October 9, 2015

Do You Believe?

It is Friday, and once again, I am sitting at the computer on the 3rd floor of the GCU Student Union. I finished my early morning communications class, and now I am taking a break before I have a short meeting with a colleague to discuss his upcoming peer review (I am reviewing his classroom). I am sitting here reflecting on my morning, and I am thinking about how the Lord has spoken truth into my life the past couples days. If you follow my blog (does anyone follow my blog?), you will have read about my recent struggles with confidence and my concerns regarding inadequacy in my teaching abilities. The Lord has been gracious to me, and yesterday, I made a breakthrough of sorts. Yes, I guess I came to terms with some key items, and as a result, I accepted the path, the plan, and the process the Lord is using to prepare, equip and train me for my future work (His work). Today was another "life lesson" for me, and I think, it was more profound even though it seemed rather innocent and unassuming. Let me explain...

Today started out like every other day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I teach at GCU. I have three classes, one Communications course, and two English Composition courses. My day is long and tiring, and generally, nothing startling happens. I go to class, I teach, I come home for the day. My students seem to do fine, get the content, do the work, etc. But... I tend to feel inadequate, especially when my students appear to be disinterested in my courses. I take it personally. I feel bad, I feel as though they don't like or appreciate my efforts. And, frankly, I spend a lot of time preparing for class. I create lessons that I think will engage their minds, and will extend the lessons we are learning. I prep, prep, and prep, and still they seem to want to be entertained or spoon-fed bits of information. It bothers me greatly, and as a result, I feel like a failure in class. Yet, I know I am not a failure because my evaluations are always good. My students will often tell me how much they enjoyed my classes, how they want to take more classes from me, etc. I still struggle though, and often, the weight of these feelings wears me down. I become depressed, and I feel like I want to quit.

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough. Yes, I came to terms with this path that I am on, and I came to accept that this is what God wants me to do for the next 20 years of my life. I am to teach. End of story. I get that, really I do, but I still struggle. I still feel inadequate and as though I am not good enough to teach. I realized that a lot of what I feel is predicated on my well-being, my mental and physical wellness. If I am overly tired, not feeling well physically, then my mental state seems to follow suit. My physical ability determines my mental state, and while that is not the best case, in my life, it seems to follow. I try very hard to keep a positive outlook on life. I try very hard to see the silver lining. Yet, I struggle with depression, with feeling blue, etc. It all seems to coalesce during the semester, especially when I am pushed and pressured on time.

As I have processed these facts, I have determined that my lack of confidence and my feelings of inadequacy are misplaced. I have "inferred" incorrectly, and I have done so out of a need for approval. I blogged yesterday about how I once was a people pleaser, and how I desired for people to like me. My self-confidence has always been an issue because as a child, I struggled with making friends, and with being accepted. I was different (I still am), and while I have come to terms with my uniqueness, I still recall the sting of loneliness, isolation, and feeling as though I was not wanted. I have overcome most of my self-esteem issues, but occasionally, I will find myself stuck in these old memories, feeling once again as though I am not "good enough."

Of course, I am 52, almost 53, and frankly, most of those feelings have been replaced by positive affirmations, achievements, and other aspects of my life that have demonstrated to me that I am worthwhile. I am a confident person, bold, and at times, almost strongly assertive. Yet, there is a small part of me, that child-like part of me, that will raise its head up (just every now and then), and get the better of me.

A Case in Point

Today, my Communications students were studying Leadership, and I decided at the last minute (last night) to have them watch a TED Talk by Simon Sinek. I had first watched this inspirational message in my Leadership class this summer, and I was impressed with his message. I know that many people take issue with his simplistic message and his delivery, but despite the flaws and errors (a bit of grandness), there is a good message at the core. I liked his focus on inspirational leadership, so I thought that this 20 minute talk might just make my students think more about communication and how leaders use communication to inspire their followers.

In this message, Sinek, outlines what he calls the "Golden Circle." The golden circle was his "A HA" moment when he figured out that all great leaders (great companies, successful organizations) communicate differently than the average person. Instead of telling their followers what they do, they tell them why they believe what they believe. His reasoning is that "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." It is a good saying, a strong message, and for the most part, I agree with him. He uses Apple Computer, the Wright Brothers as examples of success, and provides TIVO, Dell and Gateway as examples of failures -- all based on the message they communicate (or communicated) to their followers with regard to their product or invention.

