I loved the students I was blessed to work with last year. With one group, the lead teacher and I would give the students one minute math drills at the beginning of almost every math class session. The students started on the same level at the beginning of the year. Once we gave them the go ahead, they had one minute to complete twenty questions for a multiplication level (i.e. – two times tables, three times tables, etc.) correctly. At the end of the minute, I would collect the papers and assess their performance. Once a student received a 20/20, he or she would receive the next step up the next time we did the drill. If he or she got less than all 20 correct, he or she had to do the same drill until they achieved the 20/20 status. All the students knew about the other students’ performance is that everyone started on the same level. They were not allowed to see what other students were working on and they did not see what level they were on a given day until the minute began and they were permitted to turn over their papers and start working.
As the person grading the drills, I knew who was advancing and who was on the same drill for an extended period of time. Students will be students so naturally, the students who were progressing had to find a way to let everyone know that they were progressing. It wasn’t through a specific verbalizing of their small victories but it generally was expressed through that conspicuous-enough “YES!” with the accompanying victorious hand gesture or a huge grin with a look of invincibility on their faces. For others, there were the looks down at the paper, avoiding eye contact with anyone. They knew that they hadn’t advanced and I suspect for a second, it felt like the whole class knew too. Except that wasn’t the case. So the lead teacher and I would find ways to try to talk to these students one-on-one and encourage them to continue to strive, go at their own pace, and to work through some strategies to help them reach their goals. Their individual journeys were up to them, but they had all the support they needed to succeed. No one was pushing them to go at anyone other pace but their own.
Why did I feel the need to share this story?
Because that is not just for my eleven and twelve year old students; it’s for a lot of us adults too. I have always been an avid reader (my parents can cosign) and one of my favorite genres to get lost in is autobiographies/biographies. I love hearing people’s stories and seeing how people’s narratives play out. It may be the social scientist in me (one of my minors was Sociology in college). Perhaps that is why I have no problem searching out people’s stories about how they achieved certain things – started a business, built a brand, became a successful businessperson, etc. It all fascinates me and generally I can find tons of inspiration from it.
But then there will be some detail that catches my attention that turns inspiration into a competition. So-and-so completed this by the age of 25, so-and-so earned these three degrees in just five years, so-and-so had the courage to leave his or her 9-to-5 and start XYZ Company and a little over two years later the company is booming and bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue this year. Y’all know what I’m talking about. We see where others are and instead of being encouraged to keep at what we’re doing, we look at what others are doing and lament that we are somehow behind or that we are the only ones experiencing the ebbs and flows of life and trying to succeed.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that it is important for us to stay focused on what we’re doing, instead of focusing so much on what we see as others doing “better” or being “further ahead” than us. It’s so easy to fall into what I call “life competitions”, especially on social media because it is too easy to throw on a smile for IG, think up a deep quote for Facebook, say something catchy for Twitter, give a 10 second brag session on SnapChat. It’s harder to let people know the ebbs and flows of our lives because somewhere along the way we have convinced ourselves that it is not human to have ups and downs. Process is subhuman. We have pressured ourselves into believing that if we have to stay on one level for what we think is too long that we are have failed and that we will never recover from that failure. Our never being satisfied has all at once been our fuel for success and the poison by which we slowly kill our souls. And very few of us are honest enough to admit where we are and how it is affecting us (not to be confused with just telling everything without the use of wisdom).
Wherever you find yourself at today, I want you to know that it is OK to be doing life at your own pace. That is coming from someone who had a mini nervous breakdown in her father’s arms after church on Sunday…because pressure. Pressuring yourself to be someone else, to be like someone else, or even to be better someone else can lead you down a road that isn’t as fulfilling as you think it is. It’s hard to know what others have done, how they were prepared, and what they went through to get to where they are. I think it’s that way for a reason though. If you have goals, dreams, and accomplishments in mind, make sure that you’re doing them for you and that no matter what your pace that you finish the “race”.
Keep your eyes on your own paper and work hard and work until the end with the time you’re given.