What Do You Teach?

“What Do You Teach?” was the title of a presentation I gave many years ago as a corporate “diversity” session I volunteered to do.  It has remained my all-time favorite presentation both      preparing it and giving it.

I created the presentation around the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and tacit learning.  I put to use some of the research I had done in my master’s program when I was getting certified to teach.  These two concepts seemed key to me in understanding how we learn.  Having left the teaching profession and re-joined corporate America, I had the realization that each of us teaches every day of our lives whether we realize we are teaching or not.  We are teaching each other what is “normal,” acceptable behavior.   What is tolerable and intolerable.  What is right and wrong.

Somewhat ironically, it wasn’t the master’s program that brought home to me the nature of how we unconsciously teach one another, it was the need to retrain a dog who had dog aggression issues.  In that experience so many years ago, I learned all the things I was doing that were telling my dog to behave in ways I didn’t want her to behave.  In coming to understand how dogs interpret our behaviors, I gained insight into how fellow humans interpret them as well.  This was one of the big “ah-ha” moments in my life and I need to revisit it because I seem to have strayed from the path of thinking about what I am teaching on a daily basis–in particular, what I am teaching myself.

Each time I skip a meal, eat junk, skip a workout, or engage in other unhealthy choices, I teach myself I am not deserving of care and maintenance.  The underlying message is “these other things you do are more important than your own basic needs.”  I would never ask anyone to skip meals because of something I wanted them to do, why do I expect it of myself?

Every time I allow myself to worry on something I cannot change, I am teaching myself that my energy is better wasted than on being used productively.  I would never ask anyone to think about something over and done beyond considering the lesson from the experience and deciding how that applies to the present and future.  Why do I ask myself to replay the same scene over and over again ad nauseum?

Each time I call myself “you idiot,” I teach myself that I do not deserve the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.  I cannot claim that I would never call someone else an idiot (inside my head or while driving, anyway) but in general, I am far more tolerant of someone else’s mistakes than I am of my own.

In thinking about treating myself the way I would treat a cherished loved one, I realized I have done no cherishing of me at all.  Time to create a new lesson plan.

Paying Myself First

When I was 9 years old, I started mowing lawns to earn money.  My mother used to tell me to “pay myself first.”  It was actually a rule back then, not just advice.  Half of my net earnings had to go into my bank account.

This philosophy works great for financial freedom.  It helped me pay for two degrees without any student loans.  This week, I decided to try applying the same philosophy to other areas of life to see if it works just as well.

Taking the attitude of “pay myself first,” I decided things that make me feel balanced, relaxed, and more at ease with the world work like a savings account–they give me energy and a calm state of mind to draw on when things get tough.  Since things get tough every day, I decided I needed to return to my old habit of getting “me time” in first thing every day–paying myself before I give any of my time or energy to anything else.

My first rule was not to check email until after I’d spent time doing what I wanted to do in the morning.  I got up dark and early most mornings at 5AM to have a few hours to myself before I needed to plug in and get online for work.

I rode my bike, went to the gym, or did yoga each morning.  I also made myself a healthy breakfast.  All of this made me feel cared for, relaxed, and far more ready to tackle work.

I also set some new limits for myself at work.  I decided I needed to limit the number of hours I would spend on work each week in order to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing on sleep.  To get 8 hours of sleep, have my time in the morning, and some time in the evening to write my other blog (snapgreatphotos.com), I had to limit my day job to no more than 10 hours a day.

This turned out to be the hardest rule to follow–especially coming back from a week off and knowing that I’m taking another vacation shortly.  I repeated the mantra, “I am enough,” over and over.  Anything I could delegate or let others handle I let go of.  I had to let go of the intense pressure I put on myself to be helpful at all costs.  I had to take a breath and ask myself if it was really important to jump in or if doing so would take time and energy away from more important things and/or deny someone else an opportunity to step up.

I can’t say I executed perfectly.  I was up later than I wanted to be on more than one night trying to get one more thing done.  But I keep telling myself that if I can pay myself first, I will be better at everything else I do and that will make the investment worth it to everyone.