This past weekend I completed the UBC Sprint Distance Triathlon! It was my first triathlon ever, and it’s something a year ago I said I’d never do (I’ve since stopped saying such foolish things!). It was also my first sustained attempt to swim and bike since I was a kid playing around at the pool and on my street. So when I came in last place in my age group at a total time of 2h4mins, I felt nothing but pride at having finished so strongly. My purely positive reaction to coming in last place surprised me a little. I’ve entered running and walking events before, and I’ve usually finished toward the middle/end of the pack. But coming in dead last is something else entirely. If I had any inkling of judging my success in terms of how I did relative to others, coming in dead last means failure. There is no way to hide behind “at least I didn’t finish last!” defense.
In my Psyc 208 class on Tuesday, I was teaching about motivation. As I explained the difference between motivation derived from a self-defined mastery approach versus a social-comparison-driven ego approach, I was quite aware of my recent performance in the triathlon. I was also quite aware that I took a mastery approach to understanding that performance. I felt like I had successfully completed the triathlon. I finished, and I had felt strong and happy the whole way through — it was fun just being out there on the course! Yet, I know deep down that as much as I take a purely mastery approach to my athleticism, it’s much harder for me to take that approach in my career. You see, my athleticism is new. It’s a new aspect of my identity that I’m playing around with. I’ve been building confidence by taking baby steps over the past three or four years (starting with “I think I could run for a minute” on a treadmill, and surprising myself that I could. Really.). No one had any expectations of me in this domain, least of all myself. Taking a mastery approach to athletics is easy.
Yet who I am as a teacher hits deeper to the core of who I am. This is my chosen field, my area of specialization I have chosen to cultivate because I enjoy doing it and derive great meaning from it. I have been hired into this fantastic and extremely demanding job because other people think I am and will continue to be successful in this domain. And I’d be lying if I said I took a completely mastery approach to judging my success. Social comparisons are so easy to do: How do my student evaluations compare with someone else’s? Are my tests and assignments as fair and challenging as they possibly can be? Am I doing enough to foster community and learning in my classes? Should I be focusing more on initiatives within the department rather than at the university level or beyond? That person is publishing more than I am… does that mean I’m not doing enough? Even letting these questions come into my consciousness at this moment is triggering insecurity… and I think a lot of that insecurity comes from comparing myself to other people. The reality is there will always be someone who seems better than me in some way. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough.
Completing my triathlon is an opportunity for me to (re)think about how I define success in my career. If my triathlon experiences can be extrapolated (and I don’t see why not), I think I will experience more moments of joy and fewer moments of anxiety from my career when I commit to setting my own standards and define success as mastering those. (I’m lucky enough to have a career in which I have a fair amount of autonomy in this way.) I have tried to do this somewhat, but this is a chance for me to take this attitude change more seriously. Like the triathlon, those standards will be demanding, but they’ll be mine. And when I reach them, I’ll be able to experience joy and pride for myself, but also for others who are on their own paths, achieving their goals.
September 2012 is here, and the first week is already over! I forgot how tired I feel by Friday afternoons — wow! It’s like I can feel my body powering down. But my fatigue is warranted. This has been such a fun week! My husband and I kicked off the school year with a whirlwind trip to Ontario to witness my friend’s wedding last weekend. She and I lived together all through undergrad, and were basically inseparable during that time. A few of our other lovely friends from undergrad were there too, so it was wonderful to catch up and reminisce about good old Waterloo. The experience also served to remind me of what a profound impact my undergraduate experience had on my life, both intellectually and socially… which got me pumped to be a part of other people’s undergraduate experience!
On Tuesday I arrived in class at 5pm… and sat down in the student chairs. Yes, I’m taking a course! Why, you ask? Well, I want to. I value the classroom as a rich opportunity to learn, and I felt it was time to sit down and feel what it’s like to learn in that way again. I chose the course Psyc 312A: History of Psychology for many reasons. First, Dr. Andrea Perrino is amazing. I was a TA for her a long time ago and was inspired then by her enthusiasm. I wanted the chance to learn from her, as one teacher to another, to consider her pedagogical choices and prompt me to reflect on my own. Faculty rarely ever watch each other teach; I was grateful she agreed I could take her class for this rich opportunity. Second, I am (finally!) interested in the content! I’ve been teaching intro psych (3 years and counting), research methods (5 years and counting), and statistics (recently renewed after a few years’ hiatus). These are broad, generalist courses: my training in my home area of social psychology is useful but not always directly. Over these years these courses have prompted me to cultivate an interest in the discipline as a whole, and I felt it was time for me to really consider the origins and development of my discipline to enrich how and what I teach in these generalist courses. Psychology is only about 150 years old, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Ha!
One of the things Andrea (I mean… Dr. Perrino) did on her first day was started foremost with an introduction the the history of psychology. The topic. Not the syllabus. Sure, that came later, but she kicked off with a passionate rationale for why this course is important. It was inspiring, and influenced the way I began my courses on Wednesday. Instead of starting with the syllabus, I started with the topic, the reasons why it’s important to take this course. Based on feedback after that first class, I seem to have succeeded in inspiring at least some students to be excited about our course (even research methods!). In fact, I barely covered the syllabus at all in Intro, but did so using an i>clicker quiz today. I did that last year too, but this year I was more deliberate in my choice of what to reveal on the first day versus the second. The subject is most important… how we get there is important too, but secondary.
