Category Archives: Teaching

How to Silence The Censor and Step Into Creativity

“Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” – Miles Davis

“You shall not pass!” – Gandalf the Grey (to the Balrog, a demon of the ancient world, a foe beyond any of you)

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As a creative person, one of the books that most changed my perspective on what creativity means is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I read it probably 20 years ago now, but a number of concepts have stuck with me all of these years.

I was having a conversation this morning with a friend of mine, and Julia’s inspiration revisited me again.

My friend (who is a private person, and shall remain nameless) is an intensely creative person, and is very accomplished academically – he holds a couple of impressive Master’s Degrees. He has an interesting bit of personal mythology: he tends to believe that his nature as an academic means that he’s naturally inclined (trained?) to be somewhat perfectionist about anything he writes. I can certainly understand that. Apart from his extensive work in his graduate programs, his research and his academic writing, he’s been published. So my friend isn’t somebody who is perennially hiding away and refusing to share his creative gifts with the world. But perfectionism, as Julia Cameron explains, “is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop – an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

This morning my friend and I were discussing a political issue and I reminded him that he needed to write about his perspective in it. He and I discuss these issues regularly, but I told him “If it just stays between us, you’re robbing the rest of the world of your point of view.”

He told me something that so many of us creative people all too frequently say. He said “I’m far and away my own worst critic.”

Aren’t we all? My friend has a bad case of perfectionism. And he knows it.

So I wanted to write this post for my friend, but also for all of you. Because you all have creative projects inside of you that need to get out, I just know it. To paraphrase Julia Cameron from her book, “if you don’t share them with the world, you’re ripping the rest of us off.” I’ll tell you what I told my friend. Feel free to substitute your preferred pronouns. Here goes …

So …

You think your work sucks? You think it’s not worth sharing?

You gotta silence The Censor inside your head. Think of it as The Balrog, and yourself as Gandalf. Tell that asshole, “You Shall Not Pass!”

Tell him to shut up. He’s relentless. He’s going to tell you that your work is shit. He’s very loyal that way, because he only really cares about censoring your work. He might even be the most loyal follower you ever have.

As loyal as he is, you just need to tell that asshole to shut the hell up. Seriously.

The Censor does indeed have a purpose, though. He’ll never go away completely, so don’t expect him to. But he needs to be relegated to a minor role. He needs to be dealt with. You have to face him and call him out.

The Censor is like a stalker, hiding in the shadows. He knows your every move. He may even know you better than you know yourself. He anticipates your best countermeasures and will try to head them off.

When you start telling The Censor to shut up, you learn to deal with his nonsense. You learn that all of his censoring bullshit can actually focus you.

The censor basically is telling you that your work sucks, and that you’re going to fail if you put it out there. Because he thinks that failure is your greatest fear.

And this is where you reframe your thinking.

I have learned that stepping into my own creative self means that I must have the courage to fail. I have also found that when I am willing to fail, I rarely do. Seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.

The times when I fear failure are when I am most likely to fall on my face. When I confidently move into a project knowing that it’s probably going to suck, thinking that failure is a very likely possibility, very often I do excellent work. Sometimes facing certain failure is when I do my best creative work.

They say you have to laugh at the devil to defeat it. The Censor is like that. You gotta laugh at him. You gotta stare him in the eyes and say to him, “alright asshole, let’s see what you got. Take your best shot. But you’re not getting by me. You shall not pass.”

You face him head on. You don’t ignore him. You make eye contact, keep your shoulders square, and your head up. It’s intense, but the moment you turn sideways, or look down, or break eye contact … that’s the moment he beats you. He’s an opportunist. He looks for the easy opening. You can’t give him the pleasure.

I said it before, he’s your Censor. He’s incredibly loyal. Like it or not, he’s yours. Every time you step into a creative project, you get a fresh opportunity to square off with him. It’s just the two of you, alone on the bridge, and one of you is going to stay standing.

When you face him, he loses power. But when you look away, he gains power.

So don’t look away from your Censor. Face him. It’s the only way you take away his power. And that’s how you share your creativity with the rest of us, because we’re really excited to see what you’re capable of.

Now get to work!

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)

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Jargon – Symptoms and Home Treatment

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On a conference call last week with a potential client, I was again confronted with a disease that plagues businesspeople: Excessive Use of Industry Jargon. This is a serious disease that often goes unreported. It’s time to bring it out into the open and talk about it.

