I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations and how hard one should push to soar when there is some very real evidence that the goal is unattainable. I have a student who recently took the PSAT and plans to take the SAT along with all her friends in the spring. I don’t want to discourage her, but I also don’t want to see her hurt. She has significant learning disabilities which no amount of hard work and enthusiasm will change. There are many things she can do, and do very well indeed, and the realistic approach would be to start at the community college and test the waters. I suspect that is what will ultimately happen since her chances for being accepted at the state university she wants to go to are very, very slim. I’m trying to balance encouragement for her plans along with suggestions for other very viable options.
I’ve thought about this dilemma of dreams vs reality in my own life, especially after starting a fitness program with Fitbit a week ago. The reality that I’m dealing with is very bad feet (severe plantar fasciitis) and an arthritic left hip. Is it realistic to think that I can walk and jog? I’m definitely enjoying it and my osteopath was very encouraging yesterday, so I’m forging on. She made some suggestions about stretching and she also suggested that maybe running barefoot wasn’t a good plan. Today did go much better as a result, and so I’m cautiously optimistic.
I’ve had several goals during my life that went against my abilities. The most notable one was my desire to learn Latin. I actually have a learning handicap just as many of my students do. I can’t really visualize and I am totally unable to memorize. Needless to say, this is a pretty big handicap when it comes to learning a foreign language. My drive was strong enough that I did succeed in earning a BA in Latin. I also balanced a healthy dose of realism with it when I opted, after doing two years of ancient Greek, to “settle” for the BA in Latin rather than in Classics, which had been my original goal. I’d like to think that the strategies I developed which got me through the Latin and two years of ancient Greek would also have gotten me through upper division Greek, but at the same time I realized that the stress and anxiety such a plan would cause made the goal not worth the sacrifice to my sanity and health. Of all my degrees, including my PhD in English, I think I’m proudest of my BA in Latin. That was the degree which represented the biggest hurdle for me, given my learning difficulties.
I’m very grateful for my learning difficulties because the strategies I’ve developed over the years enable me to help my students when they struggle for whatever reason. It also gives me a lot of compassion for those with much more severe learning difficulties. But I’ve learned that some realities need to be faced honestly, and some dreams need to shift. I loved ballet, but never got beyond the third class (out of five). I had a wonderful time, but I’m just not built right for ballet. It would have been cruel if either I or someone else pushed me to become a ballerina. No amount of effort and practice would have made that dream even remotely possible. I was never going to be a pianist either. I have a sister who plays beautiful piano. I have two children who are very talented musicians. However, no matter how many hours I practiced, I wasn’t going to succeed in anything beyond the intermediate level. Among other things, my fingers are short and squat, making reaches impossible.
I think all of us need dreams and aspirations. I definitely encourage my students to shoot for the stars. I’d just like to see those dreams and aspirations grounded in a healthy respect for who they are. It does all of us good to stretch and reach, but unreal expectations can, I think, produce some real damage. It’s a tough balance to find. At the moment, I’m still doing my 30+ minutes of jogging/fast walking each morning first thing (to my fur friends’ disgust as that delays their breakfast). I already have noticed that the adrenalin rush and the effort required to complete the intensity of 5000 steps has boosted my spirits and overall, I feel much better. Completing the entire 10,000 steps then becomes a very doable goal, as I go about my regular activities. And I will continue because of the beneficial results on me overall, at least until someone says that I could end up crippling myself (which would obviously be very counterproductive). However, I do not aspire to running an ultra-marathon as my son and daughter-in-law do.
I’ve learned then that shooting for the stars is a good plan, if it is balanced with some realistic expectations.
How do you choose between what’s best for friends and what’s best for the community. I’m learning just how tough that decision is with a couple of my friends. I just can’t discuss certain situations, either with them or with others in the community. If I do so, do what I strongly feel is necessary to protect innocents, I run the risk of costing my friends their jobs, livelihoods, etc. I can be outspoken, but I’m not the one who will pay the price. I’ve tried encouraging my friends, but they have very real fears. I understand that, as I live in a state of constant anxiety, and I realize that most of my fears are not even real and certainly aren’t life threatening. However, I also have strong convictions concerning the victims in these several situations, so at that moment, I’m feeling trapped and powerless. I’m not the one who should be acting in any of the current situations. I’m not directly involved, etc. I’m just a helpless bystander, watching the runaway cart and watching the criminals gain confidence and power in the face of those who won’t act. There is no good solution. If I become more vocal, I could easily cause more harm than good. And so, my wimpy solution is simply not to discuss certain situations with my friends. I’ll talk about the weather, my pets, my novels, my quilts, etc, and ask after their similar activities, and we’ll never discuss what is truly important. My only hope is that one day someone will take the appropriate actions. And who knows, maybe some things just can’t be fixed. And maybe all any of us can do is stand by our friends and try to support them even when we disagree with them. The rock and the hard place are not comfortable at all.
One of my highest values is integrity. Lately I have been confronted with a number of situations, some of them quite serious, where others have demonstrated either a complete lack of integrity, or at the very least, a very low priority for acting with integrity. One example of this, I grant you a more minor example, has resulted in my now driving nearly as far as I can and still remain on Vashon, an island that is 13 miles long, 8 miles wide at its widest point, for a total of 37 square miles–slightly larger than Manhattan, and home to 10,624 people (2010 census).
