Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Mon 10/31/2005 3:27 AM
Random Thought: Keep the Fires Burning

Couldn't sleep. It's early, late, who knows. It's this delayed time change. It's an almost "brrrrrrr" morning. I'm about to go out for my five mile brisk, semi-bundled up walk--no power walking until at least mid- January--in the brisk 40 degree pre-dawn air. Meanwhile, this morning, over a cup of freshly brewed coffee, I was thinking about a bunch of questions laid on me by a young professor a couple of weeks ago. "You've been at Valdosta for thirty-seven years. You're senior professor on that campus. You teach the same courses semester after semester. You always seem upbeat. How do you not become bored? How do you not become frustrated and resigned? How do you not burn out? Why do you not burn out?" He asked. "How do you still continually enjoy both your career and your life? How do you keep fresh? How do you avoid becoming stale, getting into a rut, and ultimately burning out? What's your secret?"

I don't really have a secret as this professor and so many others assume. You only have to know where to look to see how public my secret is. We always have to look inward to find the worth, the meaning and purpose that give us the courage to change, the determination to continually go on, and the strength to continually make the effort. It's a long, rocky, challenging inner journey of constant reflection, admission, correction, and betterment. So, here are some of my fuels that over the past fourteen years I have concocted which constantly feed my furnace and keep me blazing away:

  1.   I smile and laugh inside as well as outside, especially during the challenging
  2.   I have a dream, a vision or a calling that gives me a heading of true north in the
	service of others
  3.   I see the sacred in myself and each student  
  4.   I trust and am trusting of myself and each student 
  5.   I care and am caring about myself and each student
  6.   I am kind towards myself and each student
  7.   I'm a constant learner always asking "why," and reframing myself each day.
  8.   I enthusiastically create enthusiasm in myself and each student 
  9.   I understand and accept that nothing worthwhile is quick and easy
10.   I am excited about adventure and take pleasure in the unexpected and in discovery
11.   I make sure I do something special for someone each day
12.   I am grateful that I have an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life
13.   I stay in physical and emotional shape
14.   I stay in mental and spiritual shape
15.   I am flexible and adaptable
16.   I am hopeful of and optimistic about myself and each student
17.   For me the job of teaching is a love, my love  
18.   I accept my own imperfection and that of others
19.   I am understanding of myself and others
20.   I let go and don't try to control others 
21.   I am patient with myself and each student, especially when I or they make mistakes
22.   I see and embrace the newness of each moment, each place, and each person
23.   I have as much joy in my teaching as I do in my hobbies. 
24.   I enjoy being alive each precious moment, live in the now, and live in this place at
	this moment
25.   And, I go to sleep and wake up each day with my best friend by my side.

As I looked over this list, I noticed that not one of these twenty-five ways comes under the heading of pedagogy or technology. Not one of these is an outside doing of a "what" or a "how." No, each ingredient is an inward looking being of "who!" So, each of these twenty-five ways is one of those "I teach who I am" and "I see things and others as I am." Each of the twenty-five ingredients is an act of both faith in and love of both me and each student that are at the core of every one of my acts. They're the source of my strength, conviction, assurance, courage, peacefulness, vitality, clarity, vibrancy, perseverance, connection, commitment, and determination. They calm me when I get agitated. They hold me up when I wobble. They invigorate me when I weaken. They refreshen me when I feel stale. They remind me when I forget. They urge me on when I hesitate. They give me the encouragement to risk, permission to fall, freedom to laugh, support to feel worthy. Each of these twenty-five ingredients then is a seed, an outlook, a thought, an emotion I plant each day, nurture each day, and allow to germinate each day in the soul of my being and the spirit of my doing.

You see, the secret to keeping the fires burning is to thrive rather than strive. The real fuel is not limited to just a lucky few. We each can be our own endless fuel plant. To be one, we have to make the courageous choice to retrain our hearts and minds, to reshape our attitudes and outlooks, to let go of the limitations we each have imposed on ourselves, to make a place where fulfillment and satisfaction and joy and peace happen, to understand that each of us has to cross our inner River Jordan; that what happens in us is far more important than what happens to us; that who we each are and can be is far more important than what each of us does or can do.

What does it take to do all this? Make no bones about it. It takes strength and courage. It's takes endurance and perseverance. It takes commitment and determination. It's takes time, lots of time. It's a heavy chore because it's not just a matter of learning new strategies, acquiring new outlooks, or developing new attitudes. It's really first a matter of unlearning. I had to unlearn what was tethering me, in my way, weighing me down, and limiting me. It was not just a matter of learning more. If you think it is, you'll go back on yourself as if you were on one of those faddish diets or self-help programs. I mean I found out that I couldn't learn to reach out and touch until I learned to let go. Moreover, I couldn't play the blame game. It's a no-winner. For one thing, blaming keeps our heads turned around to where we came from and doesn't let us look forward to where we want to go. For another thing, blame is an excuse for not taking responsibility and control of ourselves. Blame gives control over us over to others and makes us powerless.

And so, though a make-over is a labor, it's up to you to make this a labor of love in a way that is not laborious. Otherwise little will stick. The answer for this professor is that the prevention of burnout is a matter of what most of us call a state of mind. I call it a state of heart. It's key. It takes nothing more than your choice to make it happen and keep making it happen. Nothing more! I'm not being flippant. It's a tough "nothing more" that doesn't happen overnight, but it doesn't happen by itself. If inner change is a matter of unlearning, it is also a matter of a transference of empowerment. These twenty-five ingredients have no special powers until you transfer the empowerment you gave to those things holding you down to those things allowing you to soar. That is, no one can do it for you. It takes your effort, determination, and commitment to find a way to do it and then to do it, moment by moment every moment, step by step every step, day by day every day. So, staying happy, satisfied, contented, and fulfilled in my career and life, to paraphrase the bard, is not in my stars or my genes or my situation or my resume or in the judgment of others or in some technique or in some technology. It's all in me. It's not in someone else's decisions. It's in my decisions. It's not in anyone else's hands. It's all in my hands. The more I open my mind, my heart, my ears, and my eyes, I more I will seek out and find that which makes me feel lighter and happier and absolutely wonderful. These openings of my heart and soul invite me to accentuate the positive and depreciated the negative, to savor being fully alive, to dwell in the place where I am, to live boldly in the now and wow, to get everything out of each day, to love deeply, and to have undying faith. They make sure I don't miss the miracles of existence all around me. They help me appreciate and be grateful for everyday things every day. They are what fuel my spirit and my soul and my body. When I live from my heart, I feel full, rich, in control, confident, peaceful, vibrant, energized, blissful, bold, connected to my life's purpose, and life just seems to flow so easily. And what of the dampening waters? Well, the fires burn so hot that the flames steam them away.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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