Sunday, April 23, 2017

Overwhelmed? A Look Within

A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with a team of teachers interviewing applicants for an open teaching position. While I am relentlessly resolute that interviews should only be a fraction of the decision to hire (or not hire) someone, they do reveal a glimpse into the mind and heart of the candidate.  It offers a snapshot of their story and tells me about the journey to here and now.

And I always learn something from interviewees.  Each time, I hear something that resonates deeply, something that challenges me to reflect upon how and why we do what we do.  As an example, I like asking candidates, “Tell me about your areas for growth.”  Their answers reveal what they think about when they look ahead. 

This time, we were interviewing a young woman who was confident and well spoken, in spite of her palpable nervousness.  When asked how she wanted to grow, responded in a way I’d not heard before. 

Speaking slowly, as if figuring something out for the first time, she said,  “I think my biggest area for growth is finding how to not overwhelm myself.”  

She paused. 

“Here’s the thing,” she explained.  “I’ll get an idea, and then I’ll start to think of all the ways it could be really fabulous.  I consider what I could do to make it work really well.  I think of children who would benefit from the idea, and then I start to worry about how to turn the idea into a big, beautiful experience for every one of them.  And then I think about the complications and the resistance, and how to keep it all together.  About how to grade it, and communicate my purpose to the kids, their parents, and my teammates.  And then I’m almost too overwhelmed with it all to understand how to get started.” 
 
We all nodded, identifying, understanding—we were right there with her. 

It’s so easy to do, isn’t it?  Being overwhelmed can be self-inflicted.  We let too much in.  We make our lists and plans.  We checklist through all the things we want to do, the things we have to do, the things we should do.  And then suddenly we’re breathless with the I-just-can’t—that wave of feeling we can’t possibly­ it all and do it right.  

What impressed me was this interviewee’s ability to take responsibility for the feeling of being overwhelmed.  She wasn’t looking to blame; instead, she looked firmly at herself.   With complete, unapologetic honesty.  It was impressive.  After all, it's  hard to admit that it isn't the world conspiring to overwhelm—it is our approach to it that overwhelms.  

That’s a pretty mature way of thinking, there.  I betcha we could all be better if we look honestly at we’re doing to ourselves that might be making our work more difficult.  

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