Confidence & What if? - Responding When the Mountain Beats You

Hey everyone!  I feel like there is never enough time to get to everything, so often this blog has taken a big back seat in favor of other items that need my attention, and admittedly I’ve been trying to come up with a different focus on this post and not succeeding.  I’ve been avoiding talking about this because it’s been WAY TOO REAL for me recently, and I wasn’t sure if I could honestly approach it with the openness it deserves, but it’s time to tackle it head on!

This blog was more meant as a place of reflection on my path as an educator, but lately the world outside my classroom has creeped in, so apologies for the personal stuff that comes with this post.  In my personal life, my wife and I have had some interesting weeks. We’ve been trying to start a family for about 5 years now, with no success. Since January, we’ve learned that due to medical conditions I have, that would not be possible without major medical intervention, that while quite routine in this day and age, still are a bit frightening.  Add to that going through genetic tests, discovering I was born with only 1 kidney, waiting to find out what our options are (in addition to the costs involved), and I’ve been just absolutely broken at times by this, and I know it has affected me as a teacher. Worrisome concerns personally have contributed to a lack of confidence as a teacher and that has truly scared me.  

However, as I’ve had to remind myself quite frequently, the “mountain” or the “trail” only wins if you let it.  Conquering a daunting task requires stamina, grit, and the will to keep going. I often tell my students, “You will stumble in life.  Everyone does. But the real question is not if you will stumble, but how will you respond when you do?” I needed some of my own advice and I have a bad habit of wallowing in those feelings.  I started wondering if this was still the career for me. I looked around at the amazing things that were happening in every classroom at The Summit, and wondered why they weren’t happening in mine.  They were, but I couldn’t see it, and the “What Ifs” started to creep into my mind:

“What if I don’t fit in or belong here?”

“What if I’m not good enough?”

“What if this keeps happening?  How will I be able to talk about my teaching to other teachers?”

“What if this is last time I’ll ever teach a class?  What will I do then?”

All of these thoughts came into my mind multiple times over the course of the last few weeks and I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared before.  But each day I knew I had to get up, and find a way to be “On” as a teacher, because 115 kids were counting on me. Their lives and education were more important, so I hid what was happening in my head, and even hid myself away in my classroom during lunch so I wouldn’t risk exposing any vulnerability or weakness in my “armor.”  It seemed the “mountain” had won.

A few days went by, and as it always seems to do, life gives you what you need at the right moment.  We got good news back on our genetic tests: We weren’t carriers of the same genetic issues, and a big sigh of relief came over me.  Later that week, my students presented their John Brown Comic Book Character “Shark Tank” pitches and fellow staff volunteered to come judge them.  Some were of course better than others, but overall my students rocked it! Then a new “What If” entered my head: “What if all of this happened to make me stronger and a better teacher?”  All of a sudden my perspective changed. I soon realized that if I chose to look at and dwell on the negative the “mountain” would always win. But when I looked for the progress and growth that had occurred, I realized I could get back up, dust myself off, and keep climbing toward the peak I wanted to reach.  That piece of self-reflection was exactly what I needed.

So what is my advice for when the “mountain” beats you? Well, everyone responds differently but here are a few thoughts:

1.) BREATHE - It is rarely as bad as we make it in our heads.  I have to regularly tell my brain to shut up.

2.) GET UP - Go do something.  Exercise, wander about, read, or any other self-care you enjoy, but GET UP!  Staying in one place only encourages the negative thoughts, so by physically moving to something else you also encourage your mind to metaphorically “GET UP” when the “mountain” beat you down.

3.) FIND THE GOOD - It can be hard to locate when you’re beaten down, but somewhere in that mess is something beautiful.  It might be a friend’s kind words, the support of a colleague, or in the case of educator, the amazing work of your students.  Go find it and soak up every bit of it, bottle it if you have to, but force yourself to see it.

4.) KEEP GOING - Whatever you do, don’t stop.  The best thing that happened to me was having a place to go each day and knowing I had students counting on me.  I couldn’t just sit at my desk and wallow in self-pity. I had to help them because no matter what I was dealing with, they needed me more. Whatever your job is, or your role in that workplace, keep doing it! If you’re down and need help, don’t be afraid to ask (something I need to get better at, BTW).  Sometimes, our colleagues notice before we can say anything. Go ahead and be open to that help.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out an amazing educator I get to work with in: Erika Short. Erika is a counselor at my school who consistently goes above & beyond for our students.  She takes time to help them applications to high school programs, talking about their concerns, and sometimes making those phone calls home when our students’ parents need to know and what’s going on.  Every time I speak with her about our students, my immediate thought is, “This is someone who loves kids and cares about them as people.” Then, this week, as part of the Exhale Project by Miss Topeka 2019, Cooper Allison (@cooperkay22), she gave me one of the bracelets to help bring awareness to mental health issues in our country.  You can see the picture of mine below. I think the word “Exhale” is perfect for me! I need to remember that first step: BREATHE! I am genuinely humbled & honored to get to work with this amazing educator and person. You can follow Erika on Twitter @MrsShort_2

My bracelet from the Exhale Project.

My bracelet from the Exhale Project.