I’m a little jittery while writing this post. I teach French 102 at Brigham Young University and I just read an email informing me that I’m being observed by my boss next Wednesday. The last time I was observed, things went horribly wrong – not the kind of horribly wrong that was actually kind of okay and it’s all in my head, but the kind of horribly wrong that my boss said that if she didn’t know me any better, she would have gone back to her office in tears.
Despite all this, I know that was a good experience. Why? Because I decided it was.
When I was in middle school and high school, I was convinced that there were many things I wasn’t in control of. I believed that I would react automatically to certain stimuli, whether that was an unattended bag of chocolate chips nearby or a fingernail waiting to be picked. I believed that there were such things as good days and bad days, and that a series of random factors beyond my control would ultimately decide how I was going to feel for the rest of the day.
I still believe that there are things that aren’t in my control. However, that number is now much smaller. I served as a Mormon missionary for two years, which was a difficult, but valuable experience. My goal was very literally to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but, like many missionaries, many of the people I met didn’t seem to be interested. At the beginning of my mission, I struggled with frustration and a growing sense of fatalism. My mission president, an older man assigned to supervise all the missionaries in the area, noticed my struggles and talked with me several times to try to help me see that I could choose whether or not to be happy and satisfied with my work.
One particular conversation still stands out to me. He told me that as he had pulled out of the driveway of the mission’s offices that morning, he had backed his van right into another one of the cars owned by the mission (when his wife told the story, she made sure to mention that this was in spite of the car’s radar warning him that there was something behind him). He said that although he had been sorry about it, it wasn’t worth it to him to worry and stress over the accident, so he had decided to just move on and continue the drive. He couldn’t control what had happened in the past, but he could control how he reacted to it. Two things struck me about this story he told: first, that a man savvy enough to be a high-ranking executive at a very important company was still human enough to back his car into another one. Second, that he distinguished not being pleased with a turn of events from being frustrated and stressed.
I don’t think I can mark a particular turning point in my attitude, but hearing that story helped. I began to believe differently, and for the rest of my service in that mission, I became more accomplished at deciding how I would feel and how I would react. I don’t believe in bad days anymore. I believe in bad circumstances, but I don’t believe that there is a cosmic calendar with your name written on every date in happy or angry colors – we write our names and we choose the colors. I still have days where I am angry, frustrated, worried, or stressed, but those days have transformed into the next set of dumbbells on the weight rack: I can’t handle them now, but with some practice, I’ll get there.
Now that I’ve finished this post, I’m less jittery about Wednesday than I was when I started writing it. After my last observation, I decided that I would turn it into a good experience, and despite some waffling, that decision is final. Now, I’m deciding that Wednesday is going to be a good day, no matter what. I am in control.