Friday, May 9, 2014

A Wizard's Words of Wisdom

"Think of the solution, not the problem."

That is a line from one of my favorite books, The Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. The book is mostly about Richard Cypher, a woodsman who faces enormous tragedy and learns that he is a wizard--- I think of the Sword of Truth Series as an adult version of the Harry Potter series (and highly recommend it to everyone!). In this moment, as Richard agonizes over all the way things could go wrong while trying to pretty much save the world, Zedd (Richard's mentor) tells Richard  he must "think of the solution, not the problem." This line stuck with me from the first time I read it nearly ten years ago.

This year, I've really tried to make this my mantra, and I thought that, in the midst of the chaos of the end of the semester/academic year, it was worth sharing with all of my educator and student friends out there.

In many ways, this mantra stands against a lot of what I've learned as a graduate student, where I've constantly been encouraged to problematize everything. Problematizing isn't a bad strategy for getting started, recognizing what's not working, but when it leaks into all facets of life, including your ability to complete tasks, problematizing can become a problem. I think many of us spend way too much time focusing on what's wrong instead of how to fix what's wrong, and all it does it give us things to fret about, to complain about, to write Facebook rants about.

But when it comes to practicality over intellectualizing, action over hypothesizing, sometimes, we just need to stop problematizing and focus on simplifying. This is especially true during finals season when things tend to pile up in sometimes conflicting ways. Sometimes, agonizing over all the ways that these problems can negatively impact you can actually prevent you from being able to take action, simply resulting in more stress.

When I stop thinking about everything on my plate or all the ways things could not work out, I become a better person. I focus in on my strategy and deal with problems as they come instead of panicking about problems that I may never face. I am less edgy and more productive (hey, look, even got a blog post done in the middle of conferencing and grading) because I have less floating around in my head to clog up my problem-solving abilities. I am nicer to the people around me. Even though I'm stressed and there are 600 things that need to be done at any given moment and a bunch of life-altering decisions to be made, the struggle is actually mostly internal.

I know some people will argue, "well, I can't do that," and I am sometimes one of them--I am not an ideal being and fall into traps sometimes too- but I promise you, you are capable of applying this philosophy. It takes a commitment to yourself. We have to remember we are strong, we are resilient, and we can take whatever comes our way, as long as we focus on our strategies and our abilities to tackle these issues rather than focus on the problem itself and how terrible it is. We can do this by not only telling ourselves to "think of the solution, not the problem," but by breaking things down into manageable tasks instead of focusing on everything as a whole. We can also ask for help when help is needed. Things will or will not get done regardless of how much anxiety we make ourselves feel. The key is to focus on what is within our control and let go of that which is not if we are to be our best selves.

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