The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.F. Scott Fitzgerald
If your goal is to optimize your career performance without sacrificing your life in the process — in other words, to run your career on the optimal edge of satisficing — then you have to perform the following mental trick as often as possible.
On the one hand, you need to cultivate a habitual awareness of the science-supported idea that you do make a difference. By virtue of being the teacher or the coach or the principal, you have significant impact on the educational context, and this impact means that your work can either facilitate or inhibit optimal outcomes toward the long-term flourishing of young people.
That’s a long way of saying this: You’ve got power. Your work matters. It’s not a waste.
(After all, if tiny, wise interventions can alter long-term outcomes, there’s no telling what a whole semester with you can do.)
But on the other hand, you have to also cultivate the habitual awareness that for everyone you encounter in your work, every day, you are not the center of their universe. Your work — in their eyes — isn’t what the movie is about. You are not the protagonist. And so there is a limit to your power. The science supports this, too.
If you over-emphasize the first awareness, you’ll tend toward workaholism, burnout, family sacrifice, and the service of your ego. Even though you’re too smart to do this consciously, you’ll operate as if you are the lead in the Hollywood portrayal on your classroom. You’ll gravitate toward the savior archetype. It’ll limit the long-term flourishing outcomes of your career. And you’ll suffer.
On the other hand, if you over-emphasize the second, you’ll tend toward apathy, complaining, and still the service of your ego. It’ll still be a movie about you, still a fiction, only this time a much sadder, grimmer one. Yours will be the story of the helpless victim in a broken system. The countdown to retirement will begin, the daily wishing away of one's days.
This is part of the inner work of teaching — something beyond balance, recognizing both truths, daily cultivating an active sense of each. In doing this, we train our minds for what Jim Collins calls “the genius of the AND.” Herein we find a way to be not just a humble servant, but a powerful one. Not just hard-working, but joyfully so.
This is the path of the professional.
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