Secrets to Olympians’ success - useful for the rest of us too!
An hour of effective, precise, hard, disciplined, integrated thinking can be worth a month of hard work. Thinking is the very essence of, and the most difficult thing to do in business and in life. Empire builders spend hour-after-hour on mental work while others party. If you’re not consciously aware of putting forth the effort to exert self-guided integrated thinking, if you don’t act beyond your feelings and instead take the path of least resistance, then you give in to laziness, make bad decisions and no longer control your life.
- David Kekich
“Failure is an event, not a person. Yesterday ended last night.”
— Zig Ziglar
- Sidney Harris
When I began this blog, I wrote about “impostor syndrome” - the feeling that many grad students have the first time we stand at the front of the classroom. ”Who am I,” we ask, “to be in the position of teacher? I’m a fake! I’ll be found out, and then it’ll be all over!” But in time, we hit our stride. We figure it out as we go along, and we learn that we really do deserve to be there. We keep getting better.
By the end of my time as a grad student teacher, I felt pretty confident. Now I’m facing the daunting task of being the “professor.”
I have all new preps, and I’ll be teaching in unfamiliar surroundings, among unknown people. I want to do well. I want to impress my department chair, and my new colleagues. I want to get it right!
And I’m scared.
So I take a deep breath, and remind myself of what I know: that it’s normal to feel like a fish out of water, at first. That I’ll make some mistakes, and that’s ok. That I’ll find my feet in time. That a sincere desire to get it right will help me to figure it all out.
That I really do deserve to be here. Now if the butterflies would just settle down.
I recently read of the death of Stephen Covey, the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I remember reading this book years ago, and dug out my battered paperback copy to revisit its advice. When I originally read it, I was working in the corporate world, and tried to apply its principles to my Dilbert-cubicle job. Today I’m looking at the “habits” with a fresh eye - how can they be applied to the academic life?
Here are the habits:
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life’s principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you toward goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.
Habit 6: Synergize
Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes on exercise for physical renewal, prayer (mediation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to the society for spiritual renewal.
- Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Rest in peace.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
- Helen Keller
I’ve always liked blue delft pottery. Perhaps I’ll collect it one day.
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
“The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish good results while the strongest, by dispersing his effort over many chores, may fail to accomplish anything. Drops of water, by continually falling, hone their passage through the hardest of rocks but the hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar and leaves no trace behind.”
- Og Mandino
“Your life is right now! It’s not later. It’s not in that time of retirement. It’s not when the lover gets here. It’s not when you’ve moved into the new house. It’s not when you get the better job. Your life is right now. It will always be right now.”
- Esther Hicks
“Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
- Frank Herbert
(I wrote this a year ago, and was just rereading it and reflecting. I ended up with the right job - the ideal job for me - a tenure-track teaching position. I still stand by what I said here … the past rejections were for the best. Some were devastating at the time, but in hindsight, I see things differently. For those on the job market this year - hang in there. Try your best to be patient, and don’t make yourself crazy. And you know I’m in your corner!)
If we’re measuring success by landing a faculty job, then we’d have to say that my initial forays into the job market have not been successful. I’ve been rejected. A lot. But even though the future is uncertain, I’m glad I had these experiences.
I know, it sounds like I’m trying to put a positive spin on a negative situation. But here’s the thing:
When I started grad school, my peers and I would talk about the fantastic faculty jobs we were going to land when we finished (and of course, we would have multiple amazing offers to choose from). Everybody seemed to want a high-powered assistant professorship at a top-notch, R1 school - a job that would combine high starting pay with the opportunity to become famous (in academic circles, anyway) by publishing reams of astonishing research.
I thought I wanted that too.
But along the way, I discovered that I love to teach. I love preparing lessons and interacting with students (though I’ll admit, I hate grading). But research … not so much. I’ve written the required papers for all of my classes, and presented at dozens of conferences … but it’s a struggle, not a joy. And writing the dissertation feels like swimming through mud - I’m so excited to get back into the classroom and be with “the kids.”
I’ve sent out application packets and gotten some nibbles. I’ve had “screening interviews” at conferences, by phone, and over Skype, and have even had a handful of campus visits. (I’m told that I’m lucky, in this job market). Each time, I’ve been rejected - and each time, it was for the best.
Some of these positions placed a heavier emphasis on research than I want. Some have strange service requirements, or weird facilities, or surly colleagues. At times, I’ve felt a sense of relief to get a rejection, and that tells me something. Of course, no position will be ideal in every way, but I know I’m better off not getting some of the jobs I applied for. And I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t gone through the process.
I also gained the experience of running the gauntlet, i.e., the campus visit interview. People tell you what it’s like, but it’s something you really have to experience for yourself. Wear comfortable shoes, and make sure you bring bottled water and granola bars.
My job is out there. I truly believe that. Like my next (human) love, I just haven’t found it/him yet. But I have faith that prayers will be answered, planets will align, and I’ll end up in just the right place for me. And that will be the measure of my success.
Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.
-Ruth E. Renkel
“Success in life could be defined as the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realization of worthy goals. Success is the ability to fulfill your desires with effortless ease. And yet success, including the creation of wealth, has always been considered to be a process that requires hard work and it is often considered to be at the expense of others. We need a more spiritual approach to success and to affluence which is the abundant flow of all good things to you.”
- Deepak Chopra
“Every man dies. Not every man lives. The only limits to the possibilities in your life tomorrow are the “buts” you use today.”
- Les Brown
“The dark night of the soul is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely. Sometimes this letting go of old ways is painful, occasionally even devastating. But this is not why the night is called ‘dark.’ The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding. It happens mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control. For that reason it can be disturbing or even scary, but in the end it always works to our benefit.”
- Thomas Moore
A goal without a plan is just a wish.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”
- Kahlil Gibran
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”
- Charles Dickens
“Go to your fears, sit with them, stare at them. Your fears are your friend, their only job is to show you undeveloped parts of yourself that you need to cultivate to live a happy life. The more you do the things you’re most afraid of doing the more life opens up. Embrace your fears and your fears will embrace you.”
- Jackson Kiddard
“Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.”
- Joseph Campbell
“Don’t play small! Stand up! Take charge! You are doing yourself and others a disservice by catering your actions towards how you think others will react. Instead, just be yourself, exactly as you are. When you are simply being yourself you will attract everything that is in alignment with who you truly are. You will be shocked to see who drops away. Their absence will leave a space for new and amazing relationships to enter your life. Just be you, and let everyone else do what they may. You are not what others believe you to be, you are what you know you are and nothing else. Just be. You will be rewarded for your courage with a life that reflects your true essence instead of an invented identity created to “please others”. Ahhhh, doesn’t it feel good to just be!?”
- Jackson Kiddard
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
- Henry David Thoreau