My Greatest Asset will NO Longer Be My Biggest Obstacle



These words were offered to me in an email from my principal, “You have such a heart for teaching and a will to be the best. It is your greatest asset and at times your biggest obstacle.”

I’ve read over the words again and again and thought about them quite a bit as well. A part of me wants to dig beneath the surface and extract the full meaning of the words, so I can kick myself around a bit more and reflect on the obstacle part. That’s what I’ve always done, reflected on the obstacles that prevent me from being my best self.

“I’m not balanced.”

“I can’t figure out what to do with my clutter.”

“I can’t focus.”

“I don’t sleep enough.”

“I don’t have time to exercise.”

“I don’t spend enough time with my family.”

“I’m not as good of a spouse as my husband.”

“I waste too much time.”

“I didn’t teach well enough today.”

“I am not teaching this right. The kids aren’t getting it.”

“I can’t seem to begin and follow through on routines.”

And the list goes on…

For years I have focused on what I don’t do well–reflecting on ways to change certain aspects; nonetheless, I still have found myself sometimes stuck in the same ol’, same ol’ mentality with cynical reflection serving to debilitate me instead of using this reflective nature to move forward.

Three things have me examining my obstacles in a new light:

  •  A book that resonated with me, The Energy Bus
  • A horrible, very bad, no good day of teaching (on which I was observed)
  • The loss of my friend Anni

Seemingly unrelated these three things have woven themselves together to help me gain perspective, vision, energy, and focus. I’m not sure I can articulate this yet; my mind is still trying to process this all.

I guess I’ll start with the book. I was reading this book for PD at school, The Energy Bus. At first glance, the book reads a bit like hopeful and sappy life narratives from Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul interspersed with Mitch Albom’s symbolic journey narrative of The Five People You Meet in Heaven all the while pontificating with zeal and energy the positive and motivational yawp of Tony Robbins and Norman Vincent Peale.

“Really–how cheesy!” I thought. The protagonist George is pathetic, down on himself, negative at home and work, and a rather unlikeable guy. I read online to find out about the 10 Rules for the Ride (click here to read my blog about it). After I read the rules, I felt pretty good about myself and felt like I could read it and learn about how I could avoid wasting fuel on energy vampires, but I thought I pretty much had most of it under control.

Also, I was feeling good about myself because I had shared recent teaching successes with my dying friend. When she told me that she always knew she put her money on the right horse years ago when she paid my tuition for my teaching degree, I relished in that. Like I’ve mentioned before (see post here and see post here), Anni had always seen my potential, my promise, and my best self.

Last week, I was trying to get my students organized, dealing with the thought of Anni dying, trying to work through the denseness of Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study lessons, and trying to figure out how to weave academic vocabulary into it all. Thursday came, and my class was basically reviewing some academic vocabulary while analyzing a narrative mentor text. I had swayed from the lesson in my notebook (the one I hand to visitors), my standards and writing on the board were not current, and my brain was unfocused to say the least. Of course, this is the day that in walks the principal. He goes to the back of the room and sits down. My students were gluing sheets in their notebook (sheets that we weren’t even ready to go over–I was just getting the sheets in there). Counting down for the kids to finish up gluing and thinking to myself, “This is not going to be good.”

I’m not on today. I still can’t figure out how to fit all that Calkins does into a day. I do not match what is on the lesson that is in the notebook, and the writing on my board is not al there.” I teach, but it’s my worst teaching of the day because I am floundering and falling apart like a first year teacher being observed not like a 19th year teacher.  At this point, I am having flashbacks to the Frantic Friday I wrote about a few years ago. Of course, the day wasn’t an epic fail; it just wasn’t what both my boss and I know I am capable of, and had the observation counted I guess it wouldn’t have been a stellar performance.

That brings me to the next day. I wake up with the thought in mind of being the “right horse” that Anni called me, and I try to give Anni a call only to find out that she is no longer conscious and on Morph 2. The thought of not being able to talk to Anni ever again was devastating. I wanted to tell her how much hope she had given me, and how I wanted to bounce back and be the right horse.  My day teaching was much better than the day before. Maybe because I was looking at each interaction a little differently and trying to be present to people in spite of what I was going through knowing Anni would soon die. At the same time, I was opening up to a few people about what was going on. Four students from previous years wandered down my hall to see my in the morning, and two others came by later to help me out with some anchor charts. I usually send them away, but that morning as if to give me energy there they were with smiles and stories I don’t even remember what.  Weird how people show up when you need them.

