Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thoughts on teaching

I love being a student. I always have. So one of the things I hate is knowledge-hoarding. Why do people act like you have to pass some kind of test or prove your worth before you can even be a student? The places where I've learned the most (and been the happiest) are those places where all that is expected of the students is an open mind and a willingness to work hard.

To clarify: I expect to have to "pay my dues". I just also expect to be treated with dignity. I shouldn't have to beg to be taught like a dog for table scraps. This is my problem with Ivy League universities; they seem to take great joy in watching prospective students humiliate themselves... but I digress.

Somehow in my life I have found people willing to share their knowledge without egocentric power trips or ruthless competition for attention. I am grateful, but what happens when I am cast as a teacher? I think everyone reaches a level of experience where they might need to teach as well as learn. I've often had to teach math and computer programming, for example.

I do not consider myself to be a teacher for two reasons. First, I get caught up on details and and I never know where to begin. Second, I run out of patience. I often wish I could just download my entire understanding of a subject to a hard drive and hand it to someone and have them understand it instantly.

Recently, as my patience ran out while explaining a topic, I thought about why I was getting frustrated. I was angry that my student didn't magically "get it". I handed you a hard drive with my entire understanding! Why is this so hard for you?!

I see, the blame-the-student excuse. Have my favorite teachers ever done this to me? Not that I can remember. But it gets worse. I also felt a certain vicious selfishness creeping up. Well, if he can't understand this, then I will always have something he doesn't.

NO. ABSOLUTELY NEVER AGAIN. I will not tolerate the hypocrisy of this anymore. I may prefer to be a student for the rest of my life, but I will aspire to follow these rules.

  • I will try to learn well enough that I could teach someone else.
  • I will share what I know without hesitation.
  • I will remember that everything must be learned, including how to teach.
  • I will not be threatened by the success of teaching. What I have learned cannot be taken from me and is not diminished by someone else having it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Could it be...? Nah, that's impossible.

I feel stuck! Like I'm sitting around waiting for life to move on rather than living my life. I hate this feeling and tonight I'm not going to stand for it.

I decided to reflect on this for a while (the alternative was Pinterest) and I thought about my goals and what I need to do to advance them. Is there anything I can do RIGHT NOW to help me get over this feeling?


Ok not exactly silence. There is ALWAYS something that could be done. But I couldn't think of anything that was more than a break-even proposition. For example, I could go work out, but I'm still sore and bruised and I'm waking up at 6 AM to go work out so there is not a lot of value there.

Then it dawned on me... Is this feeling because my entire life is going according to plan?


I can almost hear my perception of self being rearranged.

1. I am so unprepared for my life to be going according to plan that I am frustrated I don't have anything to do. [Side note: I KNOW I've manufactured a crisis to avoid this sensation before, I'm so glad I don't do that anymore]

2. Nothing goes according to plan. Bring it on. >:D

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Getting a job in corporate America.

When I was trying to land a job as an engineer, I had zero problems getting job offers. Getting the offers I wanted was a little challenging because I had no idea what I wanted. Its hard when you have never had a real job to just decide what you would want that job to look like.

Point is, I had offers, no problem.

Business degrees are different, supposedly. You're supposed to really work at selling yourself and presenting to your future employer as much evidence as possible that you are exactly what they need. I'm ok with this in theory, but at some point I always get asked to phrase something a certain way or to make extra sure I bring up something in an interview even if its barely relevant to the question... Oh, and my favorite is when I'm told to have a flaw/weakness that is not a real flaw/weakness. Like being a perfectionist. "Oh, I'm just so obsessed with getting a problem done right that I'll work myself half to death to make sure of it, its a real weakness of mine."

Here are my priorities in finding a job - as straightforward and honest as I can make them:

1. Does the culture fit? I'm honest, sometimes brutally so. I need to know I can ask questions and say what's on my mind without feeling like I crossed a line every time. I like real criticism. Make me better, push me, that's fine. I also need support, I prefer to be working in a team to working completely alone.

2. Am I solving problems? I need to be investigating real problems or implementing solutions to problems. I have no interest in a desk job trying to maximize return. I want to be protecting something, whether that's a company from legal issues or clients from getting ripped off, or the industry from its own reputation. Finance makes our world function and I want to be on the front lines keeping the industry fair and prosperous.

That's it. I care about what I get paid only out of fairness. I have a great sea of talent and skill and I should be compensated. I'm not after amazing bonus checks.

I'm not in finance for the money. I'm in it because of how important this industry is to everything else. It must be protected. If someone can use my skills to do that, I will be loyal to them for a very, very long time. If no one can, then I will just put aside my vast technical skills and join a local police department.

Thoughts on rolling and staying calm.

This story will cover Reason I Love BJJ #4.

Today during open mat I had the chance to roll with one of my favorite instructors. It was extremely fun and a good reminder of why I like to go to open mat. After I finally had to stop and rest, he said that I did a good job of staying calm, and that he likes to force lower belts to match his pace and I did just that.

I really appreciated the compliment. I feel calm when I roll, at least 80% of the time. I can do better then 80% and I'll work on that, but the level of calm that I feel when I'm rolling is amazing.

