Inspired (ok, and pushed a little) by my dear friends and colleagues Robyn Thiessen and Gallit Zvi, I have decided to write my own “this is what I am thinking today” post. Short answer, I’m thinking about how much I want to be out on that boat I just photographed, sailing. There, done. Tag, you’re it Robyn!
Somehow I get the feeling that just won’t cut it with Robyn or Gallit, so I had better go deeper than that…
So, what am I thinking about today?…hmmm.
Kind of big statements, huh? There are always a million little things rolling around in my brain. I get chastised by my friends from time to time not to over think things so I will attempt to narrow my focus to avoid writing a “War and Peace” style blog post.
(Oh, and I’m writing this in the car on a three-hour trip to my Aunt and Uncle’s house. I can’t bear to sit and do nothing while my dad drives and reading makes me car sick. Chances are, this will be rather disjointed, but then again, so are my thoughts most days. Bear with me.)
“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” -William James
I have been reading this book, “The International Bank of Bob” by Bob Harris and am really enjoying it. Before I had kids, I would sit down and devour a book, cover-to-cover in about 4 hours. This just isn’t possible with little ones, housework, school projects, laundry and trying to maintain reasonable sleep habits (which is usually what I sacrifice to get the previous list done) so I have been reading it a chapter or two at a time. Savouring it, so to speak, like a bar of really good chocolate.
The unexpected outcome of this truncated reading time is that I get a chance to really think about what I have read in the time between chapters. Not that I didn’t think about a book in the past when I sat down and devoured it, I just have more space in between to think about how what I have read applies to other things that I am learning and thinking.
The book is about the adventures of Bob as he travels the world visiting individuals and groups he has lent money to through the social lending platform “KIVA”. My grade three class and I have been big into Kiva lately, we are up to over $200 in loans made and the class is working on fundraisers so that we can lend more. The basic premise behind Kiva is that people use the Kiva website to make microloans via field partners to the working poor who can’t access credit to grow their business or acquire capital for a large expense, (like a cow for example) in order to improve their standard of living. “Helping to fight poverty one $25 loan at a time.”
There are some amazing stories in this book, but I think the most touching story is that of Bob himself and the way he constructs meaning in his world. One powerful quote that I have been thinking about a lot lately is “…life takes on meaning to the degree that our efforts and love are connected”-a theme that recurs throughout the book.
I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around this one since reading the first chapter of the book. There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter lately about helping students find their passion. Yes, I totally support that, and does that mean that your passion must be your job too? If you do a menial, yet necessary job but do it to fulfill your passion for helping others (namely for your children to have better lives than you had) isn’t that really finding your passion?
I’m wondering if the meaning in our lives is not finding our passion in our jobs, but the way our efforts and what we do each day reflects what we can provide to those we love.
Our efforts to work on the behalf of others? Our efforts to give? Hmmm.
And then I stumbled upon this New York Times article when I was cruising through my twitter stream:
“Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” Susan Dominus’ review of “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, a 31 year-old tenured professor at Warton, was a fascinating read for me. “Helpfulness is Grant’s credo.” Yeah, that gets my attention. I am a teacher, I help for a living. I will give everything I can without a second thought, to help my students and my own children, family and friends.
She went on to state; “For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”
Wham. That one hit me like a ton of bricks.
I am so time starved these days. There are a thousand things that I want to do, to read, to see, to learn…and no time. The constant battle in my head is “how do I spend my time?” I am trying to find the balance between time spent on others and time spent on me-which, until a couple of months ago was essentially zero. Unhealthy, I know and I have changed that. But with it comes a whole heap of guilt. And I have to confess that sometimes I resent it when people ask (or even take without asking) for my time. But is it that? Or is it more like, I get frustrated when I am asked to use my time on things I don’t want to do, when there is so much I would rather be doing with my time?
Still working on that one. So I read on…
“Givers motivate themselves to avoid complacency by focusing on the benefits to others if they succeed and worrying about disappointing them if they fail.”
Holy, another home truth. Yup, there is the guilt factor. That’s me.
Now I’m not saying that I am going to run out and join the Peace Corps (although working in a developing country has always been a dream that was just out of reach for me) But I do want to do something with my life that will benefit others. More than what I am doing now. Just like Bob was searching for the way he can make meaning in his life. The struggle here is to figure out how to balance it all out and still keep my priorities straight: my family, my friends, my work and somewhere in there is me.
So can small acts of giving make a lifetime legacy?
And how do I figure out how to deal with that teacher who asks me questions that are so easy to google and figure out with just a little effort on their part?
The response? “Unless the person at the other end is a proven taker, just do it-collaborate, offer up, grant the favor”
But how? When I have an hour after school to get my work done, how can I justify sitting and listening to someone talk at me for a half hour, give them ideas and resources and then watch them do nothing on their own? When do you say “no” or choose not to help when you know that your colleague’s students are just as important as your own? I can’t simply stay at school longer because that means my own family suffers.
An observation that Susan makes in her review is, “there is precious little in Grant’s book about work and family balance.” But he later goes on to state, “The way I see it, I have several different roles…teacher, scholar, advisor, friend, to name a few. I’d be concerned if any of those roles took more of my time than my family.”
I need to develop my own style of efficient giving.
What does my own style of efficient giving look like?
How do I balance time spent helping others with my priorities?
Grant goes on to say: “Productivity is an imperfect way of indexing how much I’m contributing, how I’m using my limited time to make the most difference.”
I was chatting via DM with a friend of mine earlier this week about the sense of urgency we share, the fact that we do so much and sometimes it intimidates other people. She cited that statistically, in her family the women do not live long lives and she said, “my chances for life past 65 aren’t great but we’ll see. Part of why I live NOW!”
That “limited time” scenario still gets to me. My cousin, who won (or lost, depending on how you look at it) the same genetic lottery as I did, lost his battle at 50. There’s the urgency.
And back to that conversation with my colleague and Twitter friend. I said to my friend in that DM conversation, “what is my legacy? That’s where I am at.”
So maybe small acts of giving can make a lifetime legacy? Maybe it doesn’t have to be this grand life-changing event, rather a mindset where service to others becomes your legacy? How will I use my limited time to make the most difference?
Which brings me full circle to the quote that started this whole thought, “…life takes on meaning to the degree that our efforts and love are connected”
How we define that love, and how we show it is up to us.
That’s what I am thinking about today. How about you?