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You Were Never Meant to Pass This Test on Your Own

Test Answer Sheet

 

Test Answer Sheet

Image: nongpimmy / www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

We’ve all been there and done them – and, if you’re a teacher, you’ve even probably supervised them:

Tests.

Formal written tests are carried out under exam conditions, which includes silence and just getting in with it – on your own. I’ve never done a test where I could use someone else’s expertise – it’s always been a test of my own.

Do you ever feel that life is a test – and that, from time to time – sometimes even often – you’re failing?

 

Life does often feel like a test but, unlike a formal assessment, we were never meant to pass this test on our own.

As a parent, I have to advise, correct, guide and affirm my two kids. When intervention is called for, I intervene. Sometimes, I don’t even have to make the decision to intervene – I get asked for help. I don’t expect my children to manage everything on their own – and I am glad that I can be instrumental in their growth and development. They will – and do – fail at things but I expect them to have another go, to try again, to learn from their mistakes. Growing up was never meant to be a test: kids may often look to adults for affirmation and approval but they also rely on the bigger people for advice.

 

As an adult, I don’t claim to have perfected what we call ‘life’. I am still full of questions about how best to live my life. I experience doubt, uncertainty, fear and worry. I know that I can do better – I know that I want to do better and I know that I will do better. But I also know that I cannot do better without help. I rely on people around me – sometimes directly (by asking their advice), sometimes indirectly (by just watching and observing).

 

As a teacher,  I often remind children that it’s ok to make mistakes because they can learn their greatest lessons from the mistakes they make. However, even making mistakes is best done in the company of others that we feel we can trust. You no doubt feel more able to take risks and make mistakes when you are with people who accept you as you are and allow you to make – and learn from – mistakes.

My best friends are the people who allow me to be who I am, who let me get away with it and who like me in spite of it. That is liberating! And when I’m with people like that, I no longer feel that life is a test. Instead, it’s an adventure, it’s an opportunity to experiment, to take risks, to try out new things and not worry if they don’t work out.

When you live your life with people you love and who love you, it doesn’t matter if you fail because, as Clarence the angel said in that timeless film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘,

No man is a failure who has friends.

 

You were never meant to pass this test on you own – you were meant to, in the words of H. Jackson Brown, the author of ‘Life’s Little Instruction Book’,

…throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover…

 

Thrive

Garden painting
Garden painting

Garden – artist unknown

My dad inspires me.

He has the knack of making a garden come alive and look like a place you want to be in. Even as an octogenarian, he spends hours outdoors tending to nature. And that’s not just in his own garden – he’s often to be found in other people’s gardens as well.

My favourite place in his Cornish garden is the raised patio: it is crazy-paved with a decent-sized pond populated with fish, lilies, frogs (in season) and duckweed. Irregular steps lead down to the lawn and alpines fill the crevices amongst the rockery that borders the patio. Elsewhere in the garden, fruit bushes and ornamental shrubs and  trees adorn the borders.

My dad’s garden thrives.

The same cannot be said about every garden – or, for that matter, every human being.

 

BARELY SURVIVING

Having worked in the education sector for a couple of decades, I have come across countless children who are living a life in which they are barely surviving, let alone thriving. Unfortunately, statistics seem to indicate that large numbers of teachers are also just surviving.

A recent and perhaps deliberately provocative article in The Guardian highlighted a report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and highlighted the plight of the ‘ghost child’ – ‘the institutionalised infant.., wandering from playground to desk to after-school club without real purpose, nodding off through boredom and fatigue.’ It adds, ‘the ghost child is increasingly likely to be taught by the ghost adult – a teacher grey with fatigue and stress, stuck at school for 10 hours or more a day, wandering from duty to duty in playground, classroom or after-school club.’

Why have we come to this?

 

AIR, WATER and SUNSHINE

Returning to the plants in my dad’s garden, they thrive on sunshine, air and water, which Cornwall has in reasonably generous amounts, especially the latter. All of these are externally provided – drawn from natural resources. What does this look like in the life of a human being? Consider this:

a) Roots draw water up from the ground in which a plant is anchored in and deliver it to the rest of the plant. As human beings, we need  a source of continual refreshment that ‘hydrates our soul’ – and I’m not talking about the alcoholic liquid variety here! For most of us, companionship within our family and close family circles sustains us and provides the emotional resources we need to thrive in or relationships. However, for many adults and, unfortunately, children, acute loneliness due to lack of close family or friendship bonds causes a crippling lack of ‘hydration’, resulting in wilting human beings.

b) Plants respire through tiny holes in their leaves so that they can draw in air. Without air, a plant will simply languish and die. Human beings are designed to thrive but, for many, the opposite experience is true: they languish because they do not have meaning and purpose. This is the ‘air’ that keeps us from languishing. It starts almost from birth as we explore the world and discover our ability to influence outcomes but, if our sphere of influence dies and our sense of worth and dignity goes with it, so does our capacity to thrive.

c) Plants need light – sunshine in particular – and, as you are aware, they turn their leaves to face the the sunshine in order to absorb light energy. Apart from the obvious energy we derive from ingestion of food, we as humans need energising. We need stimulus. We need to be creative. We need to be problem-solvers. Much of this naturally develops through our play experiences as children but we all know that play has changed considerably in recent decades. Educators bewail the fact that children now spend much of their free time indoors – not outdoors with other children exploring, taking risks and developing essential social skills. However, as educators, we can help to correct this through the experiences we give children in school settings – and many nurseries in particular are very good at just that: creating vibrant play spaces for children to develop essential life long skills that energise their creativity.

 

PLAY, PLAY, PLAY

There is plenty of truth in the old maxim attributed to one of my favourite thinkers, Albert Einstein:

Play is the highest form of learning.

He is also recorded as saying,

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

How are we facilitating children’s play effectively in order to develop their imagination –  in order to bring them sunshine?

 

MEANING AND PURPOSE

Margaret Moore from The International Coach Federation writes in her blog post,

A sense of a higher purpose is a potent source of life fuel, especially when times are tough.

She also writes,

One of the most popular songs today (with more than 300 million YouTube visits), Katy Perry’s “Roar” speaks to the power of the human life force to make the world a better place. Katy sings from her jungle perch, “I am a champion and you’re going to hear me roar.”

But she also adds,

The vast majority of us are just surviving or even languishing—far from thriving, certainly not roaring.

 

So, to summarise,

A. Ensure you have a trusted circle of friends and family around you and, if you work with children, ensure they have the same.

B. Explore and discover meaning and purpose in your life and help others do the same.

C. Be creative in your problem-solving – and, above all, play. Then teach others to do the same.

 

THRIVE IN STYLE

I’ll finish with a quote from another of my favourite thinkers, Maya Angelou:

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

I’ll drink to that…