Here's my deal. I get bored easily. There aren't many things out there that can focus my mind completely. Until I found BJJ, engineering problems came the closest. I could sit and try and solve a problem for hours. Unfortunately, working out in corporate America was usually not as challenging as my homework was during my undergrad experience. Ever since I graduated college I've been sitting on too many spare moments to think.

I can't be trusted to think of productive things in this situation. End of story. Instead I'll think about how I could've done something better or how I failed in some way. Insecurity manifested. Without a problem to focus on, I waste energy on maintaining a near-constant level of anxiety.

Then I started rolling. Nothing focuses the mind like trying to survive. Trying to recall the techniques needed to escape and avoid being submitted (not to mention planning for some kind of offense, should the opportunity present itself) leaves no room for insecurity. Why wouldn't I be calm?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dealing with insecurity

When I was a child I thought, "When I'm an adult I'll be more confident in myself, adults seem confident"

When I was in college I thought, "When I have a job I'll be more confident, at least then I'll know what I'm doing"

When I had a job I thought, "When I figure out what it is I really want to do, then I'll finally shake off this insecurity"

When I finally figured out what I want my life to stand for I thought, "Maybe I'm a coward because everything that was ever supposed to make me less afraid hasn't worked. I'm still afraid of everything"

I think I finally get it.. Nothing is going to suddenly fix my insecurity. Maybe its a character flaw. Over the years I've practiced the fine art of beating the insecurities down just far enough to take a few steps in the right direction. I have to live with fear but I will not be governed by fear as a slave is by a whip. This is enough for me now.

So here's today's list of beaten down fears (its not even noon!):
Fear of falling on ice
Fear of rejection
Fear of being weak or inadequate
Fear of losing the respect of those I care about

And today's list of dreams that managed to get me out of bed:
Career in law enforcement
Starting a family
Blue belt
Masters degree

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'” - Mary Anne Radmacher

Monday, March 5, 2012

Song lyrics!

I feel like summarizing my mood tonight through song lyrics. I will flip through my iTunes library and focus on the songs and lyrics that seem to speak to me tonight. Maybe this will make a good meditation topic later.

"Angel of Mercy/How did you move me?/Why am I on my feet again?" - Mercy/OneRepublic

"As pretty as a picture hanging from a fixture
Strong like a family, strong as I wanna be
Bright as day, as light as play
As hard as nails, as grand as a whale
All I wanna be, all I wanna be, oh
All I wanna be is everything" - Everything at Once/Lenka

"And where the journey may lead me
Let your prayers be my guide
I can not stay here, my family
But I'll remember my pride" - Shadowland

"Some people see the revolution but most only see the girl
I can lose my hard earned freedom if my fear defines my world
I declare my independence from the critics and their stones
I can find my revolution I can learn to stand alone..." One Girl Revolution/Superchick

"I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m somewhere I belong" Somewhere I Belong/Linkin Park

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Reasons #2 and #3

Continuing the Why I Love BJJ series with reasons #2 and #3.

Reason #2: Oel ngati kame. I only recently realized that I have spent my whole life seeing people through this crazy personal filter. I assumed everyone had their masks and a logical set of virtues and vices and I tried to sum individuals up as being so many pieces. I am not sure why I do this but I think its because I see myself as a set of disconnected parts. I feel like this: 

"Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I've ever known."

I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but now I realize that the pieces make a whole - in me and in everyone else. Its hard to grapple with someone - to be that vulnerable - without dealing with people as they are. Likewise, I feel like the people I roll with see me as I am - flaws and all - and accept me anyway.

Reason #3: Its like having brothers! I'm an only child, so maybe I have no idea, but it definitely feels like I have a huge extended family now.

So this is what learning from failure really means...

I have been trying to express in words why I am now so attached to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I should probably just start writing the reasons down. Maybe some reasons will stick with me, maybe some will fade, maybe the whole relative order of importance will shift... maybe I'll just get started.

Today's reason why I am addicted to BJJ is that I now have a better understanding of my insecurities.

Early in my life, I discovered I had a talent for math. I enjoyed math - I wasn't born knowing how to do anything with numbers, but learning how to do it came so easy to me it wasn't even fair.

Now take BJJ - I have no particular talent for it. I have no history of athletic activity and I am often quite slow to learn the muscle memory required for any kind of sport. I started only with enough determination to keep showing up.

This is not about valuing a challenge over the easy path. First, math has been hard for me. Sure, maybe even early calculus was easy but at some point I hit non-linear partial differential equations and it got a little rough. For me, the difference between the two is in my insecurity. I have always been secure in my ability to do math. Whenever I can't solve a problem as quickly as I want to I end up frustrated and angry. Maybe in BJJ I would benefit from more confidence, sure, but working through something without that innate sense of security has changed me.

I now have the smallest glimmer of an understanding of what it means to accomplish something really difficult - something that requires living with insecurity and building confidence from the ground up. This is a work in progress - insecurity still dominates my perspective - but I am more balanced and less frustrated by my failures in every area of my life.