Fifteen years ago I was a first-year high school social studies teacher. My first assignment was at a small, rural school where I was essentially the history department. Most of my first year is a blur; hazy recollections of early mornings and late nights. There were long stretches of road interrupted only by sips of coffee and the familiar noise of a staticky radio and squeaky shocks. I taught six different classes my first year and one of these courses was entitled Missouri History. Course materials were less than robust and teaching the course was a challenge. One weekend while preparing lesson plans I reviewed information related to French culture in Missouri. It was at this time I discovered the French term Joie de vivre. The literal translation is the joy of life. I found this term to be interesting, mainly because it was lacking in my own life. I was stressed and overwhelmed by the challenges and trials of being a first-year teacher. Instead of taking time to celebrate success, I seemed to have a singular focus on failure.
Fifteen years later I find myself in need of a similar reminder- to embrace the joy of life. We all have important jobs and responsibilities to fulfill, and because we care about those who depend on us it can be stressful. There are daily challenges, and if we aren’t careful this is where we direct our full attention. Even worse, we will spend time worrying about dilemmas that don’t exist but fear might happen.
During winter break I had time to read at leisure. A common thread through each book was overcoming fear. The book Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf discussed how the development of a positive mindset could offset the fear of failure. There are many great takeaways in this book, but two stood out for me. They are (a) to live present, and (b) surrender the outcome. The idea of living present is relatively straightforward. How many great moments in our lives are missed while worrying about the future? You can’t change the future through worry alone, so why waste time obsessing over problems that have yet to materialize? The second key principle is related to this concept. We have to surrender the outcome of events in our lives and trust in our preparation and training. Too often we obsess over the outcomes of meetings or new initiatives. If we have prepared accordingly and done everything we can to be successful then that in itself is enough. No amount of additional worry and anguish will improve the outcome.
I believe we fear failure because we don’t view it in the proper context. The idea of “failing forward” has become popular in recent years. It basically states that it’s acceptable to fail, you just need to learn from your mistakes. Overcoming and understanding adversity was a key theme in the book Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Avent. Pope John Paul II overcame adversity his entire life, including the loss of his mother when he was 8, the loss of his older brother in his teens and the death of his father while living in Nazi-occupied Poland. Cardinal Andrej Desku put the Pope’s suffering into context stating, “Everything the Holy Father endured in his life, prepared him for what he had to be. Just as an arrow is readied for the shot from the bow, God prepares the proper people, He prepares his arrows”. The next time you stumble or experience failure, think of it as preparation for greater opportunities in the future (It’s doubtful you will become Pope, but some lessons are universal).
The ability to embrace joie de vivre amidst the daily grind is a skill I hope to master in 2017. With this in mind, I picked up a copy of Stephen Covey’s The Leader in Me and read several chapters. Covey quotes Daniel Pink who describes the necessary attributes for success in today’s world. Pink states, “The people who are truly thriving in today’s reality are those who are also good listeners and team builders. They are able to “understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others.” Perhaps this is simply an evolution of joie de vivre: helping others find joy in life as well. I hope to embrace joy in 2017, and I hope you do too.