weird combination of the procrastinator and the precrastinator.