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resilience at the treadmill

20 Feb

Newest epiphany: resilience, like optimism and happiness, is not as one-dimensional as I’ve been led to believe. At its core, resilience is about doing what you know must be done, no matter what the world throws at you. You do resilience, you don’t have it. My epiphany came at the treadmill, when I concluded that I was doing one version of resilience: I was overcoming.

Running falls into two buckets: treadmill or field. The treadmill equals the gym, surrounded by other treadmills, TVs, people, and cheesy 90’s dance hits that are supposed to make you maximize your pumpage (term is patent pending). The field typically involves the outdoors, maybe a lake or some hills. It’s just you and the open path.

Running, though, is not running is not running. Ask a life-long runner and she will tell you that a myriad of things distinguish running on a treadmill and on the field: wind, floor/ground bounce/stability/flatness, posture, obstacles, etc. This covers the mechanics, but the inertia part is what fascinates me most. These two approaches to the same activity embody their own attitude, and I believe, their own sort of resilience.

There are two types of resilience. One involves pressing forward during trying times; shit happens and you need got to do it despite of the circumstances. The other occurs when things are fine, but you seek more. The former is in play when your car breaks down right before an interview, the latter when you decide you would love to learn French. Both forms of resilience are hard to achieve and much harder to maintain (resilience is mostly measure by its self-sustaining energy). But the difference lies where they start and what keeps them alive.

The treadmill, I believe, symbolizes an external impetus. You turn it on and you better get moving, otherwise your face will meet a hard object soon. You also have an audience that is very quietly judging you. Your skill and success or defeat are not just for you alone, but for everyone else there. But you also have the option of giving up, turning off the treadmill, and stepping back to where you first began. The quitting element is easy to do, and probably easy to justify considering the circumstances.

The field, on the other hand, is all you. It’s all internal ignition. You decide to run around the park, no external force makes you keep that promise. You are also more likely to be alone, so there’s no one else to push you, or judge you (which actually may be its own sort of pushing), just your own motivation. If you decide to quit, you can do so, just like with the treadmill, and it might be even easier because you are not held accountable to anyone.

I have tried to make myself a field runner. I know that it’s better for you, more freeing, more relaxing, and can actually be more fun and gratifying. But it’s hard. I start, feel good, and all of a sudden I lose that push. I probably fool myself in believing I don’t need this, even though I know that in nearly all previous runs I feel great afterwards. So then I start shuffling my way back. This never happens to me when I am on the treadmill. I feel compelled to run and sweat and give it my all. People are noticing my performance, the treadmill is unforgiving, and my momentum is sort of something I am being dragged by, not something I am pushing forth. I need to run. Survival is at stake here.

A questionnaire on authentichappiness.com let me know what to call theses attitudes. It turns out I am very good at overcoming crises, and not letting them take over my life. This revelation is in line with my treadmill epiphany. I can run when I feel I need to run, when my survival instincts kick in; it’s harder for me to run when I want to run for the fun of it. My resiliency appears when I have to react to life’s battles, not so much when I decide to embark on something that feels like a nice-to-have. I am convinced that if I try a little harder at expanding what I believe to be ‘necessary,’ to include more fun and self-motivated things, I will be a little bit better at tapping the other type of resilience. At the very least, it will help me stick to my run around the park.

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by the tick tock

29 Jun

No one leaves at 5:00pm. You just don’t do that; leaving at 5 on the dot is like yelling “I didn’t do it!” to a cop as she approaches you. It reeks of fishiness.

 

So what do we do? We leave a minute or two after (“Smith isn’t hounding the watch. Marvelous!”) or much later (“Smith! what a worker!”). But what if things were more sincere in this world? Work would be work, no matter what time we quit it.

 

Some companies already do this, opting for a schedule-less work environment (ROWE), unlimited paid sick leave, unlimited vacations, and making all meetings optional. Best Buy, Netflix, and SEMCO, among others, are finally realizing that putting a clock around someone’s neck does not make that person a good worker. Instead, these companies let people manage themselves, independent of any timekeeping cage. What matters at the end of each day, quarter, and fiscal year is the work that gets done. Timesheets are a waste of time and autonomy.

 

Expecting someone to be something worth emulating because of how much time they put into their work would pretty much destroy our whole notion of efficiency. Yep, that ham sandwich took me 2 hours to make. I can teach you how, if you like. It worries me that leaving early is very often a sign of laziness and staying late is almost always praised and hurrahed.

 

This country is hard on people, as Cormac McCarthy once said, and the kicker is that we pride ourselves in that. We are not masochists, per se, but we love to sing about how much sleep we lost over XYZ project, or how stressful it is to work at OMG Co. Our pain is our badge of honor. Judging work by how much of our lives we give to it might just be another way of indulging the urge to prove we have battle scars.

 

Some work takes longer to finish than other. A 12-hour shift may not only be expected, but necessary. But when we use papa time to assess ourselves as workers, it takes away from the results themselves. The clock is only good for cooking and keeping appointments, not giving out grades at the end of the day. Work’s value is independent of when you log off Facebook.

 

Teaching, Incentives, and Multiple Priorities

23 Mar

Education reform is very much a given by now, despite the union v. government standoffs and pushbacks. One of the most transformational elements of education reform is tying incentives and sanctions to a teacher’s performance, or merit pay. But how influential is pay and the heightened possibility of dismissal on a teacher’s work?

 

In this EdWeek blog post, Justin Baeder argues that despite the research, merit pay just wont work for the teaching profession. His reason is that teaching is too “complex.”

 

The problem, though, is that teaching is nothing like the task demanded of participants in Schmidt and DeShon’s study. Yes, educators have multiple competing priorities, but the key word is multiple—not just a few that can be easily juggled in order to ensure that all goals are met. Teaching is highly complex, far more so than the simple computerized scheduling task that was the basis for the study, and teachers are already motivated.

 

But is the discussion really about improving every professional aspect of a teacher by tying carrot/sticks to it, or about making teachers more accountable? As noted in the research, incentives and sanctions do help people try harder to achieve a goal or complete a task. This approach would be more focused on middle- and low-performing teachers, than already high-performing teachers who don’t need any sort of incentive.

 

Then there is the Dan Pink argument, that monetary incentives and sanctions only works for people in mechanical work. Any intellectual or creative work needs the big three: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

 

Thoughts?

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