As we begin the second half of the school year, let’s commit ourselves again to the importance of continual growth. Let’s resolve to fight against those forces that might hinder our progress and keep us from being as effective as possible for our students.
To do this well, we need to acknowledge the barriers that most impact us and work vigilantly to root them out. If you feel stuck in a rut, or are working hard to ensure you don’t get trapped in one, look out for these four pitfalls.
Oh, this one rears its ugly head in so many ways. It can manifest as arrogance or excessive humility. It often involves a resistance to feedback, a defensive posture, frequent conflict, isolationism, and/or a critical spirit. It almost always thinks, “I’m right.” Or, “I’m the only one who can do this.”
Constant worry over what others think or whether someone is upset with you. The need to receive approval for your work, fishing for accolades, shape shifting in every context/audience. Often involves an avoidance of conflict and a compulsive need to be liked by others, including students.
This can manifest itself in so many ways but often involves a compulsion to have things “just right.” Nothing out of place. No mistakes. Neatness and order and correctness and rule-following. Usually based in some uncertainly about our intrinsic value that forces us to make our product appear as perfect as possible. It is time stealing and often joy-killing.
Product over People
You’re reliable, task-oriented, driven. These are admirable and important traits. But we must remember that we are in a people-oriented profession. Relationships have to be at the heart of what we do.
You can (and should) plan the best lessons, know your content well, and serve on all the right committees, but if you don’t know your students and colleagues—if you’re not willing to be known by them in some way—you will be less effective.
The constant questioning of where we stand with everyone becomes consuming. Our work becomes more about public relations than high quality instruction. We stay shallow with people for fear they’ll find out that we don’t have it all together. We struggle to let go of any type of criticism. Our constant focus on being liked can hinder our judgment, lure us into showing favoritism, and reduce our effectiveness as we focus too much on building (potentially unhealthy) relationships.
Control is often at the heart of perfectionism. Things must be done a certain way, no exceptions. The letter of the law becomes more important than the spirit of the law. People’s mistakes, or even just their differences of opinion, are perceived as threats. Anger almost always accompanies this one because perfectionism is elusive—and exhausted, disappointed people often become angry. This of course drives others away, increases conflict, and—because it’s so connected with pride—causes the person to retreat more fully into the perceived rightness of his/her own way(s).
Pride causes us to see feedback as a threat, thus driving us deeper into ourselves, making us unapproachable and ultimately unteachable.
If we can’t be taught, we can’t learn. No learning? No growth.
Similarly, it is very difficult to grow when everything must be perfect; keeping up the act is too exhausting. Perfectionism causes us to struggle to make decisions, and gets us caught in an endless spiral of “analysis paralysis.” We often get the job done, but it will take longer than necessary, and we’ll likely be the only ones who notice all the “perfect” details.
Having a deep seeded security in your identity as a person of worth and value, regardless of performance, will free you to be more joyful, grateful, loving, and peaceful. Interestingly enough, it will also make you more effective; people who are free run faster and stronger than those who aren’t, and everyone around them benefits.
When failure is seen as a normal part of learning and when we disconnect our performance from our personhood, we can step into new challenges. We can do something we’ve not done before and experience the thrill and adventure of newness and starting from scratch. And best of all, we can encourage others to come along with us, modeling for them the grace and humility it takes to persist despite failure.
Becoming free from these life-stealing obstacles will allow us to change in deep ways. Why? Because we won’t be consumed with things outside our control, or things that don’t exist (perfection). We won’t be ruled by people’s opinions, which, as we see all around us, change in the blinking of an eye.
Rather, we’ll be able to form deeper, more honest relationships with others. We’ll be able to ask for feedback about our work, and we will distinguish this feedback from criticism about our personal worth. We won’t view making mistakes or the admission that we have room for change as dangers to be avoided; instead, we’ll see them as natural parts of learning and change to be embraced.
So here’s to freedom. Here’s to a deep commitment to speaking truth to ourselves. To inviting others into our lives who can do the same. Here’s to real growth and learning, the kind that enriches our lives and the lives of those with whom we work and live.