Teacher gossip and judgement are rampant in some schools. I know because as I coach teachers from across the country, I hear these statements over and over :
- People will judge me for (fill in the blank) – leaving early, setting boundaries…
- I don’t want people to think I’m a (fill in the blank) – slacker, suck-up, pushover…
- I want people to see me as (fill in the blank) – an asset, superwoman or superman…
- I want people to like me
- I hate upsetting people
- I don’t want to make waves or cause a fuss
- I hate letting people down
What do these all have in common? They are other-oriented – focused on how others view you or what others think about you.
Other-orientation (focusing on others’ thoughts and feelings) makes you compassionate, empathetic, and caring. However, other-orientation can also be toxic. When these are the types of thoughts that control the decisions you make about your time, activities, priorities or attitudes, then who is in control of your life? That’s right…others. Ouch.
In classic teacher fashion…this reminds me of a book:
Have you ever read the book, “A Bad Case of Stripes” by David Shannon? If not, pick up a copy. It’s a gem!
It’s about Camilla Cream who loves lima beans…but never eats them because everyone else hates lima beans and loving them would make her different. In fact, she is such a people-pleaser, that one day when she is getting ready for school, her skin breaks out in stripes. She goes to school and begins turning all different colors and patterns to please other students. This continues and continues until she no longer even resembles herself. Finally, a sweet older lady provides the cure – a big heaping plate of lima beans. Camilla turns back into her beautiful-little-girly self and is cured!
I love this story for a lot of reasons: It has amazing pictures that my students (and my little 2.5-year-old) love. It’s engaging and exciting. And it has a wonderful message…Be yourself. Don’t change who you are in order to please others or because you fear their criticism, judgement, and gossip. Wisdom.
It’s the execution that’s is the problem. Always easier said than done, right?!
What I want to write right now is a “how to” step-by-step post on letting go of what others think of you. I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, it’s hard work. It takes a conscious and intentional effort. I will tell you a few tips and words of wisdom I’ve learned so far (and remember – I’m a fellow journeyer on this one too – if you haven’t read other posts of mine, you may not know, but I’m a recovering perfectionist and people-pleasing is VERY closely related!!).
Cultivate your Cabinet:
A good friend of mine calls her closest advisors in her life her “cabinet” similar to the presidential cabinet (she also calls herself First Lady of her home – which I adore!). Your cabinet is a small group of people who are close advisors and mentors to you. You can open up and share your heart with them, and they will tell you what you need to hear (which is not always what you want to hear).
Write down a list of those influential people in your life. It may not be a long list (probably somewhere between 2 and 6 people). Be sure to cultivate those relationships and to tell those people how much their influence and wisdom means to you.
What is beautiful about your cabinet is that they love you. They see the best in you, and want you to succeed. They know the intentions of your heart and give grace and forgiveness freely. Their feedback on your life can help you see where you have blind spots and speak the right words at the right time. Some people use coaches as part of their cabinet because a coach is always motivated to see you win in life and to hold you accountable for owning the life you want!
Here is why cultivating your cabinet is important in dealing with judgement from others – When you are afraid of what others think of you, call one of the people on your cabinet to get their take on the situation. They will help you to either (a) rethink your actions or (b) validate your actions. Either way, you gain confidence in your decision, which will help you to not care so much about others think. Everyone’s opinions of you can’t all matter to you – otherwise you will turn into Camilla Cream without lima beans – unrecognizable. But these folks are, by definition, the people in your life whose opinion matters to you. Seek their opinions and insights – but learn to let the others go.
Cultivate Mental Discipline:
I have a tendency to over-think things – especially what people think of me. I will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out exactly what so-and-so meant when she said this-and-that. Sometimes I’ll do it out loud and my husband will literally have to stop me. He’ll put his hand on my arm and say “don’t go there, Alison…let it go.” Where is ‘there’ you ask? That amazingly magnetic, horribly comfortable vacuum of negativity.
When I get worried about what someone might think, will think, or is thinking about me, my mind begins to race. I start rattling off all of the possible criticisms and then defending each one. It’s an exhausting (and time consuming) process that just eats up energy and time I could be putting toward something so much more life-giving and productive.
In that moment, I have to notice I’m doing it, put my mental hand on my mental arm like my husband would and say “don’t go there, Alison…let it go”. Then I have to practice what I preach and do the hard work – Let. It. Go.
I call this mental discipline because the mind is so hard to train, but thoughts are really at the root of this entire issue. Notice I’m not giving you advice on making better decisions that will please more people. No. I’ll say it again – everyone’s opinions of you can’t all matter to you. So you have to rule over your thought-life and discipline yourself not to mentally “go there” to that negative, critical place. At first, you will have to work really hard at it. But it will eventually become a habit and you will get better at letting judgement go quicker.
When you care (inordinately) about what others think of you, you run a very big risk of diluting your true self. This is the saddest thing of all – for you as an individual who deserves authenticity – but also for your students who desperately need to have models of authentic, real adults in their lives. At the beginning of this series on wholehearted teaching, I referenced one of my all-time favorite books, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. In it, she addresses this issue head on. And I highly recommend that anyone and everyone read it! In her book, she says, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
In the book, Brown also references this passage from another wonderful children’s book (do you think she was a teacher?!) which I think exemplifies this point better than any words I could write. The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams (emphasis added by author):
Real isn’t how you are made.” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.“
So let’s become real. Because then we’ll know we can’t be ugly. We’ll know that the gossip, judgement, and criticism that come from others only comes because they don’t understand.
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend