October 22, 2015

The Lord is Lord of All

So it is Thursday, October 22, and I am sitting at my desk at home blogging and thinking about my life. Man, oh, man, do I wish I could just get over myself. I mean, all I ever do is think about my life. I reflect, and frankly, I am tired of doing it. I am really, really getting annoyed at myself. Sigh!

Yet, I know that the reason I write is to help me process, to help me think things through, and to help me draw conclusions so that I can understand my life.  So while I blog (write) to understand my life, I also write so that I can understand why am I am where I am and where I will be going in the future. You see, since I started this path, since I started to follow after the Lord, I have let go of my control, not all of it, mind you, but most of it. Control or lack of control, well, that is a big issue for most people. I struggle daily with this issue of control, and whether I am taking control or letting go of it. Let me explain...

In this world, most people would say that letting go of control is tantamount to irresponsibility. It is not practical nor is it good to not be firmly in control of one's life, destiny, or outcomes. Yes, in truth, there is some comfort in being in control. There are many things in life that we cannot control -- for example -- the things that happen to us without our direct input or involvement. A loved one may die, a spouse may leave, a child may run away. There are many events and situations where we must adapt and learn to be flexible simply because someone over us has authority and can call the shots regarding whether we stay employed or are fired. But, generally speaking, we do control many, many things. We control our attitudes, our thoughts and our feelings as well as our communication. We control our life as far as how we choose to live, where we choose to live, and the work we engage in for our livelihood. We can control other things as well -- whether we invest in higher education, study for some specific type of training, or volunteer our time to serve others. Yes, we have many, many things we control, but we cannot always predict the outcome of our efforts. We cannot say for certain that this thing or that will happen. No, sometimes we must rest in faith, do our best, and let the chips fall where they may fall.

I think about about uncertainty and how this whole idea of uncertainty affects the way we live, the choices we make, and the desires we give heed to throughout the course of our lives. I mean, how often do we shirk back in fear simply because we don't know what the outcome might be? How often do we choose the safe road, the easy path, simply because our fear of the unknown is too great?

As I think about uncertainty, I know that I have been held victim to it's claws for many, many years. I was paralyzed for a long time, unable to make decisions, to choose to do anything, simply because I was in a situation whereby my ability to choose was given to another. I lost my ability to analyze, to synthesize, and to critically determine ways of choosing simply because I lived under the authority of another who made all those decisions for me. I lived with the results of those decisions, and in doing so, I learned to adapt, to be very flexible and fluid. But, I also lost my desire to choose because I learned early on that my choice wouldn't really matter in the end. Someone in authority over me would choose, and I would have to abide by their decision regardless whether I agreed or not.

Thus, the past 6-7 years, I have focused on analyzing my life, reflecting of course, but mostly looking at the choices I made, their outcomes, and then assessing them to see if the decision was good. I learned a lot about myself through this process, and I learned how to critically assess situations, to determine possible hindrances to plans, and to understand the more subtle influences that contribute to the decision-making process.

I am now at a place in my life where I am fully in control of my choices. Yes, I decide what to do each day. I make decisions daily, and while most of them have been good, some have been not in my best interest. I learned through life application that decisions made in real-time often run the risk of not being successful. Why? Simply because a decision made in the moment often hasn't been thoroughly analyzed for possible flaws. If we always shoot from the hip or go with our gut, we run the risk of choosing options that in the end will not serve us well. Therefore, analysis is always a good approach. The problem for many people is that they do not know how to analyze or they do not spend enough time analyzing before they make a choice.

How To Make A Good Choice

The last three years have been filled with great anxiety in relation to my choice of a career. I have blogged over and over again whether I made the best choice in leaving corporate work to start a career as a college instructor. I think the big issue for me was the lack of pay. Yes, I have blogged about the lack of pay for some time now, even though, I know that the work I do is substantive, I also know that I am not compensated fairly for this work. I also struggle with the thought of my future security. I worry whether I will have enough income set aside to live on through my retirement years. My parents are in this place now, so I see first hand how that worry consumes them. I don't want to be in this same place in 20-30 years from now.

Thus, my focus, my intense scrutiny has been on the decision I made in 2013 to leave a good paying job for a low paying job teaching college classes. I have rationalized it, internalized it, scrutinized it, and in the end, I have agonized and lost sleep simply thinking about the uncertainty of my action, of how my choice has dictated my future.

