I was working with a client last week who made what she believed was an error in judgment that she also believed would ultimately cost her the possibility of achieving her goal of becoming a tenured professor.
First, let me be up front about the tenure process. It has its good points. And it has its bad points.
Some good points: it allows current faculty the power to be sure their beloved department and programs maintain standards of excellence; it provides a measure of freedom from censorship; and it attempts to ensure that their new colleagues not only have the ability to work well together, but that their skills and expertise complement those of the existing faculty.
Some bad points: the requirements are often not clearly specified; fulfilling clear requirements is not a guarantee of tenure; developing changes in department or university needs or goals can lead to new policies that run counter to previously assumed tenure requirements; negative evaluation of a candidate’s personality may override a positive evaluation of scholarship; politics can play a big part in the decision; tenure-track faculty often keep central beliefs hidden for fear of being blackballed; and the expectation of perfection and productivity can be unreasonable.
So this client made a mistake. What to do?
When I started writing this piece, all I really wanted to say was “Mistakes will be made. It’s the nature of living that we make mistakes. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.”
But, as you know, this is real life, and real life is often untidy. What happens, for example, if you can’t simply move into the emotional space of learning and growing from the experience? Well, depression, stagnation, and a downward spiral come to mind as possibilities.
There is a better way. And this path includes several steps. Let’s go through them.
First, get into action. The antidote to the poison of immobility is nothing other than mobility. This sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? Well, in some ways it is… but there is a trick that makes it possible to take action when inaction is in control of you. So write this down and post it on your fridge, your computer, and your bathroom mirror:
Break it Down Into Little Tiny Parts
And then break it down again. And yet again, if necessary… until you can do something that moves you in the direction you want to go.
Let’s say you’ve received gloomy news from your department chair, but you still have to finish the end-of-semester work and move into preparation mode for the upcoming one. Where do you start? Well, you have grading, reporting the grades, filing, storing materials, creating or updating syllabi, reading, and so on.
OK, let’s get started on grading. What? You can’t get started on grading because it's also just too daunting to consider?
So Break it Down. What’s the first step? Hint: It’s not “Grade the papers.” The first step may very well be “Choose a time that’s uninterrupted and schedule it into my planner.” A different first step might be “Put the papers in my bag so I will have them with me when I get to my home or office.”
Once you have that step done, there will be a “very next step” that will be evident, such as “open them up and put them on my desk.”
And so on. This does sound simplistic, right? But you’d be surprised how much easier it is to get moving on large and especially onerous tasks when they’re broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. It might not be the answer to every struggle, but in many instances, it is.
There is another secret to getting moving when gloom has descended.
Ask for Help
Stick this one on your planner or your car's dashboard. Ask your partner, spouse, or colleague to spend ten minutes or an hour with you while you start to do the actual work. They don't necessarily have to be watching what you are doing, though that can help. They only need to know that you are doing what you say you are doing. In my coaching, for example, I sometimes have a client do whatever she's stuck on while I listen over the phone. And guess what? It works!
Much of what stops us from finding creative ways to solve our own problems is that we just can’t get a handle on not only what we need to do, but what we can do. When we finally tease out what we can do, we start to move forward. And when we can have another human being along for the ride, it can make all the difference in the world.
Coaching offers the benefit of both. And more! (Another hint: I’m here if you need me.)
But what about hope?
Hope is experienced differently by each of us. One can search the social science archives and find relationships between hope and childrearing style, family constellation, parental emotional state, socioeconomic status, and many other variables.
But I see hope as an oddity. Some people have lots of hope, but do little or nothing to take charge of their lives. Some people experience little hopefulness, but nevertheless can be observed to take action with relative ease.
While hope may contribute to overall happiness scores, I see something that might be called "Propensity to Be in Action" as more crucial to success. Put another way, we can hope all we want. But hope alone will not change the course of our lives or the lives of others. Only action has that power.