Today I got routine service done on my car (one of those tedious adult things that I'm trying to get done this summer so that I have an easier fall once school starts), which meant I had a couple of hours to sit in an air-conditioned waiting room with the TV blaring. I have a hard time focusing when a TV is on, so I decided the thing to do was to reread a breezy but pointful book: Sarah Knight's The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do. Totally worth a read -- I recommend it.
I'm actually pretty lucky in my life in that I don't actually spend much time with people I don't like or doing things I don't want to do. Sure, there's some of it, but honestly I have good students, good colleagues, good administrators, and fairly little work that's pointless. As I was rereading her book, I kept thinking about the movie Office Space (which I love) and the frustrations of TPS reports and mid-morning coffee breaks that are all about complaining. I don't have that, and I should remember more often to be grateful.
I do take to heart Knight's advice that, before you can embark on her two-step NotSorry system -- (1) deciding what you give a f**k about and then (2) proceeding to either give or not give a f**k -- you must embrace the art of not giving a f**k about what other people think. That's a hard one for me in some respects, but only some; I've gotten much better about this over the years -- one of the advantages of hitting middle age.
But I'll tell you where I could see her advice and her NotSorry approach being really pertinent to me, and that is life at my synagogue. I roped myself into that annoying committee at the temple, and I know myself well enough to imagine such things happening again. So I'm going to take Knight's advice seriously -- that one has a finite number of f**ks to give and needs to budget them wisely -- and apply this to all future temple obligations. And, importantly, not to overestimate what my "obligations" are anyway. For example, I went to the first class in a summer course at the temple, and it was fine, but I'm not feeling a burning desire to go to the other sessions. There have been times I would have felt that I really should go so that I didn't hurt the feelings of the class leaders, who might think that I didn't really like the course. And I've mostly gotten over that, which has been a huge relief.
Also, by the way, I had a truly fabulous conversation a couple of weeks ago with the newer rabbi, who is connected with although not in charge of that annoying committee (which she confessed had been the most challenging part of her first year in the job), and she essentially said "pish-posh" when I said that I've felt maybe I needed to stick it out for a year with this committee. She was very clear that I should be thoughtful about where I put my energies and not to put them anywhere that's not going to be rewarding. So (a) why did I need her permission? Aargh -- be a grown-up, WN! and (b) I'm now disentangling myself from that committee. I'm committed to one thing in September, and after that I am out of there! On both points (a) and (b), I really need to embrace that attitude of not giving a f**k about what other people think!
But here's the important epiphany that I had this afternoon at the garage, despite the blaring TV: My problem is actually the opposite of what Knight is writing about. She's concerned about people giving away their f**ks on things they don't care about (getting roped into a friend's Pampered Chef house party when you don't even cook, or going to baby showers if you really hate that sort of thing, or whatever), but my problem is that I expend my f**ks on things that I really do care about but that I can't actually do much about.
For example: The Social Studies department at FGS drives me crazy. The teachers are all nice people, but I disagree with a lot of things the department does. And I can't tell you how much energy I've expended over the years, getting my knickers in a twist over this or that that they've done now.
And the screwy things they do -- by which I mean things that I would do differently :-) -- do affect me in two ways: Because we're the two departments that formally teach writing, I often find myself needing to teach around what they're saying while trying not to be disrespectful of colleagues in front of my students. And two or three times a year, our respective department heads make us have a joint meeting in which we're supposed to talk through our differences; I think almost everyone hates those meetings, but we're dragged to them nonetheless.
But it's time to recognize that none of the work I've done over the years to influence how we teach writing in our two departments has actually made a difference. Ultimately, I have control over how I teach writing in my own classes, and that's it. So it's not that all of this isn't worth giving a f**k about -- I care deeply about my students' experiences and their writing -- but simply that it's throwing good f**ks after bad, because all I've managed to do is wear myself out and probably annoy some of my colleagues.
So I'm officially re-adopting my mantra from a couple of years ago -- "Not my crazy monkey parade" -- a mantra that I did not do a very good job of following -- and adding to it the self-admonition: "Don't waste your good energy." That's a way for me to recognize that there are reasons I care about many things but that it's a waste to pour that energy into situations that I can't affect. And that my energy is a good thing but not infinite, so I need to be careful about how I marshall it.
Fortunately, I have a month before I need to start worrying about my energies during the school year! But I like to have worked out my mantra in plenty of time.