Mayhem Monday: Why We Should Be More Understanding

“I can’t tell you what’s in this folder” she said tapping the file on her desk.

“But just trust me when I tell you that even the expression on your face spoke volumes.”

The disabilities coordinator was explaining to me how my perplexity at a student’s question had caused an explosion. The creases in my forehead were a live wire that ran straight from my brain to her trigger and lit the fuse.

I wanted to defend my response, but I realized there was no defense. Nothing I could say would change the student’s perception. Whatever I said or didn’t say was wrong. It was enough to make her feel inadequate. She had left the room defeated and heated.

I replayed the scene several times in my mind and wondered how I might have done it differently. It’s so much easier to find the right words after the fact! But in this case, it wasn’t even as much about what I said as how! The reality is, I might have spoken the exact same words in a different way and there may have been a different outcome…

Hmmm…

How often have I heard someone say, in their own defense, “I don’t know what the problem is, all I said was…”

I thought about her words: “I can’t tell you what’s in this folder.” The contents of that folder are protected by privacy laws. They contain the details of the student’s past experiences. Her medical history and all the things that would likely explain the inner workings of her mind. Yet they are protected by her right to privacy and would only be revealed if the student were to discuss them with me. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that this student isn’t the only one.

We all have a file.

It may not reside in a metal cabinet or be managed by a disabilities coordinator, but it certainly holds all the details of our past experiences and history that would explain the inner workings of our minds. Those who interact with us don’t have the privilege of knowing what’s in our files any more than I did when interacting with this student. The best that we can do is guess as we interpret each other’s words and actions. Yet, how much are our actions and reactions the result of our own past experiences? How much do our own sensitivities come from the files each of us has that determines the lens through which we view the world? Our perceptions are always skewed by our files. We register every experience according to the experiences we’ve had before. We judge every new relationship according to our personal card catalogue of previous relationships. We recognize verbal cues, facial expressions and physical gestures because of those we filed away in our memory bank of painful or pleasant engagements. So when we see or hear them again, we respond accordingly.

“What, am I supposed to be a mind reader now?” was my sarcastic retort.

She smiled.

“Not at all. We simply need you to be aware that she’s not like every other kid. You have to be a little more considerate of her feelings.”

It’s all about consideration and accommodation. Thinking about the other person’s point of view first. What might she be thinking? Rather than standing apart from her I have to try to stand under her—literally understand.  It’s an intentional act that requires intention and forethought. It’s not something that will come naturally, but I feel like it is something that could be transformative.

If I can learn to respond to people—not just my special students–with an attitude of accommodation, assuming that there’s something in their file that I can’t see which causes them to say or do things that I may not understand, perhaps I can at least delay judgment.  Perhaps I can avoid conflicts and frustration.  Because, if I could see inside the file I might have a different perspective on their behavior. I might not judge at all. I might even understand them. Not knowing what’s in the file, I should at least give them the benefit of the doubt.  At least.

So, the word for today is understanding—to stand under—because  everybody has a file that you don’t have permission to see.

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Photo by Amanda Bear on Unsplash

Wait for It…

They say patience is a virtue. But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now!  Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location.  My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.

Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.

So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?

And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?

When you sit at the canvas…

at the piano…

at the keyboard and wait…

for something:  an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?

Waiting can be hard.  Yet, waiting does something…

It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.

Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know.  Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.

While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?

It facilitates maturation.  You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys.  You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow!  Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.

As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!

It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy.  When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said.  But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.

You’ve grown and matured.  Now you’re ready for your shot.

You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage.  The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!

This is your moment. When preparation meets opportunity, you’ll know it, you’ll feel it and you’ll be ready. “Despise not the day of small beginnings”. Be patient…it’s coming…just wait for it!

 

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Special thanks to Anaya Katlego on Unsplash for cover photo

Mayhem Monday: How to Get Out of the Messy Middle

Have you ever felt stuck? Unsure of or afraid to pursue your dreams? I have 5 steps you can take to get out of that rut you’re in, but first let me tell you about my daughter.

She’s only 12, but she’s an aspiring baker. I’m not sure where her desire came from, as her parents are more interested in eating goodies than making them–but somewhere along the way her interest in creating culinary delights was piqued and what I thought would be a passing fancy has become an absolute obsession. She follows You Tube bakers the way the disciples followed Jesus, studying their techniques, listening to their advice and wholeheartedly believing in their message! She gets  positively giddy over kitchen gadgets and loses her mind over things like star-shaped piping tips. “Mommy, please get this for my birthday” she swoons even if her birthday is a year away. “Sure,” I say, hoping she’ll forget by then.

