I truly believe that our stories make us who we are. Our experiences come together to help us determine how we will react to situations, treat the people around us, and the path we choose to move forward. It’s one of the reasons that teaching is so complicated. There is never an easy way to account for people’s stories and how they affect their learning or the path they’ve put themselves on.
I had two experiences this week that were eye-opening while I was presenting at the #NetX17 conference in Texas. Even though these conversations came from two different people who didn’t know each other at two completely separate times, to me, they were so closely related that it was difficult to ignore.
First, I met Trevor Regan. Trevor speaks about failure and fear, how our brain is wired to make us hesitant to put ourselves out there and take risks, and how purposeful, positive reinforcement can change the way that we react to a situation. Our brains truly are amazing, and word choice can be a powerful weapon for both good and evil. While I learned a ton from Trevor, this concept really stuck with me:
Fear keeps us from having amazing experiences when we are afraid to try in the first place. It made me reflect on my fear of getting up in front of people, and how I had to take 18 credits of public speaking in college just to gain control. People often ask me how I “got rid” of that fear, and my answer is that I haven’t. I still have it all the time. I need to take deep breaths before I present, still doubt my abilities, still sweat and shake, and I still get up and do it because I have learned that the feeling of working with people in that capacity is more important and rewarding than my fear and anxiety of public speaking. It’s definitely not gone, it’s just controlled. I danced with this fear, acknowledged it, stepped on it’s toes a little, and do my best to let it go as much as possible. The important part is that I persevered because I chose that I wouldn’t let that fear keep me from something I really wanted, but I had to make a conscious choice for that to happen, had to work at it, regularly failed but kept going, and I still actively continue to fight against it every single time I get up to speak.
That same day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about our stories and when choices need to be made. He said, “You need to decide how you’re going to write your story. Don’t allow it to be written for you.” This really hit home for me. It’s easy to feel in control when times are good, but in times when things are difficult the amount of effort to take control can seem insurmountable. Between those two conversations, it dawned on me that all the times that I have had surprising, positive outcomes from decisions, it has been when I have gone through something difficult, struggled, and have decided to not allow fear of the unknown to dictate my life. But, every single time this has happened, it has been me that has had to decide that I was going to be the one to take control of my situation. When I was a teacher and I began to disengage from my profession after five years, I had to take the bull by the horns and figure out what I needed in order to be passionate about my work again. There was no district, administrator or curriculum that was going to do that for me. It was scary because I had to put myself out there and admit that I had been relying on other people to make me feel happy and successful. Again, and example of when I made the decision and took control of my story.
So often we sit back and think about everything that needs to change for us to be happy or successful, but fear keeps us from taking control and making those things happen, so we allow our stories to be written for us because then we have someone else to blame and a reason to complain. Then we have no reason to be afraid of failure because we didn’t try in the first place. Change is so difficult, but it’s also a constant. We have a choice about how we react to that change. Are we allowing change to happen to us or are we using change to work to our advantage? Does the change keep us living in whatever fear we’ve allowed our brains to hang on to, or do we decide how our stories will turn out? It doesn’t really matter what kind of change it is, whether it’s the fear of integrating more technology into your lessons, changing jobs, making a personal life change, writing a book…although there may be different levels of anxiety for each of these, if we never try, we have a 0% chance of being successful and we are allowing either our fear or other people write our stories for us. We all have the chance to make decisions that will ultimately change our trajectory. We just need to be brave, persevere, and take control.