One of our colleagues, Beth Sheehan, told me a story via email about one of her rough days earlier this year. Beth is a third grade teacher at Spruce Elementary. Here's what she shared:
I am teaching remotely in a Title I school and I am exhausted after 11 days. Our families have been slammed by this, and I had been killing myself trying to help them manage, trying to make sure they had what they needed, trying to connect. Multiple language barriers did not help.
Two days ago, after leaving an Olympic size pool of tears on my desk, I left my empty classroom to finish the day “working from home.” I promptly went to bed. Head under the covers time.
I realized [some]thing when I woke up:
1. I can't fix everything, or sometimes anything.
“I can't fix everything, or sometimes anything”
That line of Beth's made me laugh: “I can't fix everything, or sometimes anything.” It still gives me delight. Why? Because it's incontrovertible. There simply isn't a way, as a finite creature, to fix everything; there simply are times, as limited beings, when we can't fix anything.
For those of us with would-be savior complexes, Beth's proverb is an amulet; it can keep off the mind-killers of unchecked self-reliance and ego assertion.
Like all proverbs, of course, they never tell the whole story one hundred percent of the time. Why? Because reality is nuanced; it requires more proverbs. In this case, Beth's proverb pairs well with “There are lots of things that I don't control as a teacher, and yet the things I do control have the potential for enormous, generational impact.” That's terribly long, though. So we can condense it further: “I don't control everything as a teacher, but what I do control can really matter.”
This is also incontrovertible. An overwhelming array of evidence — from sophisticated studies to commonplace classroom anecdotes — demonstrate how the briefest of classroom experiences — single comments from a teacher, single lessons on depression — can shift the trajectory of a student's life.
So: what we do control is so so important. But at the same time, sometimes everything that we do do fixes… nothing.
You'll never find a proverb that works 100% of the time. That's why books of wisdom (e.g., the Hebrew book of Proverbs) contain statements that seem to contradict one another. They're not contradictory; they're facets of a single diamond.
In some seasons, though, you need a single truth — a single fact of the diamond — more than others. Beth's is one I need a lot right now. That's why it's written on an index card and taped beneath my monitor at work. (Seriously.)
- If this post has a line or two that help, write them down and place them someplace you'll see them frequently.
- What lines or proverbs are carrying you these days? Share in the comments.