But she hasn’t forgotten yet.

She has held to this passion for over a year and I’ve been amazed by the progress she’s made in her baking knowledge and abilities. She used to be a bit klutzy in the kitchen as she tried to help me with my occasional baking projects. I would have to monitor her carefully and usually gave her the easy stuff. “All you do is pour” her sister would tease. But since watching the experts has advanced her skills tremendously, her pouring days are over.  Now I follow her lead as she unravels for me the mysteries of fondant and challenges my knowledge of bench scrapers and offset spatulas.

This year, the night before our 4th of July party was our most memorable to date.  We toiled together–she as the boss, me as the faithful assistant, on her pièce de résistance–a flag cake she had seen on You Tube and wanted to duplicate.  It was her biggest project ever. When it was finally done, I must say I was truly a proud mama:

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She had come such a long way in such a short time! She had made a huge step towards her dream of becoming a baker.

Yet, as gorgeous as this cake turned out, she and I both know it was not an easy project. There were some tears shed and some mistakes made along the way. We had to stop a few times and re-group and you know what else? Cake-making is messy! Even though the end is sweet, the middle is an absolute mess. Icing and cake crumbs go everywhere!  I was wiping and sweeping for days. If you had walked into the kitchen in the midst of our work you might have thought our efforts were hopeless. There were certainly moments in the process when my daughter thought so. “Just forget it,” she said at her lowest point. “It’s not going to work,” but we pressed on.

Can you relate?  Cake-making is not the only thing that’s messy. Dream-making is too. The writing process is certainly messy and  most creative work is chaotic until it’s done. Often in the midst of it we feel like it’s hopeless! Why on earth did I think I could do this anyway? But, as I look at my daughter and her mini (and many) messy miracles, I think there’s something to be said for the process.

  1. Don’t ignore your passion.  I tried to dismiss what made her mouth water, but once I realized how happy she was in the kitchen I couldn’t ignore it. Is there something you do that brings you that kind of joy? Does it calm you when you’re stressed or flow naturally with moderate effort? It’s not to say you don’t have to work at it, but your passion is something that you don’t mind working at. Don’t ignore it!
  2. Listen to the Master.  Aside from the still small voice that prods you, think about those who are ahead of you in the process.  It became clear that this was more than a hobby for my girl when I noticed that she was repeating to me lessons she had learned from the experts.  She started by listening to the masters–those who came before her who had tread the path first, who had, no doubt, made their own mistakes too. She watched them carefully and absorbed their information so she would know exactly what to do.

  On a very practical level, she knew she wouldn’t be allowed in the       kitchen without     proving she knew something about the work she   wanted to do.  Likewise, you can’t   be a writer if you don’t study   writing–you have to read! You can’t be an artist   without studying art;   you can’t be a musician without immersing yourself in music!   You   absolutely have to “listen” before you can speak with any authority!

3. Get in there with both hands. My daughter doesn’t do anything half-way. She gives it 100% or nothing, there’s no in between.  It’s probably the reason there’s icing everywhere! If you’re going to follow your passion, follow your passion! But don’t do it half-heartedly–go big or go home! Give it your all, pour yourself into it, only what you feed will grow and if you feed your passion it will feed you in return.

4. Ask for help.  I was by my daughter’s side while she tackled her big project, but she got the most frustrated when she was refusing my help, when she was insisting that this be her project alone. Yet as she pushed me away she began making more mistakes. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. I had to help her understand that it’s actually a sign of strength to recognize your limitations and grab hold of someone stronger than you.  Just because you’re gifted in this area, and just because you’re giving 100% doesn’t mean you won’t fall sometimes.  Neither does it mean you won’t need an assistant to come along side you to help smooth out some of the rough edges. It’s not a sign of your weakness if your work isn’t perfect. It’s a sign of your humanity–and, to be honest, collaborative efforts often create the most beautiful masterpieces!

5. Be patient with the process. It has to get ugly before it can be pretty. Too often we glorify the end result without acknowledging the process that it takes to get there. You may be anxious for the party–the New York Times best seller or the Grammy nomination–but if we don’t take time to put in the work–mixing sugar and flour–we’ll never get there. The sugar is the sweetness, when our creative juices are flowing and the muse is our friend! But the flour is the dry periods when the right word just won’t come and the tune just isn’t right. Notice, though, that the cake is made up of both–sugar AND flour–so, keep mixing!

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Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash