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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Why Do I Do What I Do?

I don’t understand myself…

I know the things that I WANT to do…what I want to accomplish.

And I know the things that I NEED to do in order to accomplish the things That I WANT to do…

But I don’t do them…

I WANT to go skydiving…so I NEED to lose weight.

But I don’t exercise…

Or watch my diet…

I WANT to develop my website…so I NEED to develop content.

But I don’t plan…

Or strategize…

I play Facebook Scrabble…

A LOT…

I WANT to write a book…so I NEED to spend longer stretches of time writing.

But instead I write short, pithy blog posts…

Some people LIKE my blog…And it IS writing…

I’m NOT giving that up.

I WANT to pay off my last credit card and be debt-free, so I NEED to stick to my budget.

But something always comes up (I have 8 kids…GO FIGURE!).

I know that I am not the only person who struggles with this problem. I talk to people all the time who have the same lament…often they will try to excuse it by saying that there is “so much to do and so little time,” or, “I lost track of time.” Feel free to insert your excuse here…

This isn’t a new problem…this has been around for awhile.

Recently, I read an old letter from a friend named Paul. (BTW, for you younger readers out there, a letter is what we used to send to communicate with other people before we had e-mail. Or texting. Or Facebook.)

Anyway, Paul was experiencing the same frustrations that I am. Here’s a quote from his letter:

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise….My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.”

I wish I could have offered Paul some words of wisdom that would have been helpful…but it’s difficult to help someone else when you are battling the same affliction…

It’s also difficult to help someone who has been dead for almost 2,000 years.

See, my friend Paul didn’t write that letter specifically for me. He actually wrote it to a church in Rome sometime between 55 and 58 A.D…

But isn’t it interesting how human nature is the same now as it was then?

Seems like Paul had some issues with self discipline, just like I do now…or dare I say, like YOU do now?

What is it that you want to do, but don’t? What do you do that you wish you would STOP doing?

I’m not a big New Year’s resolution kind of guy. But as we approach the end of the year, it does occur to me that the beginning of each year is a natural time to reflect upon renewal of good practices and elimination of bad ones.

I would encourage you to identify at least one thing that you need to STOP and one thing that you need to START, and make a commitment to doing each of them regularly.

That’s how I started this blog…

That’s how I’m going to go skydiving in 2012…

That’s how I’m going to get rid of that credit card bill…

What are YOU going to do?

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Membership Has Its Privileges

Many years ago, an ad campaign for American Express used the familiar tag line, “Membership has its privileges.”

The longer I teach in higher education, the more I have come to sense that new college students believe that enrolling in one of my classes grants a “membership” to some sort of club…

And they expect to receive their privileges.

These expected privileges seem to go beyond my personal goal of giving my students the best teaching that I possibly can. It goes beyond my efforts to return assignments to them in a timely manner, provide frequent and reasonable office hours, and respond to their emails and phone calls, even on the weekend. It goes beyond providing them with a detailed syllabus, a clear set of stated course objectives, and a commitment to work diligently with them to help them attain whatever level of success to which they aspire.

It has become increasingly evident to me that “membership” in my class also includes the right to determine their own personal exam schedule…and the schedule for taking an exam is whenever they feel like it.

Today is a microcosmic case in point. This is “finals week”…and a student (let’s call him Carl) came to my office at 11:00 am, 2 hours prior to his scheduled final exam.

“Hey” (Carl ALWAYS calls me “Hey,” even in the misspelled emails that he sends me). “Can I take my exam early? I have a doctor’s appointment at 12:00.” Carl looked at me expectantly.

Now, Carl has been absent from my class frequently throughout the semester, and he always leaves before the class is done. I never said anything about it, as he is an adult, and he is free to make his own decisions regarding class attendance. So you can imagine his reaction when I told him no.

He looked incredulous…

“But I have to go to the doctor,” he sputtered.

I told him that he should have known better than to make a doctor’s appointment during finals week, especially so close to one of his scheduled classes.

“I made this appointment over two weeks ago,” he replied, quite indignantly.

“Carl, I gave you the date for this final over four months ago,” I said. “It’s clearly stated on the syllabus I gave you on the first day of class. The exam is scheduled from 1:00-3:00 today. If you choose to go to the doctor and you are late to class, you will have until 3:00 to finish the exam, even if you don’t show up until 2:45.”

