You thought things would turn out differently.
You’re not where you want to be.
You know you can do better.
If any or all of the above thoughts have come to mind over the past year just know that you are not alone. It’s been a year like none other and it makes sense that you would have self-doubt. Unfortunately, it’s human nature when things go wrong to look in the mirror first. But you know what?
Because looking inward and taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses can help get you back on track.
I do believe that for many of us, this is the root of our discouragement.
We don’t really know what it is we want. We tell ourselves that we want to be happy but have we taken the time to sit down and really define what that means and what it will look like?
This exercise is much more difficult than it sounds. To simply say or want to be happy without defining what happiness will look like is impossible. Like the quote above, how will we know when we are happy?
Well, that could be the subject of an entire blog post or book for that matter. So, rather than spend hours, days, or even months trying to determine what makes you happy, I suggest attempting to create moments of joy. As Chip and Dan Heath share in their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact:
“We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These extraordinary minutes and hours and days — they are what make like meaningful. And they are ours to create.”
In other words, don’t get down because you’re not always happy.
No one is.
Instead, strive to find out what brings you joy.
Now, only you can figure that out. It may take some time and it may take trial and error. But believe me, it is a lot more attainable than happiness.
This year you ran the Turkey Trot in your best time ever. You couldn’t believe that you shaved the minutes off your personal best. And that was ten years ago when you were 40. Normally you don’t share your results on social media but today you decided you would.
That is until you happened to see a friend of yours post their time for the Turkey Trot which happened to be 4 minutes faster than yours. And they are five years older than you. All of the sudden, you don’t feel so good about your time. In fact, you decide to delete your social media post.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get better and there is nothing wrong with wanting to compete.
We must be careful about how often we compete and with whom.
Going against others once in a while is okay and can even help us to improve.
On the other hand, constantly comparing ourselves to others is dangerous and not helpful. In fact, it can be quite detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. I often reference James Clear’s advice and I am going to do so again here.
Clear advises us to spend more time looking at our trajectory as opposed to our location. In other words, start focusing on whether or not you’re getting better and stop focusing on where you rank.
You’re thinking, Jon, an educator has so many different things that they must focus on. How can ask me to think of just one thing? It’s impossible.
And I agree … to a certain extent. But I also know that our brains can become easily overwhelmed. We don’t like to admit it but we often like to see how much we can take on at once. Yet, when we take on so much, are we really allowing ourselves time and energy, and space to do our best work? The kind of work that helps to build our self-confidence not erode it.
Greg McKeown wrote a wonderful book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Doing Less. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever experienced the intense and paralyzing feeling of overwhelm. In the book, McKeown tells a story of a Silicon Valley executive who was trying to do too many things at once and was becoming unsatisfied with his work. But instead of becoming burned out or worse yet, falling ill to some health issue, he changed his ways. McKeown shared:
“Instead of making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions he began to generate tremendous momentum towards accomplishing the things that were truly vital.”
You too can do this.
Pick one or two things that matter most to you. They may involve your job or they may not. Once you have chosen your one or two things, devote 90% of your energy and focus to those endeavors. Now that doesn’t mean you ignore your responsibilities, your obligations. But you no longer worry about them like you used to. You don’t tie your self-worth to things you really don’t care that much about.
What you will find is that you will have a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm for the one or two things in your life that matter most.
Decide what matters most and focus on that.
And it never will.
Because if everything matters, then nothing really matters.
When presented with a problem our brains immediately try to figure out how to solve it. Why wouldn’t we? It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll always do.
But should we?
Up until last week, I would have said yes. I mean why not. You are presented with a problem. You try to figure out the problem. It’s not rocket science, right?
Well, while it may not be rocket science, but rockets aren’t designed and built by one person. Far from it. Usually, it takes a whole team of people to design, build, and launch a rocket into space.
I still don’t see what you’re getting at Jon.
Make your point or I’m outta here.
My point is this.
Problems shouldn’t be solved alone. Yet how often do we try to tackle even the most complex problems alone? And then when we are unsuccessful we blame ourselves or think less of ourselves.
Hmmm. My dryer broke. I’ll just go on YouTube. Watch the video. Find the box of three tools and loose screws I have in the garage and fix it. Sound crazy? Well, I tried it a few years ago. I was almost there. It took three hours but I really thought I could do it. Until I couldn’t.
I called someone who was trained to fix a dryer. He came over and fixed it in a few minutes.
When the problem first presented itself I should have thought who not how. And that is the title of the new book by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan. It’s great and it makes so much sense and yet we rarely apply the basic premise of the book. The full title is Who Not How: The Formula to Achieving Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamworkand it is another book that I recommend you pick up this year or maybe place on your Christmas Wish List.
As Hardy points out at the beginning of the book;
“It can be easy to focus on How, especially for high achievers who want to control what they can control, which is themselves. It takes vulnerability and trust to expand your efforts and build a winning team. It takes wisdom to recognize that 1) other people are more than capable enough to handle much of the Hows, and 2) that your efforts and contribution (your Hows) should be focused exclusively where your greatest passion and impact are. Your attention and energy should not be spread thin, but purposefully directed where you can experience extreme flow and creativity.”
So the next time you are faced with a problem, big or small, let the first question you ask yourself be Who can help me and not How can I solve this?
Since when did we expect to be good at everything?
Unless your name is John Legend, winner of an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony) then you need to ease up on yourself.
Being an educator is becoming more difficult by the day. You have to assume the role of teacher, leader, computer tech, nurse, psychologist, counselor, etc, etc. I could go on, but you have things to do.
My point is that it is impossible for you to be good at each of the roles you assume in the course of a day or a week. You do the best you can and you keep moving. There is no other way.
And yet we continuously beat ourselves up when we are not experts or highly proficient in everything.
We must stop it!
Put simply and crudely, we are going to suck at some things; many things. But that’s what we have each other for. As I discussed in the previous section, find the right Whos for your Whats. You are not alone and you never have been.
Reach out when you need help and ease up on yourself. You would never let a colleague or student talk to themselves the way you talk to you.
You have a choice to make.
You can stay where you are or you can take the steps necessary to get and feel better. It is very easy when we are feeling down to do nothing. I am certainly guilty of that quite often. When I feel like an imposter or like I haven’t lived up to my potential, I’ll often take a nap or go to bed early.
While this strategy often takes away the feeling of incompetence, it doesn’t help in the long run and it doesn’t do anything to help my future self. The self I want to be.
But on my best days.
And offer myself some grace.
And those are the days that keep me going.
And those are the days that I am trying to have more of.
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