Category Archives: Self-care

Somewhere Between Boredom and Burnout…

There is a wonderful line in the 1998 movie Ever After when the Prince Henry, as he reflects upon his responsibilities as future king, says something to the effect “But if I care about one thing, I’ll have to care about everything…” It is a line that continues to resonate with me, years after first hearing it. The mind that connects an entire universe to the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings knows that engaging in that one thing may not be as simple as it appears.

I ponder if sometimes “I’m bored,” is not so much a statement of one’s state of mind as  putting off or pondering which universe to dive into.The one you can manage? The one that will feed your soul? The one that might just swallow you whole? Or the one that won’t lead you into what can become inevitable burn out as you attempt to explore it in its entirety? When this universe jumping is coupled with a deep sense of caring, careful consideration is crucial or burnout is inevitable.

As I get older, I find I can distinguish between them a little better but that was not always the case. Plus, it can be hard to make any kind of decision, let alone the right one,  if I get distracted. And there are a LOT of distractions.

So perhaps being bored, is not such a bad thing, especially when there are options to consider. Sometimes the distractions can help us find our way but I am always surprised where my and my children’s explorations will take us when we get the chance to be bored and aren’t focused on keeping ourselves distracted. Summer is a great time to “let go” and occasionally get bored as well as distracted but by the time it ends, we tend to get a better idea of what thing will not only connect us to everything, but feed our soul and perhaps not swallow us whole. (*Spoiler Alert: by the end of the movie Prince Henry is building a university and fraternizing with gypsies…) 

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Multipotentiality is not the problem.

In a world where specializations are revered, multipotentiality can be perceived as much a burden as a gift. This paradox is reflected in the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none…” that has dodged many a multipotentialite.  Apparently the full version includes a second part “…is sometimes better than one” which only reinforces the mixed blessing of having many talents.  One would think that having many venues/opportunities through which to experience life would be optimum, so what stands in the way?

TIME

“She wants to do everything,” a mother tells me, “but now that she’s in the higher grades there just isn’t enough time for her to do everything the way she wants to do it.” This is a worry that has been shared with me more than once by concerned parents. Fitting it all into a busy schedule can be a source of considerable stress. As a teacher I’ve been able to support students with this by helping them learn how to be creative in a smaller space with the use of clear expectations and parameters. “Show me you understand this concept by only using…” rather than leaving it so open-ended that they feel compelled to show you everything they know on the topic. I have also had to meet with other teachers to coordinate assignments and homework so as to not overburden a student who has  extra-curricular obligations that are important to them.

HAVING TO CHOOSE

It begins in junior high. If you take music or French you have fewer options because they are full year courses. If you take both, you don’t get to take any other options. Once you get to high school, there are only so many spots in your schedule and if you want to go on to university you need to make sure you’ve focused on your academic courses. “Why not let them explore Foods and Computer Sciences and Drama?” I asked one parent. “Who said that you have to finish high school in three years?” Or a student might need to take fewer high school courses each year so they can continue to perform/compete in music or sports. They don’t have to cut things out…they might just need more time. Having a chance to explore all your options while still in high school only makes sense.

EXCELLENCE

Many believe that pursuing excellence requires our undivided attention. Whether it’s the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of in his book Outliers or the number of pages you have in your CV, there is no doubt that commitment plays an instrumental role in achieving excellence. “I feel that as I am committing myself to a particular field of studies, I am losing other parts of myself,” one former student shared with me, worried that diving into a specialized science program would preclude her from fully participating in her passion for politics, social justice and the arts. But is this truly the case? If we dive deep enough, with our eyes open, eventually we see that all things are connected. Excellence in a particular area gives us a unique lens with which to observe and interact with other aspects of the world and can sometimes serve up unexpected opportunities. The path you’re on can change and will likely change and if you keep your eyes open things can get REALLY interesting.

MONEY

“But if he pursues the arts, he’ll always be poor and I know what that’s like and I don’t want that for him,” one parent tells me, “he’s got so many other talents.”  My parents had the same worry for me. “Have something to fall back on,” they said, and for many years I wondered how my life would have been different if I had thrown caution to the wind. Money can govern many of our choices whether it be “What can I afford to study?” or “How much money will I make when I am done?” or “I’ve got the marks to apply this scholarship…” I sometimes wonder if our focus with our students and children was on who they want to be as people versus what they want to do, how that would influence their choices.  When education focuses on how the system can serve the economy, our multipotentialites can lose their greatest gift, insight into the importance of all talents and the importance of valuing them all.

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Let the Season be the Gift

Last year in my December blog post ‘Tis the Season to be…Anxious? I wrote: “I have learned to…submit myself to the comfort and joy of the traditions and make a firm budget to govern all forms of giving.”  As the holiday season approaches I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it because I know what is coming. From decorating to baking, family gatherings to which Christmas movies we’ll watch, there is a certain order to it all that is familiar yet flexible. Keeping it all within a reasonable budget (time and money) alleviates the stress which allows me to be reflective about what the season means to me as well as consider what is coming in the year ahead.

And there are so many things to consider. The new challenges that adolescent children bring and face. A community that is feeling the pressures of an economic downturn. The political, environmental, and economic state of the world. And in just a few short sentences I can feel some of the anxiety slip back. But I know what to do because I believe that on some level all the music, food, fellowship and Christmas “messages” are part of the preparation we will need to face whatever is coming. And with that I would like to share an original Christmas song that has been playing in my heart for many years. It’s for my children, your children and the child within us all.

