As I was preparing to teach Project Management this semester, I kept getting stuck on the “team project”. I had a very elaborate hypothetical project that had been used for the class in the past, with handouts and presentations and outcome descriptions, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. It was “perfect” in a boring sort of way, and I knew that if it didn’t thrill me, it sure wasn’t going to inspire my students.
Then I got an email from Carrie Hill, who runs Shaddai Ministries here in the States and has a long standing relationship with Light Africa Academy in Uganda. She is working on bringing over the Amani Children’s Choir, a group of 20 Ugandan students, who were planning to tour for six months starting in May, and we started to talk about some of the ways we could create projects to help them with some of the tour planning tasks. Designing a website, setting up social media sites, compiling marketing and sponsorship materials, creating host church informational packets, tracking down backpacks full of clothes and goodies for the kids, coordinating craft sales at the concerts….the list was full of tasks that we could do as part of this semester.
It was the perfect fit. We were going to be able to do “real work” and help Carrie and these kids with their very tangible needs. Yes, it was going to be a lot of work…we were all going to have to step it up and get the work done, both from an educational and project standpoint, amidst changes and issues and other competing priorities. But that’s what the real world is all about, right?
The tour’s goal is to raise money to fund a few projects in Uganda. A water pump for a village that currently has to carry their daily water up the hill by hand…a girls dorm for the Light Africa Academy so the girls don’t have to walk four miles home through the slums of Kampala…and more space for a Christian preschool that has 500+ kids ages 2 – 4.
It is an amazing opportunity for all of us. The kids, my students, myself…we all get a chance to use our skills to serve. We are a few weeks into our semester and it has been really cool to see how my students are jumping into the project. They are creative, innovative, and energetic….and these kids? Well, they are simply inspirational.
I started the year, as I do every year, with great intentions. Usually this plan germinates during Christmas break, when I find myself out of my routine with extra time on my hands. If I was smart (and obviously, I am not), I would use Christmas break to get a head start on everything I want to do in January, but usually, I am so drop-dead exhausted from the frantic pace of December that I just veg out and eat piles of cookies. This year, I think I ate at least two dozen gingerbread cookies over the span of five days.
Back to my good intentions.
My plan all revolved around one word – “Focus”. I started a YouVersion plan to read through the Bible in one year, I bought a book called “Focus” (it was the obvious choice), and I started contemplating what else I could do to demonstrate my ability to focus…like watching television without my laptop open.
Ben was skeptical. In fact, when I told him my “word”, he looked at me and said that focus is probably the last word he would use to describe me.
Ouch. Was I really that obviously scattered and distracted?
But then J-term started, my Focus book got buried under a pile of mail, and the decongestant I was on for my sinus infection made me too drowsy to even look at my YouVersion app, let alone stay awake long enough to read it. I began to think that Ben was right, and that I chose too lofty a goal for myself. Why didn’t I choose the word “multi-task” for the year or maybe “overcommit”? I’m already good at those things!
I decided to look up the definition, something I should have done at the beginning of the year. There were plenty of definitions, but the one I liked the best was, “To direct toward a particular point or purpose”. Hmmm….
Maybe I was going about it all wrong. I thought that I needed to pick tasks that demanded focus, but perhaps it was more about choosing activities that point me towards my “particular point or purpose” and getting rid of what doesn’t fit? It sounds great, until I try and narrow down my purpose down to just one point. I really just want to keep doing everything and be everything to everybody, just be better at it. It’s my kryptonite.
What I really need is to narrow my vision, sharpen my focus, and head in one direction, not 75. I’ll be honest; I don’t know how to do that very well. Ben’s right. It’s just not my thing.
I guess I have 11 more months to figure it out.
My teeth hurt from my sinus infection, my ear is pulsing, and I can’t stay awake without the television on and a laptop in front of me.
I yell at my kids when I’m frustrated, and then get frustrated when they yell at each other, even though they are probably just copying me.
I have friends that I have all but ignored for months, e-mails that have been buried by junk mail, thank you notes that sit unwritten, even a sympathy card that is addressed, stamped, and sits un-mailed on the counter.
I have piles of outgrown clothes in the basement that needs to be sorted, salt-covered snowpants that need to be washed, and vegetable drawers in my fridge that need to be cleaned.
I started a read through the Bible plan on January 1st, and I’m already behind at least six days, my wallet is jammed full of ragged Christmas present receipts and I am entirely unprepared for the semester to start next week.
My treadmill sits lonely in the basement, my running partner and I disbanded because I couldn’t get my butt out of bed to run, and I’m not even sure if I could run around the cul-de-sac.
We learned the wrong words for the spelling bee, so Madi was completely unprepared, Parker forgot show-and-tell for yet another week, I think I lost half of Parker’s decodables that he was supposed to read…and the quarter ended today.
