Romantic relationships. I’ve never been good at them. A few people have told me that I lack some basic insights in this department….whatever that means. I’ve never had a strong desire to be part of another duo (I’m already a twin) and there’s no ticking clock that’s urging me to contribute to the ever-increasing human population (now approaching 7.4 billion). Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for people who have followed this path, and I love spending time with others. It’s quite possible that someday I might meet that person I could spend multiple days with, but for now the urgency is just not there.
Sometimes, people I know try to create a false sense of urgency, out of kindness and concern, because they want me to “find happiness”. I’ve been told to consider freezing my eggs (because you never know). I’ve also been encouraged to join various dating sites. (There are the usual ones like Match and eHarmony, and then there are some strange ones like…) These are all suggestions from people who truly care about me, but they act like I’m running out of time to reach some necessary milestone in life. (What exactly are the necessary milestones in life today?)
I am convinced relationships are important in life because humans are social creatures. It is important to remember that like marriage, any relationship takes effort and care, whether it’s a new friendship, life-long childhood connection, or a collaboration between coworkers. Why though do we still put such urgency on the romantic relationship as the end-all-be-all of relationships? A scientist might say, this is the one relationship that ensures our survival as a species, but I have a feeling romance is not a prerequisite for babies, even though it sometimes precedes them.
While our emphasis on marriage and coupledom is problematic for many reasons, this is just one instance of our tendency towards creating a false sense of urgency. This urgency has a more pervasive impact throughout our lives because it trains us from an early age to continually think about the future. It’s important to have life goals, but if we are always looking ahead we often miss the moments for exploration. These are the moments in which we get to know ourselves, moments in which solid relationships and connections occur. This is not a new idea, but it has important implications for educators and parents.
If we are continually emphasizing the future with our children, the end of class, the end of the unit, the grade in the course, the GPA on the transcript, the end of high school, acceptance to a good college, getting a top job, finding a life partner, getting married, having children, etc…we move our focus away from the moments of growth and exploration that will help young people actually reach these milestones (or others) and feel fulfilled. By continually fixating on these traditional milestones, it not only skews our focus to the future, it places these options on a pedestal, while diminishing less traditional paths that might ultimately lead to more happiness, contentment, and success in the long run.
This idea is best captured in a quote by Arthur Ashe:
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
When the end of the year is in sight, teachers tend to think about how little time there is left and yet so far to go, a vision focused on the outcome–the final measure–and not the process. We continue to talk about how relationships must precede wellbeing, learning, and growth, but the system keeps pushing us to complete another evaluation, standard, or test. And to add to these system shortcomings, we lean on a false sense of urgency that the student must go from point A to point Z, forgetting it’s all about the moments in between. These moments build the relationship that allows for growth and fulfillment.
So take a moment to consider what is truly urgent, growth or the grade, finding happiness or marriage. If you focus on the outcome, you may miss what’s actually at play: the doing, the exploration, and the building of relationships.
How can we as teachers keep from falling into a bad romance created by a false sense of urgency?
- First, actually build relationships, don’t just talk about their importance. Relationships cannot be quantified, tracked, or recorded, no matter how hard we try. Stop trying. Make a point to talk to each student everyday. Ask more questions. Listen first.
- Provide time for exploration so that you and your students can better understand yourselves and each other. Play is okay. Every minute of the day does not need to be scheduled. Structured time has its place, but unstructured time is also extremely valuable.
- Reflect, reflect, reflect on the doing and not only on a single specified outcome. I triple dog dare you to start a blog. It’s common to say that there isn’t enough time for reflection, but intentional reflection can and should be a part of your professional and personal life. Reflect with your students. Encourage your students to practice reflection.
- When all else fails just smile, take a deep breath, and have some fun. You can let the waves crash into you or you can find a way enjoy the chaos. Repeat the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
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