Carl turned and stormed out of my office, muttering angrily as he went. The fact that I am getting older and my hearing is not as sharp as it once was probably saved Carl from a world of difficulty.

I arrived at the classroom at about 12:45. Several students, including Carl, we’re waiting. Carl came in, hurriedly took his exam, earned his 59%, and rushed out in less than 20 minutes.

I’m sure that I haven’t seen the last of Carl…

I expect to see him shortly after grades are posted…

I’m sure that he will say he had to rush through his exam in order to make it to his doctor’s appointment…

Or that he couldn’t concentrate because he was thinking about how mad his doctor was that he canceled at the last minute…

I expect that he will want to receive an incomplete, or a chance to re-take the final exam, or some form of extra credit, or anything that will help him get his grade up to passing.

And he will expect me to give him what he asks for…because, after all…

Membership has its privileges…

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Society, Teaching, Uncategorized

 

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Linchpin


Seth Godin says to ship…

In his classic marketing book, “Linchpin”, Godin says that the key to getting anything done is to ship.

Ever wonder why some of my blog posts sound pretty good while others sound unfinished? Incoherent? Unfocused?

It’s because Seth Godin says to ship…

I didn’t used to care what Seth Godin had to say…

The first of his books that I read was “Poke the Box.”

I highly recommend reading Seth Godin’s books.

Don’t read “Poke the Box” first.

You may not read a second one…

I read a second one because Bryan picked one for our weekly “Eagle” meeting.

That book was “Linchpin”,…

Where was I?

Oh, yes…

Seth Godin says to ship.

To ship means to send what has been created when you reach your deadline…

Whether it’s ready or not.

I have adopted this philosophy…

Of course, the goal is to make sure that what is being shipped is in the best condition possible. But if I were to wait until every blog I write is exactly the way that I want it to be…to make sure that it is “perfect”…

Well, I would have a very short blog.

So if you are following my blogs (and I HOPE that you ARE), then you should know that I am not dedicated to perfection…

I am dedicated to trying to make you smile…

I am dedicated to posting something new every 2-3 days…

I am dedicated to shipping….

Whether it’s “perfect” or not…

What about you?

What do you have that needs to be shipped?

What is it that you are procrastinating on because you just can’t seem to close the deal?

Read the chapter entitled The Resistance in “Linchpin”,

Get motivated…

And SHIP!

 

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Cheaters Never Prosper…Do They?

I caught some cheaters this week…

Of, course, they don’t think that they were cheating…which makes this story all the more frustrating.

But I’m getting ahead of myself….

I have this class…there are about 40 students. It’s a math class for majors…and I gave them a take home test last week.

That was my first mistake.

When I gave them the test, I told them that they were honor-bound to work only on their own tests…that they were not to receive any outside assistance.

That was my second mistake.

When I got the tests back, I began to grade them…

That was my third mistake.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? This entire scenario is fraught with mistakes. There is plenty of blame to be placed here.

And it’s all on me.

Just ask my students…they’ll tell you that they weren’t cheating. They’ll tell you that my instructions were not clear, that I did not define for them what constituted cheating, and so the assistance that they offered each other was not cheating.

This was not one or two students…

This was six…

And those are only the ones for whom I was confident enough in the evidence to confront them. I had at least 4 other students that appeared to copy off of one another, but the comparisons were not quite strong enough to make a case in front of the Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs…

Which is something I did not want to do.

I offered these six students a reasonably painless (for them) way out. Since I was dropping their lowest test score anyway, I would just give them a zero for this test, drop THIS score and calculate their grades based on the four previous tests. We would not speak of this again, they would learn a lesson, and we would move on. I told them that if they did not wish to choose this option, they were free to file an appeal, at which point, we would have a hearing with the dean of their department and the Vice-Chancellor.

None of them wanted that.

All of them admitted that they had worked together in pairs on the test.

None of them admitted that they were cheating.

In fact, all of them seemed bewildered that I was accusing them of cheating.

They didn’t think that helping each other on a take home test was cheating…

Or wrong…

One of the students was actually so indignant that she demanded a hearing in front of the dean and the Vice -Chancellor because, even though she admitted that she helped another student, SHE had done her own work, so she was not “guilty of cheating.” She did not view her assistance on a take home test to a fellow student as morally wrong.