Here’s what precipitated my situation. I get my hair cut and colored (rainbow swirl) every six weeks, and I’ve had the same stylist for a number of years. She worked at a salon in town, just a mile or so from my home. Six months ago she gave birth to her first child, a gorgeous little boy, and she took maternity leave. That’s when the drama began. The owner and other stylists at the salon where she was working began blackballing her, for reasons that remain a mystery. I was never told when she returned from maternity leave and so twice I had my hair done by a substitute stylist. While I was getting my hair cut and colored I had to listen to the rest of the stylists saying horrible lies about my stylist.
Finally my stylist, realizing that something was definitely amiss, began calling her clients directly and I wasn’t the only one to report on all the nasty things that were being said behind her back (that she was lazy, flaky, not responsive to inquiries about her return to work, etc.). To make a long story short, she is no longer at that studio, and in fact, thanks to the help of her very nice landlord, she now has a spot for her own salon right next to the home she and her boyfriend and their son live in. For her, it is an absolutely ideal spot.
Now for my dilemma. Her location is at the very north end of Vashon, nearly at the ferry dock. I have a long way (at least by my standards) to drive (about 10 miles). And last Friday, when I thought I had an appointment, I went to the new place for the first time. I was anxious, and my anxiety only grew as I wasn’t sure which house it was, or where I should park. As I was driving back and forth, a nice young man walked over and I asked for directions. He turned out to be my stylist’s boyfriend and so he showed me exactly where to go. However, there were several vehicles as well as a lot of stuff for an estate sale at the bottom of a very steep driveway, so I wasn’t sure I could turn around and get out. The boyfriend suggested backing down, something which years ago I could have done with my eyes practically closed, but no longer. So once he’d assured me that my car was safe where it was, I decided to walk down the driveway. I found that extremely challenging as it was steeper in the moment than it had looked, and I did not have my walking stick.
Finally, my stylist came out and showed me where her new office is, and we discovered why she wasn’t expecting me. She’d mis-copied the date from our text messages into her date book. Of course, by now I’m really stressed, but she was so dismayed at her mistake that my nurturing side took over and helped me. She had me down for yesterday, but that didn’t work for me, so we put me on the schedule for next Friday and meanwhile, she gave me a free hair cut. She would have done the color as well except that it hadn’t arrived yet. Then she explained exactly how they have things worked out for parking, and I’ll have no trouble now driving down the driveway, parking really close to her new salon, and then having plenty of room to turn around and drive back up.
It all worked out fine in the end, and while I don’t anticipate liking the drive, I only have to do it every six weeks. And I’ve set up my schedule so that I have my therapy appointment (another drive I consider long, but not as long) before my hair cut, and so I’m nearly half way there already.
I could have stayed with the salon in town as far as having someone who was capable of doing my hair. That would have been within my travel comfort zone and wouldn’t cause me stress and anxiety. However, back to the matter of integrity. I was absolutely unable even to consider such a plan because I would not have someone who was so unprofessional and just plain nasty working on my hair. I’ve changed a number of people in my life because they had questionable business or ethical practices, and so here again, I was taking a stand, even if that stand means that I have to go a lot further away from my home than I like. Integrity is a higher priority for me than my personal anxieties. Life is always making us choose, and this was one choice which was very easy to make, albeit much harder to execute. But I guess stretching my comfort zone to help out a really nice person is a good thing.
Gads, I can’t believe it’s been a year since I put a post on this blog. Guess that’s the peril of having so many blogs. I post every day on Tanka Diary and Haiku and Other Short Poems, but this blog and my flash fiction blog sort of fall by the wayside.
Anyway, another school year has started and this year, so far at least, is going so much better than the previous years. I realize that this is because I’ve finally started to pay more attention to what works for me and then to follow through with making that happen.
My summer had some very rocky moments, and I had to make some difficult decisions. In the end, those decisions have worked out and I think that has given me the courage to make decisions about other parts of my life. For the past five years, I’ve tutored at Student Link, Vashon’s alternative high school, volunteering two hours in the morning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, for a total of six hours/week. However, I’ve learned that being somewhere else away from home requires a lot of energy on my part. Just going to Student Link took energy, leaving me with less to use for the students. In addition, I would have a number of students to “juggle” at once, which wasn’t truly helpful for either me or the students.
So this year I decided I would only tutor from home. I live close to the schools, so the students have no problem biking or walking to my place. The students love my home, with all of its colors, pets, and interesting things. I tutor students one-on-one, so they get much more attention and help. I now am volunteering eleven hours/week, so nearly twice what I’ve done in the past, and yet I find that my energy levels are better than they have been in years.
I was worried that the students wouldn’t come to me, but that proved to be a false worry. As one of my students said, I have everything that an adolescent would want. I’ve had a few parents accompany their student to a session, and the parents seem extremely happy with both the space and my approach.
The change in my work environment has had the added benefit that I usually only have to leave my home twice a week now, and that has made a tremendous difference to me as well. I do still go to the Senior Center on Wednesday afternoons to teach my bridge class. I enjoy the students there a lot, and so I shall keep that going. But I’ve also noticed that I get much more tired after that hour than I do after three or four hours tutoring at home.
So I’ve learned a lot about myself, and even more than that, I’ve learned to respect what works or doesn’t work for me, and to arrange my life, in as far as I’m able, to be in harmony with what works. I’m definitely a homebody and I’m also an introvert. I need to spend my weekends (Friday afternoon through to Tuesday morning) pretty quietly and mostly alone. That is when I can give reign to my creativity, also a big part of who I am.
It really doesn’t matter who you are or what works for you. Thankfully, we are all different. What matters is that you discover what does and doesn’t work and then do whatever you can to bring more of what does work into your life. I’ve seen such a change in the quality of my life by doing just that. It’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.