So, Education and Dodgeball

To overly simplify for a second…there are two kind so of teachers in our education system. Teachers who love kids and want to teach them, who want to be a part of their learning process, and…teachers who want summers off. The second group doesn’t last very long because, as it turns out, teaching is really hard and largely unrewarded except for those few special moments of gratitude and recognition.

This is the problem with the first group though. They are attracted to teaching in our current education system because it worked for them. Rarely, if ever, do you encounter a teacher who wanted to teach because they hated school and found themselves not being taught in a method that worked for them. That is not to say that our current teachers are not striving to reach every kid in their classroom, but unfortunately they are not always succeeding. Children who are doing just fine, not excelling and not flunking, who don’t create chaos, they are ignored. Why spend extra on helping them achieve even more when they are fine, just fine.

Fine is the enemy of great. Fine is the enemy of success. Fine is the word all husbands dread hearing, because fine usually means not good enough. That is true in classrooms also. Fine isn’t failing perhaps, but it is also not good enough. We should want more for all of our children. I know I want more for my kids.

Dodgeball has been in the media lately. There are calls to remove it from schools. The argument is that it is barbaric and mean and kids can get hurt. The other side argues that “we did it, so how bad can it be?” and “you can’t have success in life without some struggle.”

Dodgeball is like the teacher thing, the people that want it to remain were good at it when they were in school, they were not the kids that were picked on and picked off when the game was played. Dodgeball is not a recipe for success in life, it is a mean game in which the athletically challenged are ruthlessly hit with balls. A secretary in a school recently told me that she writes up more accident reports during Dodgeball week then any other MONTH in the year.

Just in case you are wondering, I did great in Dodgeball, but I still don’t think this is the kind of teaching I want my kids to endure. I want them to learn that learning is tough, that sometimes perseverance and effort make up for talent, not always, but sometimes. I want them to see that striving for  excellence is worth it. You may not be better than Einstein at math, but you can learn it and do better than you are right now.

Isn’t that the point? Of school and life? To be better today than I was yesterday. Change is slow and it is hard and comes with effort and missteps, it need not come with a ball to the head.

I love when I hear and see stories about great teachers striving for the best for the kids they encounter. We need more of that. We need to start cheering for other’s success and not cheering only when we win.

In short, teachers are awesome and need more support and Dodgeball sucks, it sucks because it teaches the wrong lessons. It is not a recipe for success, only a recipe for more accident reports and lowered self esteem.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

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So, Actual Traffic

I have noticed this thing that seems to happen…maybe it is a uniquely Alberta problem, though I doubt it. Normal, sane people get behind the wheel of their vehicle and turn into self-indulgent, ignorant idiots. Now that seem harsh but bear with me a minute. I am not alone in thinking this, but I am also not alone when I say I am in the majority here. The other day I realized, I was about to miss my exit on the freeway, I cut across a lane of traffic and several cars to ensure I did in fact make it. My thinking was “oh man, I don’t want to have to go the long way to my destination”. But imagine you were in one of the other vehicles, the ones I cut off? What were they thinking? Probably that I am a big jerk selfishly cutting them off, and they are not wrong, in fact that is exactly true. Rather than inconvenience myself, I almost caused an accident. Now in my day to day, non-driving life, I would not even consider doing something like this, and I bet you wouldn’t either. If someone came up to you and said, “rather than cause an accident, could you take a slightly longer route?” I would say “sure”. But put me behind the wheel and somehow I decide my convenience and my route is way more important than anyone else’s.

That is not all, I don’t get the people that see that all the vehicles are in the right hand (or left hand) lane to merge up the road and they decide to drive as far as they can in the ending lane to cut in at the last minute and effectively cut the line. None of these people would do this in a movie line or at the DMV, but put them in a car and they feel entitled or something. It is as if we feel protected by the steel around us and invisible and so we can act in abhorrent ways and selfish ways, because no one will recognize us.