You know what is saddest about this story?

It’s not that our society has declined to the point that the intentional violation of rules is viewed as the fault of the rule maker rather than the rule breaker…

It’s not even the fact that some teachers have now resorted to requiring that their students sign a code of conduct contract in order to protect themselves from litigious individuals.

What’s saddest about this whole mess is that the students in my class…the students I caught cheating…the students who honestly don’t feel that they did anything wrong…

They are all studying to become Elementary School Teachers.

That’s not a typo. I’ll say it again in case you think you misread it…

They are all studying to become Elementary School Teachers.

Within 3 years, these students will be teachers themselves, standing in front of a classroom full of children, molding them…developing them… teaching them…

And they have no moral problem with cheating…

They believe that the rules don’t apply to them…

And they are going to pass these values on to the next generation of students…

Students who will one day grow up, graduate from high school, and walk into my college classroom…

Students who will wonder what the big deal is when I catch them cheating…

Suddenly, homeschooling doesn’t look like such a bad option.

At least my kids will know that cheating is wrong.

And if they do it, and they are caught, they will know that THEY were wrong…that THEY are responsible for they mess…

And they won’t blame it on the teacher.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Family, Society, Teaching, Uncategorized

 

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The Ultimate Fighter

My best friend from high school is named Adam*.

Adam has a weight-loss plan…

It’s not a very good one.

In fact, Adam only manages to lose a few ounces every year or so.

And he does it in an extremely painful manner.

He has fractions of his lung removed.

You see, Adam has cancer…

Or rather, Adam HAD cancer.

Now he has it again.

And after December 8th, he will not have cancer…again…

Adam has been battling cancer for more than 5 years. Ironically, that qualifies him as a “cancer survivor.” It’s ironic because every time a new mass of cancerous cells pops up, they go in, remove them, and he is “cancer-free” again…until another mass appears.

Then he goes on his “cancer cell removal diet” again, loses a few more ounces…and the circle continues.

Adam has a cancer scan every 3 months…

We keep hoping that the scans come back negative…ironically, negative is a GOOD thing, positive is a BAD thing.

Adam and I have been friends for 33 years. In high school he was a bit of a nerd…so was I. Neither one of us was going to play on the football team. But Adam was a genius…he still is. I wasn’t a genius…I’m still not.

Adam elevated his nerd status when he was named the valedictorian of our senior class. And he forever immortalized his legendary nerd status by winning money on a Hollywood trivia game show in the 1980’s.

He won a LOT of money.

THAT wasn’t nerdy…

Funny thing about nerds…

You don’t think of them as tough.

You think of them as the wimpy guy with the thick glasses and the pocket protector…the skinny guy in the chess club who’s good at math and science, and likes to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Adam had thick glasses…

He was good at math and science…

He was in chess club and loved Dungeons and Dragons…

Not sure about the pocket protector…

One thing I AM sure of?

Adam is not a wimp.

Adam is tough…

Adam is fighting cancer on a daily basis…fighting like a warrior.

He is fighting for his wife…He is fighting for his son…He is fighting for himself.

Adam is not a wimp…

You know what he is?

He’s tougher than any ultimate fighter I’ve ever seen…

He’s my hero…

If you’re smart, you’ll make him your hero, too.

And say a prayer for him on December 8th…even heroes need prayer.

*The story is true. The name “Adam” has been fictionalized-at my friend’s request-to preserve a certain level of anonymity.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Family, Motivation, Uncategorized

 

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I Lost My Keys…

I can’t find my keys again…

This seems to happen at least once a week. I come home, and instead of hanging my keys on the hook like I do every other day of the week, I get distracted by something…one of my kids, my lovely wife, or something interesting in the mail, and I forget to hang up the keys. And once that happens, the gremlins who steal one of each pair of my socks and most of my ink pens comes along and snatches up my keys.

SIGH…

I get tired of playing this game.

I do not like to be late. Anywhere. And I have typically had a great record for punctuality. Ask anyone…ok, don’t ask my students.

I’m usually always 2 minutes late for class.

But at least I’m consistent.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah…my keys.

