There’s something about the moment when I ask my 6 and 8 year olds: “Who’s in charge of your behavior?” that makes me seem like I’ve been drinking the punch at some sort of professional development activity for social workers. I wait for an answer with an overblown sense of anxiety over whether or not my kids are starting to internalize the amount of absolute agency and accountability that I want them to own in their lives. Depending on the time of day, the amount of sugar they’ve had, the actual severity of the situation and how calmly I can ask them, I may have to redirect and add a prompt, but we’ve managed to get to a point where they consistently say: “I am.”
If all goes well, this will grow within them along an eight-fold path from a piece of knowledge to an understanding they work to act upon and on to something that they fully internalize in their future. I want this for them because I know how important intrinsic control is to success. Those people who believe they have the ability to shape their futures find much higher levels of success than those who think all or most things are out of their control. Also, I philosophically believe it and - on a Dad level - hope that it will one day be one of those things they’ll proudly tell people I taught to them.
We are always in charge of the way we act in the world and the way we react to what happens in the world. And this covers the the first part of my mantra: Feet Forward. I know that I always need to point my actions and beliefs (my feet) in the direction of what I want and move that way.
What I haven’t told my kids yet is that I’ve found life in general to be rather random, quirky and outside of my ability to explain (I’m a lay-existentialist). I keep my proverbial fingers crossed because I don’t think enough of the world happens in a predictably logical way for me to count on it. Life certainly doesn’t always follow suit when I set the stage for things to happen as I’d like them. There just aren’t any guarantees in life. So, I hope some pixie dust falls and brings a bit of order to the chaos. I hope for just a bit of luck to help me out because I know that even if there is a divine force of justice or a sense of karma and fate in the world, that my daily plans, needs and goals aren’t of enough universal consequence to get - or deserve, for that matter - any attention
These two pieces fit together simply and nicely to form advice that I not only live by, but also offer up to my children, friends, faculty and students. Feet forward...fingers crossed. I cannot guarantee or often even make sense of what’s going to happen in the future, but I can work hard to identify those things I control, work to accomplish them and give myself at least the best fighting chance I can to make things roll my way. I’m not going to start picking up a bunch of bad habits just because my mother passed away from cancer after living a healthy life. I’m instead going to realize that I’ll do what I can and life will happen as it does, often regardless of my efforts.
To bring this idea home, I’ll tell you a bit about my current job search and prompt us all to consider conversations we have with colleagues, families and students. My family and I chose to relocate this year in order to bring what’s left of our family as close together as possible after a death in the family. I gave up a great job in NYC schools to do it, but I didn’t count on good vibes to help get a new position. I’ve been working on transferring my certifications for over a year now, doing whatever I can to make connections and network on Twitter and LinkedIn, contacting people and meeting whomever I can in person and applying for a lot of positions. The fact that I haven’t yet found a new position doesn’t mean that I’m not going to work again or that I’m going to give up trying and amp up a Second Life account; it just means that I need to keep mapping a road through the ever-changing landscape. What can I do (Feet Forward) in a situation where what I’ve been trying isn’t working (still keeping my Fingers Crossed)?
As for everyone else out here, think about the increasingly difficult and chaotic world in which so many are now living. Even though the idea works for victims of horrendous disasters, it’s also helpful to realize that our everyday life is a tough place to be at times. Are you an educator trying to figure out how to reach all of those students you see everyday? An administrator stressed about testing data and RTTT compliance? A parent whose child seems to be having a hard time, despite being in a creative classroom and a friendly school? Are you out of work or wondering how to pay for housing or college or healthcare as the costs exponentially exceed inflation and the average workers’ pay increases? Regardless of how tough things are, I’m going to suggest you seek out one thing you can do at time that will best position your situation to improve. Find someone to help. Do a bit more research. Take care of a priority need. Get some sleep for a change. Chances are that there will be at least one thing you can do and that the paralysis you’re currently experiencing may have to do with your trying to fix too many things at once.
For me, I’ve just applied to be a substitute teacher, after fourteen years in the profession, finishing up close to two advanced degrees (one formal and the other credits in MA level certification programs) and becoming certified all the way through superintendency in three states. Substituting is not what I’m going to do forever, but it is once step in the direction to making that reality a reality. I’m also not giving up on the big-picture search, but I need to be looking at both the forest and trees instead of losing one to the benefit of the other.
Your thoughts, suggestions, and alternatives are always welcome.