I live in a little town with a bunch of 4 way stops and I decided this year to just let the other guy go first. You know every time I pull up and it is close to a tie and you can’t decide if it is your turn or not, so in the past, I would just go, but I decided to just wave the other guy through this year. What a change in attitude it has made in all of my driving. I made a concerted effort to change one aspect of my driving and it has changed other ways. I wonder of we all decided to just slow down a bit and let others in, let others have the right of way, let other’s lives take precedent over yours for just a second, what would happen.

I doubt I am gonna start a movement with my little blog, but I am going to say, at least I can stop contributing to the madness, I am gonna be a better, more courteous driver. How about you?

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So, Traffic

I got into a traffic problem the other day. I didn’t initially cause the traffic problem, that was caused by someone breaking really early to turn right off a highway and a guy going really too fast and following too close behind me as I followed “early breaker”. I think that paints a nice picture of what happened, but then, and this is the bad part, I added to “mr. driving too fast, following too close’s” day. What I did was take my time getting back up to speed when I knew he couldn’t pass. This is not good. I am not happy with myself.

You see, it is easy to self-justify. It is easy to say, well that guy had it coming almost plowing into by rear bumper because he was too close and driving too fast, but the truth is, I was being stupid and petty. I hate that I am like that sometimes, but it is sadly true. I added to this man’s bad day by being a jerk myself. I don’t know what might have been going on in his life, perhaps he was rushing to the hospital because his child was sick, perhaps he was late for an crucial meeting where he might get fired if he was late, perhaps he was just a follow too close, drive too fast, jerk.

The point is, for me, I want to hold myself to a higher standard than that. I don’t want to be the guy that made someone else’s day worse. I want to be the guy who made someone else’s day better. I don’t think I am that guy though. At best I am a made someone else’s day exactly the same as before kind of guy. Ever meet someone who just made you smile, who made your day better? Maybe they didn’t even do anything earth shattering, but yet your mood was lifted. Oh, I long to be that kind of person, but I don’t think I am. I think that I could be if I was just a little more attentive to others’ moods, to other people’s feelings, less attentive to myself perhaps.

I think the world would be better, if we all did that. If we all just paid a little more attention and concern for the other people we encounter, even when we are surrounded by 3200 pounds of car or 8500 pounds of truck, but especially when we are surrounded by nothing more than our own air of insecurity and self-centeredness (side note…apparently self-centeredness isn’t a word…who knew). The fact that I didn’t have a great night’s sleep is no excuse to treat others poorly, it just isn’t. Why make my problems someone else’s problems? this seems like it should be common sense, but it isn’t.

Life is about this stuff, it is about being kind to others, it is about not puffing up yourself above others whether warranted or not. Seriously, I am not better than other people, I just am not. My problems are not more important than theirs. I think the time has come for me to be an adult and show some care and concern for other people, instead of focusing on myself all the time.Don’t get me wrong, I am still wearing a t-shirt and flip flops at work, I’m not growing up that much. I am just going to try to make my little , teensy (side note, I gues teensy isn’t a word either) corner of the globe slightly better by being nicer to the people I meet…. starting tomorrow! Just kidding, starting today, starting now in fact. Join me, won’t you?

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So, 50

Well I just turned 50.

This is an interesting experience. I don’t feel different, I wondered if at some point I would panic and start to feel…I dunno…weird? But I don’t. Still just me, a guy who can’t quite figure out the secret to life. I mean I am getting through life, but not getting it, you know?