I've watched this TED Talk four times now, and each time, I still enjoy it. Like I said, I normally agree with him, and I think his idea, while simplistic, does make sense in many areas, not just in business, but in life as well. As I watched it today (number five is the charm), I was struck once again by the simplicity of the message. I listened as he hammered home his trademark saying "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" a dozen or so times in the 18.04 minute presentation. It was at the end, or near the end, when I had an "A HA" moment too. I heard a voice in my head say to me "Your students won't buy that you know what your doing, until you know why you are doing it."

I sat there for a brief moment, stunned really, as I thought about those words and how my teaching style, my way of doing things, is really different from the way other teachers teach on campus. Yes, I blogged about this very thing yesterday too. I said how I feel pressured to change the way I present information, how I engage students in the classroom. I feel this pressure to be different, to do things a certain way, a way that goes against my natural style. I have tried to change, and each time I try, I fail. I fail miserably. I realized yesterday that I have to be myself, I have to do things my way or else this whole "teaching thing" will not work for me.

Sinek's words stuck in my head as I finished up my class and headed over to the coffee shop. I thought more about them as I sat down to blog, and I guess I came to another conclusion -- a really BIG conclusion. Confidence comes from a belief in something. According to Merriam-Webster, confidence means "full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing." My students need to trust me, to have a belief in my ability as an instructor in order to feel successful in my class. If they do not feel that they can trust me, then they will doubt my effectiveness and could possibly do poorly in class. But if they feel they can trust me because I am trustworthy, then they will gain confidence, and they will do well in my classes. This is important to my students because my desire is always to see them succeed. They must trust me, they must believe in me.

But more importantly, and significantly, is the fact that for this to happen, I must believe in myself. I must believe that I can do this thing -- be a teacher -- and my confidence in the classroom can transform a ho-hum experience into something better. I know this is true, and I know what it feels like to feel good about your performance, to feel confident and bold, and to know that you really do know your content.

I have struggled the past couple semesters with my confidence. Partly this is because I am tired and overworked with doctoral studies, but also it is because teaching is new to me. I mean, I have only been teaching a couple years, and I am still not great at creating lesson plans or even delivering content. I am getting better, and I know that in a year or two, I will be far better than I am now. However, my lack of confidence in myself has served to undermine my performance in the classroom now. I lack confidence, I don't believe what I am saying, and therefore, my students feel it, I sense it, I see it. My failure to be bold, to be confident, has had a direct result on my students sense of well being. This is why Sinek's message rings true for me today:

"People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."


Today, I think about this idea, and I see that my lack of belief in my abilities has served to cause a disconnect in what I do. My belief in myself has directly impacted my ability in the classroom. Now, I know what you are thinking, "So just do it!" Well, yes! But that is easier said than done. I have tried to overcome these negative thoughts and feelings. I have tried to tell myself "You can do it, Carol" and so far that has proven to be marginally successful. I am trusting the Lord, of course, and I am asking for His help every day. Still, I struggle. Still, I feel like a failure most days.

How do I overcome these feelings?

Well, I think the key is to understand where they come from and why I suffer from them. I came to terms with this truth yesterday. My childhood experience shaped and influenced my thinking to the point where I often feel inadequate (incorrectly so). I feel most confident when I am functioning my strength areas, when I am independent and able to use my intellect, my intuition, and my ability to infer solutions to problems. In short, when I am engaged in scholarly study, when I am conducting research or when I am producing a product (creating, writing, etc.) or a report. Yes, when I am using my INTJ brain -- then I am confident, bold, and in control. When I am using the weaker skills, weaker areas of my personality such as when I teach -- communicating, emoting, and sensing -- then I struggle. Why? Simply because as an INTJ personality, my strength is introverted, intuition, thinking and judging. This means that I am at my best when I am alone, focused on thinking and judging -- rational and logical explorations of deep things, thoughts, and theories. In the classroom, I have to turn on my weaker areas -- I must be an extroverted, sensing, feeling and perceiving person. This is the exact opposite of my personality profile and it is outside my comfort zone. I must put on this other person for 3-4 or 5 hours each day, and I have no confidence in this part of my personality. I have no confidence in my abilities in this realm of my psyche.

