My dear friend Beth has humor and courage leaking out of her fingernails. Being around her makes me laugh hard and think harder, and her wisdom and insight pierce me with love and grace on a regular basis. She wrote this piece about navigating work and new motherhood with self-leadership, and I love how she frames it like a journey rather than a destination. Enjoy.
Trust The Process
In gearing up to teach another year of English to partially-willing pubescent souls, I had to harness my writing-teacher chi yet again. Convincing these iPhone-holding, Facebook addicted texting machines that the writing process matters seems to get harder by the nanosecond. The accessibility of information is so quick that they want to write an essay or a short story in minutes, as opposed to weeks. Over and over I say, “This is a process, and it is full of opportunities.” We were all teenagers, I am sure you can see eyes rolling when I say such things.
It seems the worst punishment I can impart on my students is to revise. I am pretty much submitting them to a form of sick torture when I say, “You will be turning in a complete rough draft.”
“Uh, Mrs. Wirth,” says generic sassy student, “if it’s complete, isn’t it final?”
No, because most of the time our first ideas are not usually our best.
And, as is the case over and over again with the writing process, this is a metaphor for life. Sometimes our first drafts, which are our own ideas or visions for our lives, are not always the best. Then, when we are very brave, we ask ourselves how I can revise my plan? Could a different plan be somehow better or more impactful than what I first envisioned? How can we dare to imagine bigger, better or different things for ourselves?
Despite the fact that students flippantly and eagerly post their thoughts on Facebook for all to see, they are extremely hesitant to share their writing with a peer. But, since my cruelty knows no bounds, I not only make them share their thoughts with one real live person, but groups. Yes, they have writing groups. I think their agony is rooted in the fact that this act of revision is done in person. There is no screen to shelter the facial expressions of their friends and classmates as they muddle through one another’s drafts. The writing process invites us to be part of a community. Revising, whether it is a life plan or essay, is not meant to be done in private. The time and energy that goes into this refining process should be shared.
When I look at a student who has loved their short story and tell them that the plot or character is good, but it could be better, I am encouraged when they look overwhelmed. That look means they are invested. They will revise despite the challenges. They will go back to their community of writers that is also invested to reshape the story to make it even stronger. This is what a good community does for us.
I have been revising my own life plan for past few months; it’s been tough. My life circumstances required me to step back from my own first draft and change my plot. Because I need to honor my students in all I do, I fought this revision long and hard. I kept thinking that my first plan would work or that something else would just pan-out, and I could continue living my own scenario, but it didn’t. However, I am on a great looking second draft.
Self-leadership is being open to and occasionally inviting revision. I would say that ninety percent of the second drafts I get are better than the first, but they have not been crafted alone.
Self-leadership is also about gathering a community to surround you as you modify your life’s plans. For as much as I have resisted this change in my own life, I am grateful for it, but I wasn’t smart enough to realize that on my own.
How can you invite revision in your own life’s story?
What community do you need to craft a beautiful second draft of your next chapter?
We are all engaging in our own great life stories. As most good stories do, they have surprises in the plot, unforeseeable events and incredible characters. And, very few people want to live through their stories alone. We want to compose our stories in communities that challenge, affirm, and push us toward our goals. This is why I ask my students to participate in these writing groups, because the end product is so much more substantial when it is loved by many eyes and minds. These communities that we create throughout our lives remind us that our whole is process is valid.