Anyway, I though I would ruminate a little, just some observations about things…

  1. 50 is just a number, I am really only 1 day older.
  2. Some of my shirts don’t fit well anymore (though this has less to do with 50 and more to do with potato chips).
  3. It’s like a club, hopefully we all get to join at some point, so it’s not too exclusive.
  4. I still don’t like sports cars…I mean I don’t get them at all, why? Why do you need to be able to go 4 times the speed limit and reach that speed at 5 Gs? The seats are uncomfortable, they don’t have compartments for my reading glasses (or maybe they do, I’ve never had one). I am clueless about this.
  5. I love my wife, she is amazing, I don’t get after all the time she has put into me why anyone (specifically me) would want to change, I sure don’t and I pray to God she never does either.
  6. Ice Cream is delicious. ( I know this has nothing to do with 50, but still…true fact).
  7. So are oatmeal raisin cookies.
  8. I have a jar on my desk that is 2000 years old, 50 is nothing to that jar.
  9. I think fighting in hockey is barbaric and stupid…you are professional athletes paid millions of dollars…grow up, don’t try to intentionally hurt each other and show the skill that got you there, cause an awful lot of Canadians would happily take your place.
  10. Somebody needs to explain DJs to me. They are not the artists, they take the artists work and add a beat to it. Why do they get credit for that? Aloe Blacc is amazing, so why does Aviccii get the credit for Aloe’s amazing song? I mean, I can’t add a frame around a Picasso and call it my painting. Can I?
  11. Yes, I am old and grumpy, but then I was young and grumpy before so its not like it’s a new thing. I actually think I am getting mellower (Is that a word?)
  12. I do go to bed earlier now, but I am not sure it’s a function of being older so much as getting up earlier.
  13. I still don’t get supper at 4:00 – that is afternoon people!
  14. I also don’t get supper at 8:00 pm.
  15. I think Michael Strahan was/is great and Kelly Ripa was wrong to treat him badly because he made a career move. I know that has nothing to do with being 50, but I think it anyway.
  16. How are watches making a comeback as a fashion statement? Really, how?
  17. I think Justin Trudeau is a pompous jerk…but he is still better than any alternative available at this time.
  18. I love watching the American election, makes me feel a teeny bit better about our own politics.
  19. Steak is good! I could never be a vegetarian, I don’t have a problem with them, I just couldn’t do it myself.
  20. I think Earls is lying to everyone, they haven’t switched back to Canadian beef and they aren’t going to…they just think it will blow over…which it probably will…sigh.

Well, that is by no means exhaustive, but enough for now. 50 is fun, the world has changed so much in the last 50 years, I can’t wait for the next 50.

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So, Zero

Some days you just start at an energy level way above normal, I mean you are ready to get it all done, you are thinking clearly, focused, accomplishing everything on your list and it isn’t even time for a coffee break yet…I mean a pretty great day, you did so much this morning why not go golfing this afternoon (or skiing for those inflicted with “winter-love” sickness). But then, then there are those other days. I don’t mean normal days, where you feel fine, get stuff done, leave work and are tired but okay.

I mean those terrible, start at zero, days. The days when picking your clothes is a monumental task. Those days where making a decision seems to take everything you have. You go to work, and sit at your desk feeling exactly like Peter Gibbons in the movie “Office Space”. Those days where meetings suck the very life out of you, those days where at the end of the day, you can barely get out to your car, never mind get ready for a hectic home life. Maybe you are a student and learning something is absolutely beyond your ability. Getting through the day takes a marathon running-like expenditure.

Some people will never understand this, but for those of us that have those days, it is hard to know what to do…I mean, I’m not sick, but I’m not well either. Staying home doesn’t help, but at least it is less energy output.

I know someone who is going through this right now, I mean this very day, and probably about 3 times a week, she is at zero to start her day. I feel for her, I know what it is like to be at zero and see the Everest like mountain of a day ahead of me. She is a student, and has to overcome the zero to accomplish something everyday. It seems impossible some days, but this is her life right now.

Some of you will immediately think of depression and medication and you would be right, but that doesn’t help her today, at best changing medication (especially anti-depression medication) takes 6-8 weeks to see real change. So she is left with zero today. I want to take her load, but learning isn’t something you can do for someone else, I can ease the pressure for today, but not for the week, and anything not done today is still there tomorrow.

All I can do, and it seems so woefully useless, is understand, is stand with her (okay sit beside her, cause really standing takes energy too) and say, I get it, I’m here, I care. It is not enough, but it is more than nothing, and maybe, just maybe, my support will help her to feel a little better than zero, cause zero, well it just plain sucks.

