I once made an appointment with a counsellor provided by my employee benefit package for people having difficulties with situations at work. He asked me what was bothering me.
“I’ve lost the joy,” I said. He looked like he needed more from me, in order to understand my problem.
“I expect joy from my work,” I said, “And the joy has disappeared.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. I knew then that he wasn’t going to be any help, because he was used to people who wanted job satisfaction, but he thought it was really too much to ask for joy.
I knew I had right on my side, because it was there, in the statement of values our Department had written:
“We value the joy that comes from our work with students.”
The paragraph beginning “We value the joy…” means that we expect joy. We work to make it possible. We recognize it when it appears. We cherish it.
Katherine Gotthardt, who has made many thoughtful comments on this blog, talks about “teaching highs” and I know what she means. That’s part of the joy!
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Teaching is teaching. No matter the students. So much joy each day.
Wendell and Ann–
I’ve cruised past your comments on several occasions, not knowing how to reply. I felt when I wrote it that this was a powerful piece, not because of my words or my story, but because the idea of joy in our work has so much potential for overthrowing the ordinary. Work and joy are so often in separate parts of our lives. Yet bringing them together unleashes so much energy, such a force for good in the world.
I didn’t write or post anything in the week following this post about joy. I think I scared myself.
What do you mean you think you scared yourself, Kate?
Well, you asked the million dollar question, Katherine, and I cruised past it several days. I think I’ll answer by a quotation from Marianne Williamson, often attributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” (from Marianne Williamson A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3)
When I think of what might happen if everyone sought and found work that gave them joy, my mind balks. When I think of a social system set up to ensure that people found joy in their work, I can’t believe it’s possible.
BTW, here is an old poem I wrote on the topic of forgetting. Editors never thought it worth publishing, but I’m in my “screw editors” period anyway. It’s not about them.
originally written in 1997, revised 12/8/2008
The Babble of Mrs. Barrenger
In the attic of my heirloom home
live tied boxes of bundled letters,
stiff and yellowed as old bones,
chipped flowers, children, and friends.
It has been suggested I throw
them away—those framed girls are grown,
handsome boys creak by like men,
slow as my eye across the wavering page.
But still, the pile breeds, one box begetting
another. And I am afraid of forgetting.
–Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Ah! Yes, I am familiar with Marianne Williamson. I took a course based on her spiritual approach to weight loss book. She’s quite insightful (to say nothing of Nelson Mandela, who is in a league of his own).
I have difficulty believing I am afraid of my own potential. What I fear is I will dig deeply enough to uncover it, find a way to harness it, use it wisely, but suddenly forget how I discovered it and learned to apply it in the first place, resulting in regression and massive disappointment all around.
One of the benefits of writing, scrap booking, archive-keeping, etc. is that you leave a trail for yourself, one you can trace back to your own process. But sometimes, especially as we get older and our collection grows, we have so many files, our record system becomes unwieldy and we can’t remember where anything is! It’s like when I clean my house and consequently forget where I put something in my attempt to get organized. It’s like my file system for my class handouts–there’s not enough space to keep things in an easily visible order so I already know what I have on hand. It takes a long time for me to sort and re-sort. But then again, maybe sorting is part of the process because each time we do it, we learn something new about something we already learned a little about.
I also dream of a world in which we all take joy in our work, even when the work is annoying at times. I guess sometimes we have to restructure the way we view annoying tasks. For example, I really struggle with logging my students’ attendance and completing monthly paperwork. I put it off. I complain about how much I hate it. Well this month was different. First, I used the larger computer monitor my husband gave me so I could actually SEE the Excel grids, alleviating a good part of my frustration. Then I asked myself how I could view paperwork in a more positive light. It suddenly occurred to me that examining and logging my students’ hours was a tribute to their efforts, even if they attended only a few times that month. When I am completing my paperwork, I am reporting their success. If they don’t attend at all, I am reporting their needs.
Now I am not saying I will never again procrastinate or that I won’t grumble about numbers, but if I can recall the moment I realized reports were meaningful, I will be better at retaining joy.
I did it again, huh? Hijacked your post. Sorry! 🙂
I’ve also come back to this blog a couple of times. It made a real impact on me.
You’re right to expect joy.
Those ‘teaching highs’ are the hallmark of engaging education. Learning shouldn’t be reduced to the mediocre. ‘Satisfaction’ is nowhere near as inspiring as joy and that infectious ‘oomph’ that we experience when students get the learning bug.
Glad you found it again – for you and for your students.
I’ve cruised this post a couple of times without commenting because it raises so many memories and emotions for me.
For the past two springs, I and some peers have held a short series of reflection groups (2 or 3 Sunday afternoons in a row) to talk about this very thing: how do we stay happy and healthy in our work? One of my take-aways from those sessions was the immense value, for me, in having those same-minded peers to share with.
“We value the joy that comes from our work with students.” I can’t even believe that was a statement made in the values! I am not sure we could get away with that in the U.S. Someone might lose the joy and file a lawsuit.
Indeed it was a statement in our list of values. I remember the day our department wrote the values statement. The group facilitator said she had never before had a group write joy as one of their values, but we wanted it there. I remember working with my colleague Steve to shape the exact wording for approval by the whole group. Now there is a man who finds joy in his work, and is impatient with anything that gets in its way.
It was your link that inspired me to write this post, so thanks to you.
How have you made out? Did you get the joy back?
Oh, yes. Thanks for asking.