I’ve been going another metaphysical growth spurt lately. Unlike my 12-year-old, for whom it seems like we are having to obtain clothing in the next size up every two months or so, this was more of a growing in to myself.
It started a week or so ago, when a trusted colleague pointed out that I have had a bad habit of interrupting other people. I wasn’t aware enough of the habit to notice that it was occurring in all facets of my life, and I found myself humbled and quite abashed. The new growth started right then, when I became introspective instead of hurt. I turned inward to seek when the behavior occurred and what triggered it. What I found was a little disheartening, but could be remedied to an extent: I found that I process what I hear a little more slowly than other people around me. Who me — an auditory processing issue? I’m smart and an excellent student, so how could that be? So I considered many scenarios.
For example, my family and I were watching a show on television, and I commented that the presenter was talking awfully fast. They teasingly told me that they could understand the speech with no problems. Those comments brought me back a few months ago, when I met Ben Foss, an expert about dyslexia, who demonstrated a reader app available on Apple devices. He played back a section of text at varying speeds, and I noticed that I was among perhaps 10% of the audience who rated a certain dictation speed as being too fast to understand comfortably. I considered my own comments about being a lousy classroom student (which I am– I do much better with self-directed learning), especially since I’m taking a small handful of on-ground classes right now. I have a teacher right now who is very knowledgeable, but talks so fast that I feel exhausted after listening to her lecture because I feel like I’m hanging off the back of a speeding train. The same goes with colleagues in meetings when they start speaking quickly: I have to take notes to capture the salient points because I simply cannot focus on what they are saying because it’s too fast for me to process in the moment.
Alright, so I have to allow myself more time to process what I hear. What else could be causing the issue? I have a moderate anxiety issue that is prevalent enough to be diagnosed. I sometimes feel that if I don’t say what is on my mind, I will not have another opportunity to do so. I also have a gregarious family who likes to talk through their problems, sometimes talking over one another. If you layer my experiences with anxiety and a slightly slower auditory processing speed, my tendency to interrupt people makes sense.
Great. Everyone is right and I need to solve this problem, not now but right now.
I found myself with two primary choices: Chastise myself and use something like a rubber band to snap against my wrist so that the pain would cause me to avoid the behavior, or use positive affirmations to tell myself what I must become. I’ve taught classes about positive motivation, so I chose the latter route. Looking for resources, I found a phone app that sent me customized positive affirmations throughout the day, so I loaded it up with affirmations about how I want to be and set it to repeat a few times each day. I’ll keep using this affirmation set until I firmly have the behavior under control.
Alright, one problem with a working solution, so onto the next step of today’s epiphany.
One way that I have chosen to use my doctoral skills is to edit dissertations of up-and-coming doctors from my alma mater. It makes me a few extra bucks here and there, and I tend to attract clients who have all but given up on themselves because they have such difficulty expressing their ideas in writing. One of my clients is approaching the end of her doctoral journey, and asked me for a thorough, candid review of her work. At first, I was a little intimidated by her request, because I wasn’t sure if I knew enough to offer that type of feedback. (I have not been esteemed as a doctoral mentor by my alma mater, but that is only because their accreditation expressly forbids it.) In my advice to her this morning, I told her to imagine herself as being a medical doctor with a patient who has a complex problem that she has now studied and is ready to present her findings, recommendations, and specific prescription.
So here’s the epiphany: I am a doctor, just as much as one who wears a white lab coat and treats sick patients. The difference is that I’m not limited in my choice of apparel and my “patients” are not physically ill; instead, they have a complex problem and need an expert to prescribe a solution.
With that epiphany, I suddenly saw myself in a completely different light. My students all have extraordinarily complex problems and our educational system, while it has done the best it can, has only offered a short-term remedy for their symptoms. It is my job to look more deeply for the cause and determine a longer-term solution. It means that I have to us all my critical and creative skills to find solutions that don’t yet exist, and then communicate those solutions to other practitioners. It is my responsibility to listen fully and to think carefully about each student’s needs and determine the best course of action.
If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. It would be enough to scare me if I wasn’t so sure about myself, which includes all my talents, skills, training, and experiences. I need every bit of it — even the not-so-wonderful parts — because I can draw inspiration and compassion from everything I am to present the expert recommendations that the world needs from me.
It places my self-image in an entirely different frame, one that is completely unique but utterly necessary. And one from which I can no longer run, no longer hide, and simply cannot deny is mine. Like Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, I am the new bridge to fix, not simply band-aid, what is broken. I’m glad I’m strong!
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