My students have been fantastic this week! Research methods felt like a class reunion from last year’s intro — fantastic to see so many of my fabulous students returning for more psychology, and I can’t wait to meet everyone else! And intro… well… I’ve never had two completely-filled hours of student meetings on the first day of class! I have had such fun meeting so many students this week. Their energy is palpable: it’s a new year, a new beginning, and we’re going to have a great time!
Here’s (sort of) what I see when I look out from the front of my intro psych classroom: 270ish energized students! Click on the image to enlarge it. See you next week!
The first few weeks of summer term have been glorious. The weather has cooperated for the most part, and I have been able to take some time to breathe. March and April were more hectic than I anticipated they would be, including a surprise “proofread the entire textbook in the next four weeks” while teaching 8 different classes a week, including a new prep (stats), on top of the two full-textbook reads I expected to complete. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve been working for about a hear and a half on adapting the Cozby research methods textbook into a Cozby and Rawn Canadian Edition.] I’ll write more about my reflections on the year later, but for now I wanted to simply express how thankful I am that I’m in such a peaceful place right now.
After running the Vancouver Marathon two weeks ago, I’ve taken some time off of running. Instead, I’ve been doing a bit of swimming (our condo has a pool) and I signed up for an intro pass at Open Door Yoga. I’ve practiced yoga sporadically since moving to Vancouver 9 years ago (!), but never regularly. It seems like a wonderful way to develop strength, balance, and peace – both inside and out – so I’m giving it a whirl this summer. I’ve also been reconnecting with my friends and husband. It’s challenging for me during the school year to fully, truly relax. There’s always another lesson to prepare, another email to deal with. It’s been lovely just enjoying unscheduled time and laughter and wine with these lovely people once again.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope your summer is starting off at least as enjoyably as mine has.
Back in December, my friend and I decided to run the Vancouver marathon on May 6. We had been running 10k most weekends, so quadrupling that distance (42.2k) seemed like the next logical step for us overachievers.
We’re starting to pack on the kilometers rapidly. Over the weekend we ran 19k in about 2h15. This was a bit of a game changing run. It was the first one we had to gear up for. We learned we needed to bring electrolyte-replacing water and a gel called Gu to give us a boost before we tired out. Just the fact that we needed to bring supplies made this run more psychologically daunting than the 17k we ran before.
Then came the hills.
Vancouver has inescapable hills.
We tried to be clever and turn off our pr-planned route to avoid them. We couldn’t. We got disoriented between Point Grey and Shaughnessey and had to pull out the GPS. I learned that when I have a long long way to go, just stick to the path and face whatever comes. At least I’ll be sure I’m headed in the direction I intended.
Training for a marathon is taking commitment (no surprise there). In some ways that’s been quite liberating. In my line of work, there’s always always more to be done. I’m coming off a three year stretch of having to work until I fall off my task chair from exhaustion (a dissertation, first two years full-time teaching, and a textbook will do that). But it’s become crystal clear to me I can’t sustain that frenetic pace. I need time to take care of myself and my marriage and my friendships… and not feel guilty about that. (High levels of guilt for not working is a common side-effect of grad school.) By making runtime mandatory (and with a friend), this marathon is helping me practice choosing to cultivate my whole self, rather than just me as academic. Oddly enough, making an extreme commitment is helping me learn moderation.
I had begun to think that 2011 had been a bit dull, so I came up with 11 adventures I experienced last year. I tweeted about them all day yesterday. Here’s the full list, as tweeted, in case you’re interested:
#11 I’m now a runner (not the illegal kind). I learned to run. Outside. This was a big deal for me.
#10 Joining a book club. Never been a big reader, but this symbolized new commitment to valuing leisure in my life.
#9 Climbing a mountain! The Chief in Squamish. It was amazing. Stunning view, picnic @ the top. Great friends.
#8 Joined friends in a motorboat ride around Vancity from False Creek to Deep Cove. Glorious once I got used to it!
#7 I took a 10th Ed US research methods textbook and created its 1st Canadian Ed: Cozby and Rawn (2012).
#6 Stayed out at a house party until 4am… something I hadn’t done in many many years (thanks@Wine2Three!)
#5 I was the designated driver for a whole weekend in the Okanagan. More driving than in the past 3yrs combined!
#4 Treated like Rockstars on Okanagan trip. Thanks @Road13Vineyards @PaintedRockJohn@SandraOldfield @RussellBall
#3 VanSantaClausParade with Wes the Westjet balloon, peppmocha, sun, & great friends who support my parade love!
#2 Achieved winegeek status: had a 2010 ehrenfelser & wished it was 2009. Then looked @lesleyduncan & laughed!
#1 I met someone the day she was born & watched her grow for 9 wks. Pretty awesome. So are my friends who made her.
Here’s to an even more adventurous 2012! Happy New Year everyone!