I feel guilty for putting the kids in after school care, so I end up taking the kids to Burger King for milkshakes at least once a week…sometimes twice….and then we get home, and I let them watch way more television than they should instead of doing chores around the house to help me out.
My word for the year was going to be “focus” (even bought a book about it), but I can’t seem to focus on anything. I’m distracted by the undone tasks and the mind-numbing television, and the urgent…always the urgent.
I was about two days ahead of myself, and then I got sick, and now I’m about two days behind, and I’m not quite sure how I will ever catch up.
How can I fit a doctorate program into this life that is ripping at the seams already? It seems laughable to believe that my life could get any more messy, and it seems selfish that I would ask my family to suffer the consequences.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on the interactions with friends and at Bible study during the day to help me cope, and now life is so different. I’m still finding my way at work – trying to build relationships – trying to figure out where I fit – trying to keep up with the workload – and it’s been hard. Relationships take so long. Too long.
I’m not normally a glass half empty kind of person, and even now, I find myself trying to find the counterpoint. The hope. The blessings. But for today, and maybe just for today, it’s being swallowed whole.
I’m tired, and sick, and my urgent list is too long.
I’m crying mercy. I give.
Earlier this summer, I took the GMAT with mixed results. Actually, I was convinced that I bombed and that I was going to have to take it again later in the summer. Unfortunately, I had to wait a few weeks to get my final results, so in the meantime, I debated about what I should do. Take it again, because there is no way I could do any worse? Skip it, and move on? I was relieved when the results arrived, and solidified my decision. I didn’t bomb the other two parts of the test, and I had a pretty good GPA from my Masters program….10 years ago. Decision? No retake. Done…and done.
I still think it was an important lesson for me to learn that “good enough” can be just fine, and I don’t have to beat myself up about it. I am staring down a few years of hard work between getting acclimated to a new full time job, hopefully starting a doctorate program, and still keeping up with the home front, and I have an inkling that there will have to be plenty of “good enough” moments. A good lesson.
I also recently wrote about packing my scale away for the summer. I am glad I wrote about it, because I came home from our trip and really wanted to know if I had eaten my customary five pounds of fried walleye and grilled polish. But I didn’t pull it out. I even opened my drawer to put away my toiletries and saw a measuring tape sitting in there, tempting me to check my inches instead, and I didn’t do that either. Sounds small, but this was a big deal for me. If I don’t get my head straight before Madi becomes a teenager, I’m going to be in big trouble. How can I talk to her about building a positive self-image if I am not actively working on it myself? An ongoing challenge.
I have talked on and off about this ominous “new job” of mine that will be my first full time job since I was pregnant with Madi nine years ago. To say that I am nervous about it would be an understatement. I took a survey recently that asked what I would do professionally if I wasn’t afraid, and at this moment in my life, I am doing something that terrifies me. It’s not about the work, because I have taught before. It’s everything else, from acclimating to the culture to finding people to eat lunch with to making sure things are taken care of with my family. That is what freaks me out, and is where my “good enough” lesson grows feet and sprints away.
The problem is, I’m not sure what “good enough” looks like yet in this new parallel universe. The ship hasn’t quite landed, and I’m still trying to figure out which way to hold the map. So if you see me wandering around with a dazed look on my face, just know that I might need someone to remind me that I will indeed figure this all out.
About a week ago, I mentioned in passing to Ben that I was thinking about packing away the scale for the summer. “You know”, I said, gesturing to the kids as they splashed around in the bathtub and shower, “for their sake?”
“Okay”, he said, grabbing the scale and sliding it into the cabinet.
“Oooohhhh….”, my voice trailed into nothing. I didn’t expect him to agree with me so quickly, maybe giving me a chance to weigh myself one more time before it was packed away for good, but there it went. No turning back now, I thought, as I stood there staring at the empty corner of the bathroom.
And yes, it was for the kids’ sake, to make sure that they learned to focus on healthy habits instead of a number on a scale. But honestly, it was more for me.
Over the past year or so, I had fallen into the habit of weighing myself every morning. I used to not have space to keep my scale in plain sight, but a roomier bathroom made it easier to develop the routine. I used to not worry so much about my weight, because I was always just biding my time until I was pregnant again, but those days were over.
Cue the obsession.
Turn on the shower, strip down, step on the scale, jump in the shower. Commence a complete breakdown of why the number was either up or down. If it was down, I would think through what I did “right”…exercise, skipped dessert or snacks, or whatever else came to kind. If it was up, even a couple tenths, I would think through what I did “wrong”….a big meal, slept through my alarm and skipped exercise, or ate an extra salty snack before bed. Those mornings I would get out of the shower irritated, frustrated, and pretty disgusted with myself.
