Monday, November 26, 2012

Accepting Defeat: A Teachable NaNoWriMo Moment

I am planning a lesson on accepting defeat.

Part of teaching for creativity is helping students learn how to deal with failure, and it looks like I'll have a chance to teach them firsthand.

Last year, I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  It was an intense ride, and thrilling to take on that challenge alongside my students.  For some reason, I latched onto my 50,000 word goal for the month, and wrote consistently almost every day of the month, finishing just in time and earning my button and winner's web badge.  At the end, I wasn't at all satisfied with my novel, but I was happy with myself for my achievement.

This year, I just haven't worked myself up into the frenzy.  Perhaps it is the anti-anxiety medication.  The little edge that anxiety gives me can a very useful little edge, albeit with plenty of drawbacks.

At any rate, I've been writing.  I should be able to reach 25,000 words, which is still a lot.  But I won't win.  There's no way.  I only see my husband on weekends; during the week I've been having to leave work early to deal with doctors' appointments, kids getting sick at school, cancellations of their other rides home after school... it seems like I can't get enough time at school to do what I need to do at school.

And at home?  I don't have my husband to rely on to interact with the kids at all.  So if I sit and write, they either play or watch TV with no attention.  It feels extra selfish.  By the time they're in bed, I'm pooped (not to mention way behind at work-- more than usual).

On weekends, I owe it to the man I married to save some of myself for him:  tidy up, do things as a family, give backrubs, receive backrubs, that kind of thing.  I can sneak away for a little bit of time, but... I've lost so much time at school during the week that I have to spend some time planning, grading.  And my lowered anxiety level has left me less willing to get up early in the morning and write. Last year I insisted on the writing time.  This year I've been more compromising.

And I've compromised my novel.

So... for my students, here are my steps in accepting defeat, and the lessons I can learn from it.

1. Explore whether there is any way to meet my goal.  Realistically:  What would it take?
2. Assess: Am I willing and able to do what it will take?  Be honest with myself and others.
3. If so, then GO FOR IT.
4. If not, assess: What do I really want out of this process? Can I get some of what I want with the time and energy I have left?
5. Set new goal I can live with. One that is still challenging and offers me some success I can recognize.
6. Work to achieve my new, compromised goal.
7. Forgive myself.  Every day is a new chance to kick ass, after all.
8. Acknowledge what I did manage to achieve.
9. Analyze what I can do next time to meet a higher, more worthy goal.  Or, assess whether my priorities are really elsewhere.

Honesty is key when we set goals.  We need to be honest about our motivation, what it will really require, our level of intensity and our commitment to meet the goal.

Challenging ourselves to amazingness may not result in the exact outcome we had planned, but will probably lead to more amazingness than if we hadn't tried at all.  (I will have 25,000 words of a novel after all, and my concept is more cohesive than last year.)

Accepting defeat can free up our energy for other pursuits that turn out to be either more important or simply more urgent.  Accepting defeat lets us look toward the future, dwell in possibility and not the defeat itself.

When we accept defeat, we must also accept the consequences of not meeting our goal.  I'm certain that my inability to meet my goal will affect my relationship with my students who pushed themselves to meet their goal.  I have a student going for the 50,000 word mark.  What do I teach him by not meeting mine?  Still, I can't avoid it now.  There may be negative consequences, and I have to live with that. I'm not willing to be dishonest with my students just to preserve a veneer of amazingness.  The amazingness has to be genuine.  It's the same way when students don't earn the grades they hope to get in my class.  If they choose to cheat, lie or plagiarize, then I lose all respect for them.  A respectable C is  just that, a C, but respectable.

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