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So, Nothing

My wife walked in on me doing nothing the other day. I immediately had to pretend I was doing something because women (or at least my wife anyway) don’t appreciate doing nothing. She asked me what I was doing, I have tried replying nothing before and it never goes well for me. Being unappreciative of my doing nothingness, she makes me go do something. This is the sort of thing I was doing nothing to avoid doing, if you follow me here.

This particular nothing looked a lot like playing a game on my phone, but doing nothing looks like a lot of different things on different days. Sometimes my Doing nothing looks like watching a bad tv show or a movie I have seen several times before, or playing a computer game, or a phone game or staring into space, or reading a book, or well nothing. It is my escape from all the somethings in the world. I enjoy doing nothing. My wife, not so much with the nothing doing.

Now she sees this as being lazy, but it is not lazy. I am doing something, its called nothing. My nothing time is really important to me. I love my nothing time. I could do nothing for significant portions of  the day.

My wife asks what I am thinking, “nothing”…and I mean it. I’m not thinking about anything really, just letting my mind wander to its weird places. That is also a wrong answer, met with much suspicion, as if I could get into serious trouble just thinking. I believe my track record of successfully doing nothing despite all the somethings I could do, indicate that even if I was concocting a sophisticated bank robbery plan, my love of doing nothing (and my total inability to pull that sort of thing off) would stop me anyway.

They don’t call them sweet nothings for no reason.

Ok, I’m off to do nothing, you should join me.

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So, Work and Love

My friend recently posted this article in response to this article. It is interesting to hear the backlash to the concept of doing what you love as work. Both articles discuss how finding what you love to do, and then doing that for work is terrible advice. I don’t agree.

First let me say that there is nothing whatsoever with doing a job to feed, clothe and house yourself and your family. I would say there is nobility in doing it in a job you dislike, or maybe simply don’t love to do.

Too often workers nowadays simply put in hours, there is no attempt to be a better employee, we just don’t think that way. The problem is, that is the trade off. I give my employer my time, my hours, my effort, and they give me money. If my employer isn’t happy with my work, they can stop the arrangement, if I don’t like the deal, I can also stop the arrangement. Of course you stopping it comes with the problem of now having no money. Since your employer has the money that you want to get, doing things the way they want them done is kind of the point of being the employee.

There are good employers and bad ones, and many, many in between ones, but the arrangement is still the same. You trade with each other. Money for work. More employees should learn this early, it makes life at work so much better when you grasp the concept behind it, less griping about life being unfair to you. It isn’t, or at least not more unfair than it is to everyone.

What does this have to do with doing what you love? Well here is the thing. If you have something that you love to do, and you are good at doing it, then you should try and do that to make money. It is not always possible, that’s okay, you can still do what you love, but you’ll  have to do something else for money. I think of it this way, what are you passionate about? Are you skilled at it? If those 2 line up, you will probably make money at it, or at least make a living. If they don’t line up, you may still get by doing what you love, or you could do what you are skilled at but don’t love.

I am gifted at organization, I just don’t like doing it much, I see flow and process easily and have without much thought, helped others fix issues. Now if I was passionate about it, I could make it into a business and with some hard work and maybe a little luck, do well at it. I just don’t want to do that for a living. Instead I have chosen to do something I am passionate about and I work hard to get more skilled at it.

I have an 18 year old daughter who is just deciding what to take in school, what she wants to try to do for a living. It is kind of cool to see it unfolding. My advice for her is simply this, you are young, you have lots of time, chase what you love, try to do that, who knows maybe you will be one of the fortunate people who are really good at what they love and you will lead a lovely fulfilling life. If not, no worries, lots of actual jobs out there, where you can do what you love on the side.

