De-Stress Your Life! The Power of "No" And The Strategic "Yes"
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
Teachers get stressed out. A LOT. Hardly a day goes by when I don't see a teacher scrambling, hair flying out in all directions, eyes red from lack of sleep, praying for summer to come sooner. They have meetings for this, committees for that, papers to grade, lessons to plan, professional development to prepare and attend ON TOP of actually teaching the kids. It's a lot. But here's the thing, that's not me.
I get my grades and comments in a week before they're due. I give more assessments and grade them faster then almost anyone I've ever worked with. My lesson plans are done weeks in advance, even when developing new curricula. I coach and lead after school activities all year, more than I'm required to. I started the Millionaire Teacher Club at my school to help teachers sort out their financial lives. But the amount of times I've felt rushed or harried in the last 5 years of teaching could be counted on both hands.
Do you want to know my secret of zen-like calm? I say no.
If I am not interested in doing something that is optional, I say no, and I don't feel guilty. There is great power in the phrase "I'm sorry, I can't do that, I already have an obligation then." This can be especially crucial if it's your first year in a new job, or early in your career, when you want to impress the new bosses and get a little job security. You think, "Well, if I just do everything, I'll show how valuable I am." But that attitude quickly leads to teachers who have taken on too many obligations, are stressed out, and burn out.
Most of the teachers I've seen pull runners or lose their jobs for lack of performance are the ones who are super stressed out because they've taken on too much. The plan to do everything so you can have job security ends up costing people jobs and careers, and I've seen it more times than I can count.
And if you're just getting in to the teaching game, here are a couple innocuous sounding activities that are pretty much guaranteed to take huge amounts of time and cause massive stress.
Yearbook - Sure, it sounds like you can just have some well-organized kids take care of most of it, but nope, you'll be smashed by deadlines, dealing with printers, and finding photos all year.
Elementary musicals - NOPE, just NOPE. Wrangling 80 Nine-year-olds and getting them to be sort-of in step and sort-of on pitch so parents can take a ton of pictures is a recipe for massive stress. This will take months of your life, and they won't be fun months.
Now, of course this doesn't only apply to teaching. I'm sure every field and career is loaded with opportunities to overtax yourself and end up a soulless husk of humanity, praying for retirement.
Eagle-eyed readers will probably be thinking at this point, "This guy's a liar! He said he coaches and starts clubs, and does more than his contract says to do!" And to you, I say huzzah!
Alongside my teaching duties over the years I have:
Helped start a school from scratch, developing English, Social Studies, and Photography programs.
Coached softball, chess, and Academic Games
Started the aforementioned Millionaire Teacher Club
Been on more committees and professional development panels than I know what to do with.
And more that I'm probably forgetting over a 13 year career.
Some of those I was roped into by insistent administrators. I haven't always been perfect with my deployment of "no's". But the extra stuff up there? Mostly it's been the result of the Strategic Yes.
The Strategic Yes
There's a quote I've always liked. “Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This resonates deeply with me, and is the foundation of the Strategic Yes.
Basically, it boils down to only saying yes to things that I am deeply excited about. They are things that I know I will love giving my all to. I don't want to do 10 things poorly. I would much rather do 3 things to my fullest capacity, and really bring value to my students' lives, my life, and the learning/professional environment of the school.
This way, the other stuff isn't extra work. It doesn't stress me out. It's just me expressing my loves and passions and putting them out in the world. I don't mind going above and beyond then. I'll happily show up early, stay late, and devote the whole of my creativity and energy to making something great. It makes going to work even more fun, and really does make me The Happiest Teacher!
These extra things that I love also make my life safer in a way. If I have 3 things I love about going to school, and one of them collapses for whatever reason, like a change in administration or student interest, I still have 2 other great things! If I only have 1 thing I love, and it collapses, I might be looking for a new job as soon as possible! And if I have 10 things that I've been guilted into doing that I don't like? I'll be miserable. You have to find that limited number of things you love.
The other side to this is being open to new experiences that you haven't done before. I'm a big believer that this is the only way you can find out what you're passionate about, so you will know what to say yes to. So if you're curious about something and think you might like it, give it a shot! But if you try something that you think you'll like, and you don't actually like it, it's ok to give it up. It's ok to say No the next time someone asks you to do it. Use that time to try something else that may make getting up in the morning that much easier.
Also, remember that there is more to your life than your career. Even if it's something you love, like I love teaching. The more you say yes to at your work, the less time you will have for any other extracurricular pursuits. For me, those are things like music, travel, photography, chess, and cooking. For you it may be your amazing kids and scrap booking and cats. Heck, maybe what gets you happy at work is your time doing Elementary Musicals and Yearbook. And that's awesome, because that means I don't have to do it! I can happily say "No thanks, I have another commitment" and walk away without a shred of guilt.
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