Use The Power of Positivity to Make Someone’s Day

My teaching semester started with a bang and promptly knocked me on my butt. I took on too many classes and got overwhelmed fast. My need to be Superwoman (look how smart I am!), and fear around saying no, kept me from setting healthy workload limits, again.

It always takes me a few weeks to find my groove and relax into a new schedule and new students. This semester, I had a difficult time finding that groove.

Most of my fear spun around a new course I’ve never taught before. Always eager to (please) embrace new material, I accepted the challenge to teach it knowing I’d be shaky the first few weeks.

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My ego detests this process. Presenting and teaching communication theory to fifty sets of inquisitive eyeballs feels a little like the time I spontaneously joined the diving team sophomore year of high school.

Stepping out onto the diving board, legs shaking like a baby bird, I see my worried mother gazing out at me from the bleachers. Both of us wondering the same thing: why’d you put yourself on the spot like this? Easy: I thrive on that diving board. Mastering new challenges is my thing, even though anxiety usually crushes me in the process.

On top of the new course stress, a student from another class decided he didn’t like my rules and complained to my boss with some spectacularly choice words.

So, in perfect Kennedy-fashion, I chose to focus on that one student instead of the 128 un-angry others, and the new class instead of the familiar ones I am more comfortable teaching.

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Swimming in self-pity, I told my coworker and friend Toan, that I felt like a terrible teacher. Never mind that I’ve been teaching for almost eight years and love my job 95% of the time. Knowing I tend to take trips to “All-or- Nothing-Land,” Toan diffused me with kindness.

“You are radiant. You are a positive person and a great teacher. You know this.” I felt better, instantly.

My favorite priest, Father Mike Newman, once told me, “Michelle, you have the power to make or break someone’s day with your words. Use it wisely.”

I’ve thought about his advice and Toan’s compassion quite a bit. I actually attended a seminar recently where a spiritual teacher motivated the group to find ways to keep positivity in and push the negativity of others off you.

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Her whole premise is that no one can “make” you feel anything. Watching her work the room, and wondering if she meditated seven hours a day, I wished so badly that I could get there.

I also wondered, if we could successfully make the mean words roll off, wouldn’t the process also cancel out the favorable ones? If nobody can get to me, then how do I absorb and feel any incoming messages, good or bad?

The benefits of feeling the bad stuff, is that I can look at my own behavior. Going back to the student, I can look at my rules. Are they too rigid, can I loosen up or am I comfortable with my class policies the way they are?

There is always room for growth. If I turn my head and let critical words roll off completely, I don’t give myself the chance to look in the mirror.

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As far as encouraging words are concerned, let me have them. I’m still rolling around in Toan’s affirmations. In fact, I wrote them down to come back to next time I doubt myself.

I also spoke with my mom a lot those first weeks. She reminded me that she is always here for me when I’m cowering on that diving board, afraid to jump. Support makes a difference. Kind words make a huge difference.

As my semester progresses, I’m feeling better. That student isn’t angry anymore, and the new class is still a bit of a doozer, but so what? New classes are difficult for any teacher. Whenever my ego saunters in late telling me how stupid I look, I tell it to lock it up and sit down.

On the positivity train, I’ve been working hard to spread the love wherever I can.

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This week, for instance, I popped into the neighborhood chocolate shop for no particular reason (to buy some super fattening truffles that erase pain temporarily) and the joyful guy helping me really knew his stuff. So, I thanked him for his refreshing attitude and wrote a Yelp review about his awesomeness.

My sister played her flute to perfection at her homecoming game, and I posted a gaggle of pictures and praise to her Facebook.

I also braided my neighbor’s hair and told her how beautiful she looked, because she did.

Our opportunities to spread positivity are all around us. We can share compliments and joy with people we already love or with that rad new bus driver who remembers our name.

The more positive words I spread, the better I feel. It’s almost as if I’m saying the compliments to myself and loving me in the process. Funny how that works.

{Image credit: Alexander Solodukhin, Unsplash}


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