I hate it when well meaning people tell her to try something sensible, or tell others to “get a trade then you have something to fall back on”. Don’t shot to fall back, shoot for what you love, if you fall back, well okay, time enough to get a trade, or flip burgers, or whatever. Time enough. I am on my 6th (and best) career. I have learned things along the way, but I truly wish someone had nudged me towards my passion early in life, maybe, just maybe I could have made it work.

So tell those people, those well meaning, ignorant people, “thank you for your advice, I’m gonna go and live my own life, make my own mistakes and try to fly where my passion leads.”

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So, Change the world?

I just read my friend’s blog post about changing the world. Read it here. Now, I hate to disagree with one of my writing heroes, well I hate to disagree with anybody, which is ironical because I am very, very good at it. What was I saying? Oh yeah Scott’s post about how Edward Snowden changed the world and how good that is. Here is the thing, I can’t. I really can’t change the world, and I don’t really think Snowden did that. I think he stood up and told the truth and that will have an effect, but I doubt it will be a long term effect, I doubt Snowden will be anything but a Jeopardy question under the category “Obscure things that happened in 2013”.

I don’t think the world changes that easily. No why I think that, because people, not individuals mind you, but the great unwashed masses, people are stupid. They are cattle, they follow, they watch crappy tv shows and go to crappy movies, cause “fast cars smashing into things are cool”. Really, I really heard that from a guy I know. The world can change if people change, but I can’t do that either, I can’t change the world, and I can”t change people. What I can do, slowly and with great effort and pain and many, many, many setbacks, is change me. I have to really want to change, I have to really commit to change,, I have to really work at it and be prepared to fail, and be prepared that people around me won’t give me any benefit of the doubt or even believe the change.

Given all of that, though, I can still do it, I can change me. I can be better tomorrow than I am today, infinitesimally better. No one will notice, I might not even notice, but every infinitesimal step adds up and the end result is a minute change, then those add up into small changes, which in turn add up to bigger changes and the end result is, I won’t crave pizza every second of the day, but only at meal times.

Okay, that isn’t true, that is not even a change I want to make, but the idea is true, and I have slowly over time managed to change me. The change is noticeable if you’ve known me a long time. I hope that the changes affect people around me for the better, and maybe they will change themselves too. Not in a way, I pick but in a way they pick, and area they think is important to change, and maybe as we each infinitesimally change ourselves the world will too. and maybe just maybe furious 8 won’t make billions upon billions of dollars, okay it will, but maybe Furious 38 won’t. Maybe slowly we will care about each other more than about spying on each other, more than going to a movie, more than whether I get to my destination 2 minutes earlier by cutting you off.

Don’t try to change the world, but please join me, try to change you…for the better… for ever…it is worth it.

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So, Life in the Mess

There are days.

There are days when I am feeling good, things are going good, and even when I hit a road bump, I slow and go over it. You know those days, you look in the mirror and go, “dude, you look good” (say this with attitude). The days when you just are happy and perky and friendly to others, let people in line in front of you, relaxed, easy going. Those days. Lets call them Type A days.

I love those days.

Other days, nothing is really wrong or right, just a day, you go along and you may let people in, you may not, whatever. You look in the mirror and accept that it is you. You feel okay, not really great, but not bad either. lets call these Type B days.

Those are most days.

Then there are the other days.

On those other days, you look and say, that can’t be me, I don’t look like that, I sure don’t feel like I look like that. When did I get so… (you fill in the blank). Days when even if things felt okay, slowly life convinces you that it is a lot of things, but okay isn’t one of them. You forget things, you drop things, you feel grumpy or annoyed, you are struggling. Struggling to get through, to get past, to get around. The days when road bumps seem like mountains, and you have energy to maybe stay the course, but for sure not enough energy to climb. Lets call these Type C days.

Now if you have depression, your capacity to climb is less even on good days. I’m not particularly talking about that, though the experience is the same, depressive people just have less of Type A, and more Type B, and way too many Type C days.