Now, I believe firmly that the Lord is able to provide for me, and in truth, He has provided for me consistently through this entire experience. Yet, by the world's standard, the work I do is not producing a good outcome (aka, not producing viable income). My head says "You are wasting your time;" my heart says "You are where you belong for now." How do I come to terms with these two opposing forces that are pushing me to change my mind, change the direction I am moving, and ultimately change the course of my life?

I have let go, so to speak, of the outcome, and I have relinquished authority to another more higher than I just to deal with the uncertainty and the anxiety associated with this decision. Yes, I have done my best to move forward in my life, even though I doubt my choice and the reasons for the choice on a daily basis.

Moving Forward Despite the Uncertainty
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7 NIV).
Today is a perfect case in point for this essay. You see, as I drove to ACU this morning, I prayed for peace in my life, for peace to rule over all this uncertainty. I wanted to stop agonizing over the decision, and start living with the results, regardless of their merit. It was a sort of "I am where I am today, and there is no use crying about it." Yes, I tried very hard to move on despite the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety I felt inside me.

I have struggled with my class at ACU since day one, and today, I walked back to my car thinking "It is hopeless, Lord, just hopeless." I cannot find a point of connection with these students, and try as hard as I may, I cannot figure out what is wrong with this class. I know the curriculum is mostly to blame (it is too narrowly constrained), but I also know that my teaching method, my approach, is not working with these students. They do not get what I am teaching, they do not grasp what I am saying nor the value of it. I feel like I am on trial every day, and I feel like I am pronounced guilty as I walk away. It is difficult to put it into words, but suffice it to say, every Tuesday and Thursday, my heart simply faints as I approach campus. I feel like I do not belong in this place, my efforts are not being rewarded, and my hard work is for naught.

After a short while of pitying myself and my situation, I started to think about other work, types of work where I would feel better about myself and my contribution. I have blogged about my INTJ brain and how analysis is my best friend, my strength, and my delight. Yet, the more I think about working in this type of environment, the more I see that my current status as professor/scholar and PhD student simply makes me a very difficult fit. You see, I tend to ramble on about theory and theoretical considerations. It is part of what I must do for my PhD, and after three years of study, it has become such a strong part of me, that I am afraid I would do it, naturally I mean, in any given situation. Thus, in a team meeting for example, I would prattle on about this or that simply because I recognized a connection. I would have to constrain myself, keep my mouth shut, and just "do the work," in order to do the job. I was thinking whether or not I would like that feeling, being made to keep silent, to not discuss or talk about the things that interest me most. I thought to myself that it would probably be okay for a time, but after a while, I would be bored, and I would find the constraint difficult to handle on a daily basis.

The problem, thus, is that I have become a professor of both English and Communication, and no matter how I would like to ditch that title, I cannot. I am no longer a team member, a productive worker, an individual contributor --  who can easily do a good job -- instead, I have gotten quite comfortable telling people what to do, how to do it, and why to do it. Yes, no matter what I say to myself, the truth is that I have become a teacher, and there is nothing I can do now to turn back the clock.

Wearing This Hat

So what does that mean for me today? Well, I think it means this -- I have struggled through my decision for the past three years -- only to learn today that I have become what I set out to become. I transitioned from being an analyst into being a teacher, and while I haven't liked the process, I have achieved the result. I am now a professor, and it is time for me to assume that role. I cannot imagine doing any other work. Well, I can imagine it, but only for a really short time. I cannot imagine sitting in an office for 8 hours and pushing papers. I cannot imagine taking orders from a boss who doesn't know as much as I do (granted, I would respect them, for sure) and not interject my thoughts, feelings or expert opinion on the matter. I do this with my colleagues, and they expect it from me. It is welcomed in higher education, so to go back into an environment where there is a clear chain of command, well, that would probably be difficult for me. It isn't that I would act out or even be argumentative -- it is that this part of my personality is so ingrained -- that I don't know how well I could keep myself constrained from doing it.

This means that for all intents and purposes, I am now on this path, and I see no way off of it. I think this is what the Lord meant when He said that I was to remain on this path. I thought He meant that I was to stay put, you know, stay where I was because I was to learn a lesson, to experience some truth that could only be experienced in this way, through this type of work. I was so focused on the details, like on getting over my fear of public speaking, learning how to make up curriculum, etc. I didn't even consider that the Lord had transformed me into a professor in the process. I didn't see that one coming, but now that I see it, it makes sense to me. It has absolutely nothing to do with the "fit" of teaching. It has everything to do with "becoming" a teacher. I have focused on the minutia of detail, on teaching (the nuts and bolts of it), that I missed the process of becoming a teacher (of being one, living, breathing, communicating, etc.) The process has molded me, shaped me, and made me into a teacher, and now there is no escape from it. I am a teacher, and I must embrace this as part of my identity, as part of who I am.

