Mondays with Martin: Work Blissfully

This essay from David Martin dates back to 1994.  As always, there is plenty of good advice to be found here.  Enjoy.

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By David Martin
By David Martin

People spend too much time running away from things they should face. We run away from threatening people, embarrassing predicaments, scolding mothers, belligerent fathers, crying sisters, awkward brothers, boring husbands, silent wives, suffocating jobs, stifling homes, uninteresting schools, and tough homework. However, more people run away from themselves than from anyone or anything else.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “No thing is at last sacred, but the integrity of our own minds.” If this is the case, most of us have little that is sacred, even less integrity, and we don’t know our own minds. Fear of the unknown and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were a great pair. Remember? “There is nothing we have to fear but fear itself.” I think Emerson would agree with FDR. They suggest if we knew our own minds, there would be nothing to fear after all.

I give myself notice. I accept the challenge. I will say the truth and live accordingly. This process will sting at times, but I vividly remember what it was like to live behind facades. I was afraid of trying new ideas; I did not enjoy each day. I wasted good friends, and I forgot how to live. I want the real me to be on the surface of life, swimming in the sunshine. I hope to be more like the “Sage of Concord” with my feet on the ground and my head in the air. I must make life’s journey by myself. I may only care for other people, but in the final analysis, I only learn what I teach myself.

I do not have to run anymore. I am not competing against anyone in this life, unless it is I trying to achieve the true potential that resides in me. I go at my own pace. I don’t have to be Gandhi or Jesus Christ. I only have to be myself.

I know I am a seeker. I know my drummer beats at a progressively different tune than many hear. I find it hard to pay attention to the rhythm that is in my mind alone. It is hard to leave the herd and dance my own dance.

I was an average student in school. Infrequently, I would reach for an “A” and achieve it, when I felt motivated by the subject matter. I remember one day in twelfth grade, however, when I wanted to learn for the fun of learning. I wanted to absorb all I could about why the mind works the way it does. I also hoped to see the shocked surprise on the faces of all those gifted girls who traveled all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation. Just once, I wanted to show those intelligent girls who always got better grades that I could beat them at their own game. I felt they thought they were much better than I was, and usually, they were. Most often, I didn’t think I could compete with them, so I did not try, but this day was different.

Mrs. Kaiser’s twelfth grade psychology class intrigued me. She was a big woman with a strong, German accent. A quiet and stern lady, she ruled her class with a no-nonsense approach to teaching. When she tried to smile, her lips formed a thin, straight line that barely curved at the corners. She never repeated herself twice, nor did she have to. Everyone listened intently rather than get burned by her piercing stare when a mistake was made. Everyday, the class valedictorian and salutatorian answered all her questions, while the rest of us watched.

One day, this woman and human psychology appeared warm and human. Something clicked inside me during class discussion, and I started answering the questions she did not think to cover or the class all-stars did not mention. She looked at me in an odd way. She leaned her head to the side, and her reading glasses rose slightly, when she stopped talking to the class to look at me directly, coolly, without speaking.

I did nothing wrong. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I dressed well. I sat straight in my seat. I didn’t talk to anyone. I smiled at her. I was alert, and I knew the material. What was wrong? She never said a thing to me the rest of the period but went on with assigning the class a unit test for the following day.

That night, after supper, I puzzled over those looks and the stare Mrs. Kaiser gave me in class for no apparent reason. I felt angry, but I didn’t understand why. What was the matter with her? I did everything correctly, and she still acted upset with me. I wondered if I would ever understand teachers. Probably, she thought I was too slow to be in her special class.

I reread the entire unit that night, which was something I never did. I even read a few extra chapters because they were interesting. I spent all evening preparing for that unit test. I went to bed early, so I would have plenty of rest to tackle her intimidation the next morning. I ate a good breakfast, which I knew would give me enough endurance to persevere through her class.

When I took the test, I was calm. I answered the last question before anyone else did. I looked around the room and was surprised how much time was left in the class period. The other students were still struggling with the last few questions. I forced myself not to turn in my paper first. I stayed in my seat and reviewed every question one more time. I took the full period and turned in the paper two minutes before the bell rang. On purpose, I was the last person to lay my test on Mrs. Kaiser’s desk. As she took the test, I looked her in the eyes and smiled. She noticed that. Her eyes met mine, and I grew more confident because I could see her puzzlement.

She asked, “Is there anything wrong, David?”

“No, Mrs. Kaiser. I thought this was a most interesting group of chapters we studied in the last few weeks. I wish the entire book and this class could be so informative about why humans do what they do.” She stared at me without saying anything.

The day following the test Mrs. Kaiser passed out the graded exams. She returned my paper last and mentioned that I received the highest grade of all. Without raising her voice, she looked at me and said, “I never thought anyone would score this highly on my difficult test. Certainly, I never thought it would be you, David. Well! Well!”

I thought she smiled. It appeared that she did not know how to handle the situation, so she dropped her eyes, turned her back to me and the class, and we started working on the next unit.

This nearly negative reinforcement did have a positive effect on me. I knew that I made an impression on her. I was interested in the subject and tried to do my best. When I decided to study hard for the exam, I was surprised that the material flowed through my eyes, effortlessly, because my interest pulled the pages through my mind. This was one of the few times in any classroom when I felt completely relaxed. I found myself studying psychology for the simple interest of learning, not to achieve a grade, or to impress the teacher. Unconsciously, I discovered synchronicity.

This surge of energy occurred when I studied the topic simply for my own enjoyment. I now know that I waste my time if I do not find myself absorbed in the message of what I am doing. This is the only way I overcome my fear of failing and achieve my potential. Thanks to Mrs. Kaiser and those students in my class, I now see my potential reflected more completely when I blissfully enjoy my work.