A couple of weeks ago, a biology professor was telling me about one of her students who had turned the semester around after not doing well on the first test.
What did she do? She gave her children an earlier bed time so that she could study an extra hour each night. She then successfully finished the semester, and her professor recommended her as a possible tutor for other students.
What really impressed me about this student was that she looked at her situation, analyzed it, and then solved the correct problem. She understood the lectures. She was doing the readings. She just needed more time each night to go over the material.
If she had not understood the lectures, spending more time on the notes may not have been the answer. The solution might have been going to see her professor during office hours. If she were a procrastinator, then that extra hour might have been spent surfing the web.
It would seem to be an easy proposition to state a problem and then solve it. But in reality, it can be quite hard. Sometimes we can’t state the actual problem. For example, I like to blame my metabolism for my weight, but in my heart of hearts, I know it’s the fact that I often eat more than double the recommended number of calories in a day.
Sometimes we state the actual problem and take action, but it’s not the right action. Once when I was taking physics, I knew quite well that I didn’t understand the material. And I read the chapter repeatedly. But it didn’t help. Probably what would have helped was to see my professor or got to a study session. But that would have required me to admit that I was totally clueless, so I persisted in a totally ineffective way. The only thing that saved me was that the final was multiple choice and graded on a curve.
When it comes to problems, we have to keep in mind two simple steps. First, accurately define the problem. Second, take action that solves the actual problem.
Today I went to Parnassus Books to use a gift card I received for Christmas. I was already in a good mood when I walked in (Books and gift card!). There was an author speaking, and I let his words drift over me as I browsed. But suddenly they stopped drifting. The author was Jon Acuff, a Nashville inspirational speaker who has written several books on setting and achieving goals, a perfect choice for a new year speaker. And he’s also incredibly funny.
He said he once asked a sales clerk at Publix how long she thought most people kept their resolutions. Three weeks, she answered with certainty. He asked how she knew.
“Because that’s when the kale stops selling.”
But he followed that up with a more serious comment. He thinks that we have done the younger generation a disservice by stressing following their passion and not having a fuller discussion about what means. As a result, when things get tedious and/or hard, many think, “This is awful. My passion can’t be awful. This must not be my passion. I’ll find something else.”
But following a passion doesn’t give anyone a pass from the tedious/hard things in life. As Acuff said, for many people, doing the budget brings little happiness. But if you are going to own your own business or run a household, it has to be done. When we talk to the young about following passions, we should add the following : When you’re willing to put up with the tedious as well as the fun parts, you’re on the right path.
Over the holidays, we lost a colleague. George McIntyre taught in the Music Technology department. He came down with the flu and pneumonia, and the combination proved fatal.
George was one of our friends in the library. He asked Pam to come over and play for his class, and students got experience with a working musician. She usually worked with him once a semester, and the students loved it. He would also stop by the library occasionally to talk music with Pam and joke with the rest of us.
He was the sort of teacher all of us would want: real-world experience, concern for students, humility, and good humor. He was also the colleague all of would want for those very same reasons.
He will be greatly missed, but we can honor him by copying his best qualities when we can:
- Look for new ways to bring a class to life.
- Always share a laugh with your colleagues.
- Be the positive environment that you say you want.
- Never miss an opportunity to express gratitude.
- Love your family with your whole heart.
George was one of the good ones. He can’t be replaced. But his example can make our workplace (and maybe our world) a little better.