When I was about nine years old, my parents got a divorce. My sister went to live with my dad, and I lived with my mom. My mom had basically been a "housewife" all her life until the divorce, when she was all of a sudden introduced (baptism by fire) to being a single-mother, fighting for child support and working as a ward clerk at a downtown San Antonio hospital. Oh, and did I mention she didn't learn how to drive until she was about 36 years old? Driving to and around downtown San Antonio was as terrifying for her as going to the dentist to have a root canal would be for me (okay, I'll be honest---I have to have nitrous just to get my teeth cleaned, as I have a bit of PTSD from biting down on a drill when I was young---so maybe that isn't a great analogy).
Suffice it to say, summers in our apartment complex(es) --- we lived in quite a few as we would have to move as soon as the rent would go up--- were pretty fun for me. I would spend most of my time out by the pool, getting brown and reading voraciously. But about an hour before I knew Mother would be coming home, I would go inside the apartment, clean it as best as an 11 year old could, and begin making dinner so Mother would not have to worry about it. I got good at cooking hamburger patties with mushroom gravy on them, a noodle dish, and a salad. That was my go-to, anyway. I'm certain I had more of a repertoire, but Dave doesn't believe I ever cooked, as I avoid it like the plague now, so I won't go on and on about my culinary skills as a pre-teen. Why did I do it? I absolutely adored the feeling I got when Mother would walk in the door, exhausted from a day on her feet at the hospital, and she would see the clean apartment, maybe a silly little poem I had written her to cheer her up, and then the look on her face when she saw that dinner was all ready. She lavished praise on my good works, and I ate it up. I can only believe that trying to make her happy had become one of my missions in life.
Fast forward to the work I do now: consulting, training, presenting, conducting keynotes, and coaching. When I work with groups in person, relationship-building is so much easier. I get to know their names, and they see how much I care about them. Doing all this work online has presented its challenges, but the toughest challenge I have faced is not always being able to see the looks on the faces of the people to whom I am presenting, especially in a keynote for 325 people. I always feel I could have done something differently that may have made the presentation or workshop even better, but, for the most part, I'm fairly confident in the skills I have learned over the years.
And then...the evaluations come in. Dave always jokes with me, saying, "You could have 100 people in your workshop; 95 could say it was the best they've ever attended; 4 could say something neutral, and one could say they didn't care for it. You would focus on the one." It is so true. I call it my 95 or 99% rule. I want to please every single person with whom I come in contact. After all, I was the court jester who made my mother laugh throughout my life with her. I'm supposed to be entertaining and useful. That's what my ego tells me. And yet, when someone says something like, "This was supposed to be a keynote, but it felt more like instruction, in which we were asked to do work", I get my feelings hurt. Instead, I should likely be saying to myself, "Of course you are going to be asked to do something. I teach educators! Why would you expect me not to model what good teaching is by realizing students of any age cannot be talked TO for longer than about 10 minutes with doing something---cognitive or writing or talking? I believe this is the premise on which TED talks were built---the notion that people can stay engaged for about 10 minutes of being talked TO, before they start to fidget. But then why can't I let that one evaluation go, despite my rationalizing why I teach the way I teach? Ten other people can say, "I love how you infuse humor into your teaching" or "I love how you practice what you preach", but I don't lose sleep about those. I lose sleep over the one...but I'm working on it.
What about you? What do you think of me? No, no, no...that's not my question. My question is "What about you? What is your kryptonite?" While mine is people-pleasing, what is yours? I stand by the belief that naming it and even saying it outloud to other people not only lessens its impact but it makes me realize how truly silly it is. Don't get me wrong---I want to produce high-quality instruction at all times. But if the bulk of the feedback is positive, why lose sleep over that which I cannot control? (I once got feedback saying, "My biggest complaint is the coffee---they should have served Starbucks." Seriously? That's all you have to give me? I'm not even in charge of the coffee! I'm in charge of the instruction!!).
Just for today, perhaps it would be wise for all of us to examine what makes up who we are, think about where it might stem from, and whether it is necessary now, despite serving us well in our past. I think I'll do just that...after I finish flogging myself for messing up the words to one of the verses of one of the songs I was leading for our virtual worship in church this morning.
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