Today is a Type C day. It didn’t feel that way this morning, but I have learned that these Type C days are sneaky, they pose as B’s or A’s, but they aren’t. They are Type C, and they want to sap you, they want to steal the day from you, they want to suck your energy. They want to win, and as important they want you to lose. Every time you lose it is like a victory that they can celebrate and remind you of on other days, on better days. If you don’t fight for the A’s and B’s, then C’s will steal the day from you.

Today, I am fighting, to get back my Type A day, or at least a Type B day. Type C cannot win today. Today is too important, today is too valuable. There is only one today, if I let C win, I will not get it back, it will be a reminder of my failure, a reminder of my loss.

Every day is today, every day is important. Every day I need to engage and fight for the A’s and B’s. Every day I need to resist the C.

Life is a mess, I live in the mess, cause where else, but I can be better than I have been, I can fight more, I can win more…can’t I?

Or is that a trap, is that another way C can win, by making me fight more and using that against me when I don’t have the energy anymore? I don’t know. I do know that if I don’t try, life will be all C’s with a few B’s, so fight I must and fight I will.

Yes, life is a mess and I am messy, but messy does not mean unworthy and C has told me that too many days, so today I fight.

Bring on the A.

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So, Life is like a bicycle?

My friend and I have been sharing bike metaphors over the past little while and a few days ago he sent me a text that said “I think my tires are flat” I knew what he was talking about, I knew that exact feeling. My heart broke hearing it from someone else. I imagine we have all been in that place at one time or another. That place where you can’t get any traction, you can’t even begin to move, you can’t start to do anything, you are just stuck, with no idea how to begin to get going.

Flat tires on a bike need repair before it can be used for what it was made for. If you are like me, I guess I would try to figure out if the tire is shot or can be repaired. Then I would go and find a place to get a patch kit (assuming fixing is even possible). I guess then, after figuring out where the patch needs to be, I would apply said patch and re-inflate the tire and give it a go. I would always be expecting it to:

a. not work in the first place, or

b. Work for a bit, then fail, or

c. work long enough for me to be so far from home that it would totally suck to get back, then break again, or

d. have some other essential part on the bike break shortly thereafter

Perhaps this is a bad way to look at life, check that. This is a bad way to look at life. If his metaphorical tires are flat, he is stuck, he needs help, but if he is like me, he won’t ask, maybe won’t even accept help. It is sometimes harder in real life to figure out if the situation is repairable, or just broken and needs replacing altogether. It is also harder to find good help. I mean if we were talking about a bike, I would definitely not ask me for help. I am not good at that.

But we aren’t talking about a real bike, we are talking about life, and my friend’s tires are flat. He hasn’t asked for help, I long to help, but I truly don’t know how to, so I guess I am not good at that either. I can share the pain, a bit, well not really because I’m not in the same pain he is. I can be with him to let him talk about his pain, but guys don’t really like that too much.

My friend and I once watched an entire NFL game without saying more than 20 words to each other. It was a great afternoon, we both enjoyed it a lot. Talking about our tires isn’t something we are likely to do. If we did, I would want him to hear this. I too have been in that place. I have had flat tires, I have felt spent and lost, and broken, and as the man in my house, felt like I had let everyone down. I should be able to make this bike work, but I didn’t, I can’t and now it is broken. I know the pain of that. I know the frustration of that. I know the heartache of that.

Guys aren’t supposed to have flat tires, if we do, we are supposed to know how to fix them, we are supposed to have all the tools nearby to fix them. Guys are supposed to have solid rubber tires that never go flat or something. We don’t though, or at least me and my friend don’t. We are left going through this world with tires that go flat. This world hurts. Stuff sucks sometimes.

My tires aren’t flat right now, but I bet it won’t be long, cause I fixed them myself. I made do with the tools I had, I patched it myself and because I’m not really equipped for that, it will blow sooner or later. Life is just like that.

So your tires are flat? I hear you my friend. I am with you, you can borrow my tools anytime. I’ll even give what little help I can, because you know what? Life only makes sense when we live it together in community.

Got flat tires?

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