I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unreasonable demands. I know teachers face a lot of them, especially teachers who work in under-resourced schools.
You get told that on top of teaching Math, which is what you were hired to do, you also have to teach Freshman Writing.
Or that even though you’re a student teacher you’re going to be in charge of the class for the rest of the afternoon because there aren’t any subs available.
Or you need to take charge of the after-school girls’ soccer team or the school won’t be able to have one anymore. Oh yeah, and there’s no budget for uniforms so could you start by running a fundraiser?
These kinds of demands are very real and figuring out how to manage them is part of what I help teachers to do when we work together. (If you’re interested you can sign up for a free consult HERE or keep your eyes out for a new offer I'm working on that will release in the next couple of weeks!).
But I’m talking about another kind of “unreasonable demand,” the one YOU make on yourself.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says that often when we don’t give ourselves what we need we become “vexed, angry, out-of-sorts…sullen, depressed, hostile…like cornered animals snarling at or family and friends [or students, or principals or colleagues] to leave us alone and stop making unreasonable demands.” When in fact, “we are the ones making unreasonable demands.”
Because we expect ourselves to be able to function without giving ourselves what we need to do so.
Ms. Cameron is talking about artists in her book, but I think it the thought applies equally well to teachers, especially sensitive, empathetic, social-justice oriented ones.
Does this sound like you?
· You tell yourself that you HAVE to be the soccer coach/or the fundraising chair, or the head of the school newspaper even though you are already maxed out and you know that it will mean you see your friends and family even less than you do now.
· You stay late even though you’re exhausted and had planned on going to yoga (or to the movies, or to meet a friend) because you CAN’T just do the textbook lesson, you MUST do something much more creative and interactive and that will take a trip to the store and at least 3 more hours of prep.
· Your principal (or director, or board chair or colleague) tells you that YOU AREN’T REALLY “FOR THE CHILDREN” if you won’t give up one concert to help a suffering student who needs you now AND YOU BELIEVE HER, so you give your tickets to a friend even though that concert was the one thing that’s been keeping you going all month.
Yes, you say. Of course I do that? That’s what a good person would do!
“How can you suggest that I shouldn’t sacrifice my needs for the suffering children?” you yell at me through your computer screen.
I say it because really YOU CAN’T GIVE WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE. (Some people call this “spoon theory” and we’ll talk a bit more about that next week.)
Yes, sometimes Love requires letting go of something we want for the sake of another. I’m not saying that in any of the above scenarios it is necessarily a bad idea/wrong for you to give up something you want, for the kids you care about.
It’s practically heresy in the social justice religion, I know, but here’s what I am saying:
Your FIRST job is to make sure that you are giving yourSELF what you need, to nurture that deep inner part of you that is the source of all your creative energy and love and wisdom.
And if you’re anything like me the deepest part of you seems to need too much:
· Too much quiet
· Too much sleep
· Too much unscheduled time
· Too much time to recover from the stresses of the day
It’s ridiculous what that part of you would need to wake up feeling like all its needs were met.
I know. But here’s the thing. It needs what it needs. You need what you need and wishing you didn’t doesn’t make it go away.
A car needs gas to run. Really fancy/sensitive cars often need really fancy and expensive gas. We don’t expect them to run without what they need. That would be UNREASONABLE. We expect that they will break down if we don’t give them what they need.
And what good will you be to your students and families when you break down?
You don’t have to believe me today.
It’s taken me YEARS to get to the place where I’m starting to believe that what I need is just what I need, not a PROBLEM, just a fact. To believe that I don’t need to become someone different than who I am to do the work I’m called to do in the world.
But if you feel the SLIGHTEST longing when you hear that MAYBE it is actually YOUR JOB to be kind to yourself, then I suggest you try this experiment.
Do just one tiny extravagant thing just for you. TODAY. Or tomorrow at the latest.
Do that thing that feels ridiculous, but gives you a little pang of joy, like a kid might get rolling down a grassy hill just for the joy of it, not because it makes any sense.
· Buy yourself flowers
· Read that trashy magazine
· Go to a movie
· Play basketball
· Eat dessert first
· Play with Play-do
Only you know what you could do that would tell that inner part of yourself that is currently on the verge of starving that you actually care—that s/he finally gets to eat now.
Let me know how it goes.
Here’s to thriving, not just surviving.
P.S. If you received this newsletter from someone else and would like to be added to my list, I'd love to have you join me weekly. You can sign up HERE.