The thing is, I am in better shape now than I have been in a while, regardless of the six or seven pounds I have put on since last summer. But every time I stepped on the scale and saw a number that I didn’t like or looked in the mirror and saw the roll of belly fat that took up permanent residence after my three kids, I would feel pure disgust at myself for not being able to control my weight. Yep….definitely a control thing.
And I was terrified that my kids, especially Madi, would start to pick up on it and think it was normal. Because I don’t want it to be normal. I want my kids to be able to look in the mirror and see themselves as strong and brave and beautiful because they are….not because a scale told them they are. I want to pass on habits that are affirming, not ones that make you hate yourself. Habits like staying active, making healthy food choices, stopping when you are full, and respecting inner beauty first.
But it starts with me.
And for me….that meant agreeing to put away the scale for the summer, eliminating my morning self flagellation session, and focusing on making positive choices instead.
The first week was hard. Harder than I thought. This week I’m on vacation, and I’m already bracing myself for that pull to jump on the scale when I get home.
But I look at my Madi, and at her smile after we completed her very first Couch to 5k workout this morning, and I know it is worth it. I look at myself in the mirror, with a little less obsessive control resting on my shoulders, and I know it is a good thing. Frankly, I hope that I get to the end of the summer and decide to pitch the scale in the trash can.
As moms, we do whatever we can for our kids. But sometimes, the best thing we can do for them is to take care of ourselves. Overcoming an inner struggle, letting go of a destructive habit, or adopting a healthy behavior can all make us better equipped to do our jobs, especially as the challenges get tougher and the questions get harder. I’m willing to do the work. In today’s environment, I can’t afford not to.
I reached the final screen of the test, and was faced with two options. Accept my score and receive the unofficial score report or reject the score, stand up, and walk out like I was never there. They give you two minutes to decide before they automatically delete your test, and I sat there for a good minute thinking about the past three and a half hours.
Quantitative…not good. Even with all the equations I memorized and scribbled in the margin of my scratch pad, I could not seem to wrap my head around question after question full of letters, exponents, and quadratic equations. Then, I didn’t realize how slow I was going, and had to guess at about the last 10 questions because time was almost out. Visibly shaking, I clicked through the last couple of questions, knowing that my score was trending down…down…down…and I still had one more section to complete.
Verbal…I knew that I needed to get a slam-bam score on my last section to salvage my score, so I buckled down and worked my way through it.
Back to the final screen. Accept or Reject. I thought maybe…just maybe…so I clicked “Accept”, covered my eyes, and then peeked out between my fingers. The score popped up. Not what I wanted…or expected…
Somehow, I made it out of the testing center and down the sidewalk to where I was meeting Ben for lunch without losing it. Then I lost it.
Disappointed. Frustrated. Mad. Sad. Irritated. All the feelings that come when things don’t work out the way you expected.
Today it was a score on a test, but it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that I fail at something. Not that it made today’s disappointment any easier, but it did make it more survivable. And I was able to eke out some perspective over the next few days, some lessons learned when faced with failure.
The first was how essential it is to have a solid support system when you are in a position where failure is possible. Something difficult, something new, something risky…if you don’t have someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, you might as well throw in the towel at the start. I couldn’t have asked for a better support than Ben throughout the whole process, but he was especially amazing afterwards, when I fell apart in the middle of the sidewalk. He bought me lunch and we talked through all the possible scenarios (while I blubbered). Then he went back to work, dug up the admission materials for the school I’m looking at, printed it all off, and put it in a binder for me. How’s that for great support?
The next “must-have” is a healthy dose of reality. Is what you are striving for actually feasible? I remember saying to Ben the night before that I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull off the score I wanted, because none of my practice scores had hit that mark. Probably a pretty accurate statement, and I think that stands true no matter what you are attempting. Yes, miracles happen, but you still have to be realistic about your capabilities and your skill set. I have spent my whole education and career focusing on business and communication from a people perspective, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I wouldn’t be “up to speed” on math related topics. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s like expecting to catch a 100 yard touchdown when you have never even caught a 70 yard throw. Silly.
Lastly, I remembered once more how important it is to not have your self-worth tied up into things that are temporal. I found myself slipping into these awful feelings of self-doubt, and that’s definitely not where I want to be. It is so easy to only feel as good as your last accomplishment, forgetting that we are all more than our last test score, our last job interview, or our last work project. So much more. I think I need to tattoo it on the inside of my eyelids, “Rachel, you are more than enough”, because every time I forget, I find myself fighting insecurity and stalling out. Not a good way to live.
So, I didn’t get the score I wanted. It totally stinks, but life goes on. It doesn’t change who I am as a person or how competent I am. And maybe it’s plenty anyways…because I’m a totally awesome doctoral school candidate. Ben said so…