Becoming a Teacher

I think this was so hard for me to grasp because I was used to using my skill to do work. When I was a designer, I used my creative and technical ability to design websites. I produced results, created websites, and I measured my performance by how well my clients liked my product. As a teacher, I tried to do the same thing. I tried to figure out how curriculum could be designed, how to present material, how to run a class, etc. in order to produce a product -- the 'almighty' lesson. The problem with this approach was that my students didn't react the way my clients did in the past. They were disinterested, not passionate, not enthusiastic about my efforts. I felt like a failure, simply because I thought my skills were lacking, my abilities were in question, and I was not producing a good product.

Over the past couple weeks, though, I have seen my students light up when I shared with them some story, moved them passionately with some tale. I routinely run into old students who come up to me to hug me. I pray for them, I laugh with them, I commiserate with them. I have learned a valuable lesson in becoming a teacher. I learned that teaching is not about lesson plans and lessons, but it is about communicating, it is all about communicating information. I have learned that when I focus on the lesson, I fall flat, but when I focus on communicating information, transmitting information, then I can connect with my students.

I really should know better because in communication, there is always the message being transmitted between two people. There is encoding and decoding as well as feedback that ensures the message was received. When you focus on a product, creating a product, you miss the key element which is to transmit information from sender to receiver. You also miss the feedback that gives you that assurance that the message was received and understood.  I realize now that I have spent so much time trying to create a product, a good lesson, that I have run over the better part, the communicating truth part, that forms the connector between teacher and student. I have learned that to connect with my students, I must transmit truth to them, I must share with them two key pieces of information:

  • What they need to know
  • Why they need to know 
I teach my students how to write. In doing so, I teach them what they need to know to write a certain type of essay. I teach them why writing this certain type of essay is valuable to them. Once I have communicated this information to them, I must show them what to do with it. This is the "teaching" part, the "showing" through demonstration and practical application. They practice what they have learned to demonstrate learning, but they practice in order to become proficient at replicating the learning through future experience.

I have focused mostly on presenting information, which is fine to some degree. However, as I learned through this experience, I realize that what works best is to transmit the two important pieces of information, and then give my students plenty of time to practice what they have just learned. It has been hard for me to move from "doing it all" to leading others to do it, but it is the mark of any good leader. You see, I can do it all myself, and I have for many years. As an individual contributor (the fancy title used in many matrix organizations), I have become adept at this "doing" part. However, when you teach others, you cannot be all about "doing," but you must "show and tell." Yes, you must describe, detail, and deliver content -- of course -- but only as much as is necessary for the students to use during the hour. If you give too much, you have information overload, and the students check out. If you have too little, then you are faced with either ending class early or a very long uncomfortable silence.

Addressing Performance Issues

So with this new information, I am armed and ready, well somewhat ready, to tackle teaching from a new perspective. I have come to terms with the fact that this is what I am now, I am a teacher. As such, I cannot go backwards to another time and place because I have been transformed from what I was to what I am now. I must move forward in this career, and I must learn how to better apply the life lesson I have learned.

My goal now is to finish my 6 weeks at ACU and my 7 weeks at GCU with the best possible outcome. I have made major mistakes this semester, mostly in my confusion as I tried so hard to figure out how to teach these disparate subjects. Some of my classes have run really well; some have been difficult. In all, I have fallen on my face many times, but as with any endeavor, I picked myself back up, and I tried again. 

Today, is a pivotal point in the learning process. I have seen the proverbial writing on the wall. I asked for confirmation today, and the Lord provided it in spades. He helped me see that His plan for my life was to transform me into this thing -- into a teacher -- not just an English or Communications teacher, but a teacher who can teach whatever is needed, when it is needed. Thus, I wear this hat, and I do my best to teach the subjects given to me. I have learned that my students learning is what matters most, and that it is not about what I am doing, but what they are learning. It is about making sure they are getting what they need from me as teacher every day, and it is about learning how to improve the ways I communicate information to them. I am a Communications Scholar after all, so I should understand how to communicate information effectively. But, like in any situation, often we know more about something than we actually put into practice. Now it is time to start putting into practice what I know, and in doing so, becoming a better qualified, better equipped, and better enabled instructor of these courses.

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