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Forgiveness and other “Songlines” for 2015

I feel overwhelmed. Often. As a person who loves new information and learning, there has never been a time where information and opportunities to learn have been more accessible. This morning alone, searching through my twitter feed, I saw at least 10 Ted Talks that look amazing! That’s not counting any of the other posts I see that look intriguing to explore. Add to that the SENG Webinars, the short courses at Schumacher College and the new offerings from Coursera…Wow! Time to set some goals, make a plan, resolve to…

Did I mention that I get overwhelmed? Often? So I put away the iPad and snuck down into my basement studio where I am working on a song. It’s about forgiveness and entitled “Still Somewhere To Go”. Songwriting is ESSENTIAL practice for me. It’s not about writing a hit song or even whether people like them or not. (Though there is some joy in finding resonance with others!) It’s about tapping into and creating songlines to navigate my way through the familiar, yet “cluttered” places I find myself in. (I have borrowed the word/idea of “songlines” from an indigenous Australian tradition. Please read about how indigenous Australians use music to mark geography…it’s quite fascinating.) Songwriting guides me and I feel as exhilarated as I imagine all cartographers must as I map out where all the thoughts and ideas in my head are taking me.

So why a song about forgiveness as 2015 looms? Many students and friends have told me that of all the virtues, this is the one that is the most difficult. My own experiences are mixed…sometimes it comes easy, sometimes it takes time but to date, for the most part, I have been able to get there and I say that with gratitude; I have been fortunate in the degree of the grievances I have experienced.

But in the past few months I have realized that as an idealist, there are many things that I have not been able to forgive that can make things difficult. Rene Descartes for the fragmentarity of scientific method and its impact in application. Sacred texts for their endless interpretability. Systems and their impossible task of defining themselves in a changing world. Entrepreneurial evangelical-like changemakers who believe they have found the key to… The inability of words to adequately express complexity. In essence, all the things that take me away from seeing the beauty in all the things as they are. We are all in the process of becoming. Being angry or discouraged by the things (or people) that are not as we believe they should be isn’t really helpful. Seeing them as part of or in the middle of an astonishing journey…can be incredibly agonizing and breathtaking at the same time. Forgiving the “world” for not living up to my expectations- a pretty humbling experience. Yet now I feel less overwhelmed than when I feel it is up to me to constantly “make things happen”. Things are happening. Maybe not always the way I think they should…and that’s why the next song will need to be about humility.

And that is why for me songwriting is essential. It’s not easy to get to the final chorus without finding a bridge to get you there and that can take a lot of contemplation. But once you’ve written the song, you have something to sing when you are back stumbling through a place that you thought you’d already explored.

If I ever finish my song “Still Somewhere To Go” I will try to find a songline for humility. There are many virtues to explore in the journey of becoming. It’s one of the reasons why The Virtues Project has become such an important part of my practice. Another map of sorts, it is connected to many cultural and sacred traditions from around the world and ergo rife with songlines that have been guiding us through many terrains for many years. All the best to you as you journey through 2015!

Where Caring Becomes Self-care

In her book, Giftedness 101, Linda Silverman shares these words with gifted advocates: “Be forewarned that if you ally with this  unpopular cause, you, too, will feel the sting of anti-intellectualism aimed at you. You will soon learn firsthand about the prejudice that exists toward the gifted and their advocates. Expect to be derided at cocktail parties when you tell people what you do. An impressive number of people think they know more about the gifted than you do and they are delighted to share their opinions. Should you become a guardian of the gifted, know that there is no glory in it. This is not the route to eminence. When the scythe appears, you will have thrown in your lot with the tall poppies.” p.230

If I am to be honest, the years I have spent working with and coordinating programs for gifted students has been full of ups and downs. I have had the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with many amazing educators as well as encountered doors that refused to open. Been dismissed as erudite/out of touch and welcomed as wise. Been thanked for my understanding and compassion as well as instructed to wear Kevlar. And there have been tears. A lot.

Is this any different than any educator/advocate who walks alongside children as they navigate the halls of learning? I don’t know but I suspect not as during this time I have witnessed the tears and fears of others on their own journeys down the “hallowed halls”. Some have been advocates who work with others also skirting around the edges of the normal curve and their journey (albeit somewhat better funded as we endeavour to leave no child behind) is laden with many of the same frustrations. But even those entrenched firmly “in the middle of it all” can feel overwhelmed in the broad expanse of the curve that encompasses the “average” and the above and below “average”. As we all scramble to somehow find the “best” way to “advocate” our way through the system, get the supports that we need, things can feel territorial and those who are on a different path may appear antagonistic. As many forces grapple to find a foothold in our schools, knowing the potential and future that rests with children, we can get caught up in the fractious “dream of a single logic” which is beautifully described by David Jardine in the foreward of David Smith’s book entitled Trying To Teach In A Season of Great Untruth.

How do we care for ourselves as we work to discover our own “truth” which can often come in conflict with other “truths”? I hesitate in recommending a “12 step program” as your body and mind likely have different requirements than mine and you may choose to focus more on alleviating the symptoms as opposed to my ongoing quest to find the source of my dis-ease. But I will tell you that when I am able to push to the periphery all the political, economic, pedagogic, social “agendas” that insist on a having a presence in my classroom and attend to the “radiance” of students as they uncover and discover the threads that connect them to a much larger world of language, ideas and inheritances, I go back to my own family with a smile on my face, a skip in my step and a song in my heart.

A week ago I would not have been able to articulate this as I have today and for this gift I must direct you to a paper by a former professor Dr. David Jardine, whose writing has always enthralled me. In reading his paper, “In Praise of Radiant Beings” I was reminded of the place we occupy in the nexus of truths, worlds, hopes and inheritances.

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