For me, this process of being extroverted and sensing and feeling is a challenge. It is draining emotionally, and it also is a playground where I feel outnumbered, out performed by others who are naturally this type of person. I want to retreat to my inner world where it is safe, where I can be myself, and where I can do my work, my way, and according to my own wisdom. Yes, I want to do things my way, the way I work best. But, I cannot do this, not now anyway. I have to learn how to be this way, and frankly, this process is wearing me down. I feel, I sense, I perceive and I don't like it.

My rational brain kicks in and says to me "This is stupid, Carol. You are saying and doing things you don't believe, and your students "see" it!" Of course, this is not 100% true, but there is a sense of great fear in it because most INTJ's fear failure and they fear being found out as a fraud. Yes, the fact that we might be failures, frauds, and fakes looms over our heads night and day. We fear this to be true, even though we know the likelihood is slim that this will ever come to pass, the feeling is still there. This is why I over prep, I over teach, and I over do everything. I have to have checks and balances that are backups to checks and balances. I am zealous because I need to be sure, really sure, that there is no chance I will fail.

This pressure to perform is tiring. The pressure to be perfect is difficult, and while being perfect in the sense of one's work can be a strength, it also can be a weakness, if not kept in check. You see, one of the great things about being an INTJ is that I rarely miss a detail. Moreover, I am able to spot problems, issues, concerns far off in the distance. I work very hard to observe, to see any mishaps or hiccups in the process. I work to avoid error. In all this "extra" effort, I enjoy a great measure of success. I achieve a lot. I am an over-achiever, and I am OK with that label.

Thus, through teaching, I have come to learn the hard lesson of life, the life of the perfectionist, the researcher/scholar who must have all her ducks in a row. In teaching, I cannot have things my way. I cannot have my life the way I want it. Instead, I have to play in the unknown, disordered, and dysfunctional playground of my sensing, emoting, and perceiving brothers and sisters in Christ. I am learning to live in the world, in the real world, the place outside my head, the place where people live and where they die. I am learning to live in and love the world through Christ. To do this, I must open my eyes, I must learn how to sense, perceive and feel. I must learn how to fail, and I must learn how to trust the Lord. I cannot simply be content to do easy work. No, He has called met to learn how to be this way, and it is hard for me to do. Yet, there is a purpose in it, and I must learn what He wants me to learn, which is this:

To live for Christ, is to die to the self.

Galatians 2:20 says it this way, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." My confidence can no longer be in the flesh, but must be in Him and Him alone. Paul writes in Philippians 3:3-4, "for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh," in order to demonstrate the difference between justification by the law and justification by the blood. The Jews who professed faith in Christ, still held confidence in their obedience to the law. Paul was saying to them, "Look brothers and sisters, there is no confidence in the flesh -- it cannot save you! Our hope and confidence is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone!"

As I learn how to do this thing called life, I am learning how to do it His way. I wish I had a handle on it, and I wish I could explain it better. But when it all comes out in the wash, as I like to say, what I am learning is that to please Him, to be pleasing to Him, I must sacrifice everything that is me in order to receive everything that is Him. This means that the work He has given to me cannot be done without His presence in and through it. The work cannot be done in my flesh; no, it has to be done in His spirit alone. My INTJ brain and wiring so desires to do things my way. He is calling me to learn how to be like Him, to relate, to communicate, and to teach the way He does. He is calling me to learn how to be more ESFP like, to become someone different, new, and relatable by the world. It s not that the Lord desires me to stop using my introverted brain and my ability to analyze -- rather -- it is that He is saying to me that for me to be an effective minister I must learn how to relate to people through my other senses, my other personality. In some ways, He is showing me how a life lived for Christ is a life lived in Christ. My personality, hard wired and coded from birth, is being rewritten by His presence in my life. I am learning how to be Christlike, and to live like Christ, I must be like Christ.

"People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."

If I say I am a Christian, then I must live like one. I must not be a white-washed pagan. I must be a person who is trustworthy, who is believable, and who lives out what they say they believe. If people are to follow after me as I follow after Him, then I must be able to live out what I believe. If I don't believe it, then they won't believe it either. This is the life lesson I am learning. This is the life lesson that will take me from where I am today to where He wants me to be tomorrow.

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