It’s not news that careers in educational technology have become increasingly complex and generate high degrees of stress. Many ed tech professionals feel the effects of this stress in their work, as well as at home. They spend longer hours at work missing out on the life of their families. When they come home, they bring the job with them. They spend many restless, sleepless nights. They live with the feeling that they can never keep their heads above water. They’re drowning in ‘to do’s”. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a healthy state of being for one’s psyche or one’s body. The connection between stress and illness is well established in medical research.
The path to relief from this kind of chronic pain always starts with taking accountability for the problem. By taking accountability, you shift from being a victim with little power to change things, to someone who can do something about the problem.
This first step is probably the hardest for most people. They argue with all their being that their situation is not their fault. They argue that they have tried everything to change their plight but nothing works. They will try to prove that every suggestion for improving things won’t work in their situation, even if it has worked somewhere else. In short, they are fully committed to being victims, to keeping things as they are.
As a leadership coach, it’s important for me to realize that the individual needs to want to change, in order for the process to move forward. I can’t want something for the person more than they want it for themselves. This is tricky territory because just about every stressed out, unhappy, ed tech’er, superintendent of schools, or administrative team, that I have worked with, claims that they want to change.
No one says to me, “Pete, I want to stay stressed out and unhappy. I am committed to it!”
So, what’s tricky?
“Talk is cheap.” It’s important for me to observe how folks act, for that shows where their real commitments are.
A good analogy is losing weight. I may say I want to lose weight to my coach, to my Weight Watcher’s group, or whoever; but if I go out day after day and keep eating food that I know is not on my diet and if I continue to skip my prescribed exercise regimen, I won’t lose weight. Now, if I say over and over to my coach, or my Weight Watcher’s group, “I really want to lose weight; but I can’t seem to do it. I want to lose weight but It’s useless. I wan to lose weight but it doesn’t work for me.”
Which matters more? The words or the actions?
It’s important to note that these are genuine feelings. The individual believes this fully. They can’t see the problem by themselves because it is so much a part of them.
Sometimes a coach can be a great mirror to reflect back to the individual or team the gap between their words and their actions. The blind spot now becomes visible. Other times a coach can create a situation, a “breakdown’, that exposes the blind spot.
If there is no coach and the situation persists for years our bodies can get our attention by “breaking down”.
Sometimes, that is what it takes to “wake us up”. A heart attack that almost kills us, may awaken us to the importance of reducing the levels of stress in our lives. A “breakdown” in our lives, like a divorce; may awaken us to the need to spend more time with our families.
These are dramatic; but not uncommon examples of the consequences of living with chronic stress. There are many more subtle ways that stress can impact our lives and we may never have the “alarm” go off, that wakes us up; but that does not mean that we aren’t affected. We are.
I invite you to take some time over the next few weeks. Get off by yourself. Reflect on what you are feeling. If there is stress, acknowledge it. Notice the stories you tell yourself about it. “it’s not so bad.” or “I can handle it.” or “I’ll catch up in a few months and things will get better.”, etc., etc
Life is short.
There are things you can do once you take responsibility and make a commitment to change.
Let’s examine those in my next post,