Because the majority of my professional experience has been spent practicing PR and marketing communications, I’ve seen many cases of this condition. But today what I wanted to address are some of the possible reasons why it continues to plague businesspeople. It’s an insidious condition that infects people without regard to age, gender, level of education, race, color, or creed. You may even carry this disease yourself without realizing it. That’s OK, the diagnosis and cures are both simple and can be done in the privacy of your own home. But first:

Who is prone: this disease is borne out of either insecurity, or a kind of boastful pride (the same kind that infects schoolyard bullies and information hoarders). The afflicted believe that if they hold esoteric knowledge and don’t share it, then they are members of an elite club. They have heard (but misinterpreted) the phrase “knowledge is power,” and misunderstood it to mean that “knowledge is power … when that knowledge is not shared with others.” If that were true, then teachers would be unquestioningly the most powerful people in the world, and none of you would have learned anything in school.

Jargon and buzzwords are words and phrases that appear within organizations and industries and are used to describe products, services and unique characteristics of that group. The key thing to remember is that they are a form of shorthand, and do not instantly make sense to people outside the group. Everyone is guilty of this. It may be the most prevalent disease in business. For example,

  • Journalists talk about “ledes” instead of introductory sentences
  • Hotel people talk about “rack rates” instead of standard prices 
  • Ad sales people talk about “avails” instead of available space
  • Graphic designers talk about “mock-ups” instead of prototype designs
  • Marketing people talk about “The Creative” instead of the art concept

  • Biologists talk about “macro-invertebrates” instead of insects 
  • Corporate trainers talk about “staff augmentation” instead of … well, I still have no idea what this means in plain language

You get the point. Your industry has its own terms just like these. 

It is important to note that there are times when use of jargon is totally appropriate. Feel free to use it at meetings of other employees in your group who know these phrases and their meanings. But don’t use it in public. Don’t use it on a sales call. You might think it makes you sound like an expert, but it really just confuses your audience.

The Symptoms: self-detection is difficult. But you may have noticed these signs in others… Use of buzzwords, industry terms and three-letter acronyms (“TLA’s”). Audience members seem confused, isolated and distant. Quizzical looks from others following your talk.

Home Treatment: first, learn to think like a teacher. Observe your audience. Look for nonverbal cues – a furrowed brow, a confused expression, total silence on the other end of the phone – because your audience may not be confident enough to ask for clarification of your buzzwords and jargon. Ask simple questions like, “do you understand what I mean when I said ‘Price Point’?” And then of course you need to define the term and confirm understanding. (by the way, “price point” is just a lengthy way to say “price” …)

With effective home treatment, the prognosis is good. Anyone can learn to use clear, plain language to get their point across. If you manage to correct this condition, others will find you more personable, more effective and more likable.

And who doesn’t want that?

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)

An Apple For Teachers

My boss writes a monthly political opinion column for a magazine called Northwest Business Monthly. He ran for state senate in 2004, as a Republican, though he now says that the Republican Party is frustrating to him. He calls himself a “moderate conservative.”

I don’t write a monthly column for anyone, I mostly just write this blog and discuss politics with my wife and anyone else who’ll listen. I’ve never run for public office (unless you count my unsuccessful bid for sixth grade class vice president — I think it was my philosophical unwillingness to promise Dr. Pepper in the school drinking fountains that ultimately spelled my demise). I vote Democrat, though I’d have to admit that the dems and most American politics are frustrating to me right now. I call myself a “big fat liberal”, but in truth I’m probably closer to center than I typically am willing to admit.

He and I get along very well. And while we have somewhat different politics, we have a mutual respect for each other. We welcome feedback from each other. We welcome debate. That is why today I must take issue with the two significant assertions he makes in his column in the June issue. One assertion is fairly miniscule. The other is very substantial.

The small issue: John Stossel should win some sort of “Journalist of the Year” award.

The Biggie: “Teachers are underpaid” is a myth.

I’m very upset that so many people continue to buy this notion. Teachers ARE underpaid. I’m going to show you why.

But first let’s deal with Stossel.

John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20” is a sensationalist entertainer who had frequently misled his audience (and been caught doing so). He’s not a journalist in my book. To wit: in February of 2000, he reported that commercially grown produce has no more pesticide than organic produce. Later that year, the Washington Post (a reputable publication, by most accounts) reported that the research upon which Stossel’s report was based had never been conducted. Read about it by clicking here. You can read more about Stossel by clicking here. Be sure to check the sources. They’re equally reputable. He deserves no such award.