I usually know what time I need to walk out the door in order to be appropriately on time for wherever I am going. And this is not usually a problem…

Except for once a week…

It’s usually when I am going to work out at the gym before going to the office.

And it usually goes something like this:

As I start toward the door, I look at the key hook, and my keys are not there…my hands immediately shoot into my pockets and I usually spin around the room, looking at the typical places where I usually leave them…

Not there…nope, not there either…

Sigh, here we go again…

I run to the living room and look next to my chair. Nope. Top of the entertainment center? Not there either…

On to the bedroom…dresser? Nope…night stand? Uh-uh…in the pocket of the pants I wore yesterday? No dice…

Being the sensitive guy that I am, I do not want to disturb my sleeping wife, so I take HER car keys off the hook, grab my duffel bag, and head out the door. I have every intention of working out in the gym before work, and I am not going to let something like missing car keys keep me from my appointment with the elliptical machine. Given how much I hate exercise, there’s no way that I am going to skip out on a day when I actually feel MOTIVATED!!!

So I get to the gym, shove my duffel bag into my locker, and go torture myself for 45 minutes to an hour…then I shower and change…reaching into my duffel bag, I hear a jingle…and pull out my car keys…the car keys that I had put in my duffel bag last night when I was being responsible and getting my gear ready for working out the next day…my car keys that I had tossed into the duffel bag so that I would not have to hunt for them the next morning…

My car keys that I have misplaced three weeks in a row and later found in my duffel bag when I got to work…

I’m not kidding…

SIGH…

I guess I’m getting old.

And forgetful…

What about you? Do you ever consistently misplace the same thing? Does it usually turn up in the same spot? Do you feel silly when you find it again for the fourteenth time right where you left it the previous thirteen times? Please help me not to feel so forgetful…share your experiences here. And let’s be a forgetful community together!

Well, I need to take my dad to the grocery store…see you soon!

Now where did I put my keys?

 

Perfection is Hard…

I am undefeated at Settlers of Catan…

Have you ever played this remarkable game? It’s kind of like a cross between a war game and Monopoly. Settlers won the game of the year award in 1995, and has become an international phenomenon in the gaming community. The US Catan Championships were held in Indianapolis last August, and the winner is going to Germany for the world championships next summer.

And I am undefeated at this game…

Now I am sure some of you are wondering why I have not entered myself into the championships for this great game…I’m sure that even more of you couldn’t care less…

But read on anyway…

The reason that I have not entered these championships is that I am undefeated at this game…

Did I mention that?

Why would I enter a competition that might end with a blemish on my perfect record?

I mean, the person who eventually wins this tournament has probably lost the game at least once in his life, right?

So even when he or she wins the title as world champion at Settlers of Catan, they cannot say that they are undefeated…

But I can…

Of course, that does present a problem.

It means that I can never play the game again, as I would risk my perfect record…that’s too bad.

I will miss this game…Unless…

I could play against my daughter, Rachael.

She’s five…

But with my luck, one of her older siblings, or, dare I say it, her MOTHER, might come into the room and start coaching her on what moves to make.

That would present a problem.

I would have to cheat…

Or I could fake a heart attack…

I guess that would be cheating too…

This isn’t my fault. If my family had just managed to beat me in any of the games we had played, I would not be undefeated…I would not feel the pressure to maintain my perfect record…

But no…sadly, I was too skillful.

So now I have to carry this burden…the weight of having a better winning percentage than the eventual world champion…

SIGH…

Perfection is a tough job…it must be very tough on my family…

Ya know, it’s pretty selfish of me to subject them to the spotlight that comes with having a member of the family who is so perfect.

It would be a wonderful gesture on my part to sacrifice this perfect record so that my family can get back to leading a normal life…hmmm…

I know what I should do. I should play Settlers of Catan with my family…and I should LOSE…so that they no longer have to face a life of being weighed down by my perfection.

I will lose on purpose…

And I have stated it here as proof of my intentions…

So now, they will NOT have to gang up on me…they will not have to make the sole purpose of their playing to bring me down, to bring me to defeat.

Instead, I shall lovingly…willingly…SACRIFICIALLY lose at Settlers of Catan…

For the sake of my family…

That’s my story…

And I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Family, Society, Uncategorized

 

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