Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finding the Good

“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” 
-- Steven Hawking, theoretical physicist

Today was the first time I saw this quotation (at MiddleWeb SmartBrief) and it really resonated with me, from both the personal and professional perspectives.
Stephen Hawking; source: Wikipedia
Last summer, I moved 2,500 miles across the country and bought a home, which needed some remodeling work.  Three months after the construction began and seven months after moving, the work was completed.  There were a few major and several minor glitches as the work progressed, as is usually the case with these projects.  But now that everything is done and I’m finally able to unpack all my stuff and put it away, I’m noticing some things I wish had been done differently. 

But it occurred to me just last night that instead of focusing on what’s wrong, I should instead be looking at what is right.  So for example, while I’m not keen on the interior layout of the new dishwasher, it is much quieter than the one in my previous house.  And while the freezer section of my new fridge seems smaller than what I used to have, I’m sure it uses much less electricity than that other 14-year old one.  And while the new dark laminate flooring shows all the dust and isn’t as comfortable to walk on as the floor in my prior house with carpeting throughout was, everyone who sees my new floor thinks it’s hardwood and says how beautiful it is.  I could go on—and in my mind I did—but then I realized: Why bother?  Why make myself annoyed and upset when the positives far outweigh the negatives?

Likewise, when I was teaching back in Massachusetts, there were a lot of things I could complain about.  I had to move classrooms eight times in five years.  Yes, for two years in a row I had to move during the school year; and for one of those years and another year as well, I had to share a room with bilingual classes--not the optimum context for kids learning English as an additional language.  But the final room I moved to was by far the best room and I ended up having it for seven years.  (Good things come to those who wait!) 

When I was hired, it was to teach ESL in kindergarten through 8th grades; I had no idea how much work that would entail!  But when another ESL teacher was hired many years later and I got to teach “only” Grades 5 – 8, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, the workload was so much lighter. I could even go home at 6:30pm instead of 9:30pm!  (Good things come to those who wait!)  However, that only lasted one year and in my final year at that school, I was teaching Grades 3 – 8.  Which wasn’t ideal—and I said so but primarily to my colleagues, not my supervisors—but by the end of that school year, I’d gotten to really enjoy working with those younger students.  (Good classes come to those who persevere!)

Of course, there were a multitude of general school issues to complain about, and many people did.  Vociferously and repeatedly.  Sometimes positive changes were made as a result, though not often and not for issues that were beyond the principals’ control.  But if I made a conscious effort and tried hard enough, I could usually find something good about my work to sustain me.  And when I couldn’t, well, that’s when I was glad to have colleagues who were also good friends! 

Which brings me to the point I want to make: Constant complaining about things you can’t control and being angry all the time is counter-productive, especially nowadays in education.  Whether it’s in your personal life or your professional life, I’ve learned to look for the bright side of everything and to look for the good in every situation—the things that will make me happy wherever I am and in whatever I am doing.  It’s not always easy but it sure does make life easier.