Now let’s move on to the Big One. Stossel has written a few books, most recently one titled “Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity”. I don’t intend to read this book (and my boss hasn’t yet either, as he claims in his column). Stossel asserts the common claim that “teachers are underpaid” is a myth. 

When I got incensed about reading this in my boss’ column, I called a friend in California who’s a teacher. What follows is a fairly simple explanation for the fact that teachers are underpaid. It’s not my idea, and I won’t take credit for it, but it is important to understand nonetheless.

Here’s the scenario: let’s say you were to offer a teacher a babysitting/child care wage. For example, I pay my babysitter $4 per hour per child. If I had one kid, I’d pay her $4 per hour, two kids? $8 per hour and so on. Now on an hourly basis, this amounts to $1.15 less than the federal minimum wage. Since I live in Washington, she’s making over $3 less than the minimum wage. $4 per hour is a fair, market-driven wage for child care, and if I could afford to pay her more I would, and when I can afford to, I will.

We’ll offer our teacher $0 for vacation. Though most teachers have the summer “off”, they don’t collect paychecks during the summer. And most responsible teachers use the summer for lesson planning and cirriculum organization so their school year can beconsiderably more orderly.

We’ll offer $0 for planning, grading papers, email, calling parents, attending to extracurricular activities. That’s about 5 extra hours per day during the school year. We’ll call it 900 hours of unpaid work per year (5 hours per day TIMES 180 instructional days) –and that’s a fairly conservative. This amounts to a loss of around $3,600 if we are paying babysitting wage, far more (approximately $5,400) if you consider it overtime.

We offer $0 for the extra supplies teachers must buy every year because the school district won’t–on average, $1,000 per teacher–and far more if the teacher has their own computer.

Offer $0 for attending conferences, for taking classes and continuing to educate oneself as a professional. Not to mention the fact that continuing education is required by law. This amounts to roughly $1,000 per year.

Now let’s do the math, and see if this offer sounds good. For the purposes of the folowing examples, we’ll assume the following are true: an average class has approximately 30 students, the average teacher teaches 6 classes per day and that there are 180 instructional days in each school year. These numbers could all shift slightly depending on the district.

$4 x 30 students per class x 6 classes per day x 180 instructional days = $129,600.

At the Federal minimum wage, it’s $166,860.

To me that sounds more like the salary of the lobbyist in the state capitol who is lurking on behalf of the textbook publishers and standardized test publishers, bribing state legislators with campaign funds to adopt their educationally bankrupt, extraordinarily expensive products.

But we all know that teaches don’t make that much money. According to the State of Washington, a first-year teacher in this state who holds a bachelor’s degree has a base salary of $31,386, starting in the fall of 2006. Now let’s figure how much the taxpayers are paying per child, per hour, if the teacher is a first year teacher in the state of Washington. Let’s do the math again.

Annual base salary of $31,386 MINUS $2000 out-of-pocket per year for supplies and continuing education DIVIDED BY 180 Instructional days DIVIDED BY 6 classes per day DIVIDED BY 30 students per class … EQUALS:

90.7 cents an hour. And that doesn’t even include the opportunity cost of all the unpaid work that teachers do outside their work day.

Every Washington teacher and supporter of Washington teachers should be wearing a T-shirt that says in giant letters:

90.7 CENTS AN HOUR

There’s probably a sweatshop somewhere in Bangladesh or Indonesia that pays better.

The idea that teachers are underpaid only works if you assume ALL of the following:

1. Teaching is easier than babysitting; hence the idea that having more than one kid at once should mean the taxpayers are entitled to some kind of “discount” per child.

2. Teaching is FAR easier than day care–because it is FAR less expensive. And conservatives want to privatize public education; in that situation, the amount of money reaching the classroom and the teachers would drop precipitously in order to line the pockets of the corporate bosses running the privatized schools. Superintendents and throngs of district administrators with mysterious unknown responsibilities are already draining the system of valuable dollars. In a corporate environment these would be the last to go if the budget had to be balanced.

3. Teaching should require no training at all, since it’s the only job where the employees have to pay to train themselves on the job.

If teaching were lucrative, politicians would do it.

If teaching were easy, then half of all first year teachers wouldn’t leave the profession within 5 years. You can read about it in the Washington Post.  Want to know why the education system is “failing”? That statistic tells the whole story.

Next time you meet a teacher, you should thank them for working for what amount to slave wages. Give them a big hug and offer to buy them lunch.

Next time someone tells you that teachers or overpaid, ask them if they’d be willing to work for 90.7 cents an hour.

And tell them to check their sources.