Friday, August 28, 2015

Trust the Process

“To teach to make a difference. To teach unusually well is to create magic.”  — Kay Redfield Jamison, Exuberance, the Passion for Life

There is something so invigorating about a new school year. It brings whispers of things to come, there is excitement in the air, and the classroom is buzzing with potential.

 I love the line in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” where Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan this time of year makes him want to buy up “bouquets of sharpened pencils.” YES! That’s it. A sharp pencil, a crisp sheet of paper...a clean slate. They all have something in common: the welcome of creativity, an opportunity to begin again.

I started school again on Monday, my 12th year as an adjunct art professor. I walked into a classroom full of strangers that I know will soon be my friends. I felt that familiar flicker of potential and saw combinations of joy, anticipation and horror on my students’ faces. The reality is, what we do in Watercolor 1 may look easy, but it can be terrifying. The assignments are designed to take everybody wwaaaayyy outside of their comfort zone. To try new things. To surrender control. To let the water do the work.

I have a formula for success that I’ve discovered applies just as much to life as it does to the classroom. Consider: 

1. Show up. 
Come to class, every time, on time. Bring all the necessary materials.
Be fully engaged the entire time. None of the magic that happens in class can be found on youtube or in a textbook. Demonstrations happen live and in real time. Everything we do is personally directed and hands-on. Missing that instruction and interaction comes with a very high opportunity cost.

2. Do the work. 
Complete all the assigned work on time. Stay caught up. There is no busywork in this class. Every assignment builds on the last and prepares you for the next one. I will not require any wasted efforts. Give each exercise your complete focus and your very best efforts.

3. Trust the process.
Sometimes we do things in class that are scary and hard. Many of these assignments are designed to take you WAY outside your comfort zone. It takes courage to try new approaches. Be brave! Especially important: When what you’re painting looks nothing like the image you have in your head, please trust the instructor, and the process being taught. Continue working through the process, despite the fuzz and the fog and maybe even some messiness. It will eventually turn out if you follow the instructions. In fact, it will most likely become something far more interesting and beautiful than you initially imagined.

Woody Allen said that "80% of success is showing up." And most of us readily agree that doing our best work is a chief source of personal fulfillment—whether we are paid or not. But the part that seems to be the most challenging—both in life and in the classroom—is learning to trust the process.

After 12 years of college-level teaching, something that has become abundantly clear to me is the importance of trusting in a mentor, a higher power. Just knowing that God is in charge of the universe helps to make sense of the chaos and upheaval of life—especially the murky parts. Not just believing, but really trusting—that His word is Truth, that He loves us and has our best interests at heart, that He knows something maybe we don't, and that He can turn the worst cataclysm into something better is ultimately key to our survival and success.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

This promise is rock solid. It takes trust to leave our comfort zone, to try new things, to surrender control, to let the Spirit do the work. But we prosper so much under his care and tutelage.

One of the great things about teaching and observing the learning continuum year after year is that we continue to learn so much about the universe and ourselves in the process.

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