I came home sad for this world’s loss of Anni Moller and opened my book again. This time the narrative didn’t seem cheesy. This time I saw myself in the narrative. This time I perceived this idea of an energy bus being devoid of cynicism and skepticism. This time the book helped me to find myself.

Rule #2 Desire, Vision, and Focus Move Your Bus in the Right Direction. This wording is different than the wording I posted last week, and I do believe this rule is the place for me to start making sure my greatest asset does not become my obstacle. As I learned with mountain biking and cycling, if you focus on the obstacle, you will likely hit the obstacle and crash. I have a road rash scar on my shoulder and under my nose that proves that as well as a crooked middle finger on my right hand that proves that focusing on obstacles can cause the obstacle to have power over you.  When I focused on the dip on the trail, and when I looked at the grating where someone else had wrecked, both times—CRASH!

Well, what I see now is that I have spent several years focusing on obstacles that get in my way. My new plan is to focus on my vision for my life (including my health), my work, and my relationships and family. Moreover, I am going to focus my energy on what I want to do instead of what I don’t want to do as I try to build my dreams in my mind and focus on seeing these dreams and taking action on them. Then, I won’t be wasting time on,

“I can’t…”

“I’m not…”

“I won’t…”

“I coud’ve, would’ve, should’ve…”

With this new desire and focus on my vision where I want to go instead of a focus on what I haven’t done, my greatest asset will serve only as my greatest asset and will no longer have the power of enslaving me as an insurmountable obstacle.


19 thoughts on “My Greatest Asset will NO Longer Be My Biggest Obstacle

  1. Oh Maya,
    So much of what you said here I can hear in myself. That idea that the 19th like first year. I only have 10 years, and I have those days. Good to know I’m not alone. This week was more of that than not. But in the end, your desires and vision come through, avoiding those obstacles. Go, go and thank you for sharing this journey and your lovely Anni.


  2. This piece has so much voice and depth –I was with you every step of the way. You speak of obstacles most of us are guilty of and finding the energy to focus on vision and positive is essential. Thank you for sharing your journey and your friendship with us. I appreciate the opportunity to learn and reflect with you.


  3. margaretsmn

    What a powerful post! So sorry for your loss. This is a huge one for you and you must take time to let yourself grieve. Let go of the principal’s words. There is no way he can know your heart.
    You are pointed in the right direction. Keep the faith and soldier on!


  4. Thanks, Margaret. I am on fall break, and this week I will go to Florida for Anni’s funeral to grieve and begin to let go. My principal’s words were right, but I think letting go of them is part of changing my perspective that will help me soldier on.


  5. It’s so hard to keep all the balls in the air. Your post reminds me of just how hard it is for all of us. I hope that the writing, the sharing and the feedback you get here helps. We are thinking about you today, Maya.


  6. So sorry for your loss. Reading your response to Margaret makes me think that you found your way out of all that you were juggling, and all that you were trying to be for your students, your friend, your principal.


  7. An inspiring story. Having the ability to carry on after hearing that your friend was no longer conscious shows strong character and your ability to focus on what needs to be done.


  8. What a raw, emotional post, yet uplifting and filled with hope at the same time. When I first read your email, I immediately focused on “biggest obstacle.” I have been fighting my own personal war, so to speak, and your story and words have helped me. I need to see that vision of where I want to go and not on what I haven’t done. thank you for sharing.


  9. Sometimes my words lead me where I need to go helping me make meaning as I write. Leigh Anne, maybe you should check out The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon–we can ride together in cyberspace.


  10. Good point. In a big picture way, I rarely lose my focus, yet I am learning that all the details create the big picture. A week off and a step back gives me both perspective and strengths thank you.


  11. Your words are profound ~ especially ~
    “Weird how people show up when you need them.”

    Your need so understated. I don’t know how you managed to teach that day at all.

    Your shift to focus on your strengths is huge. Isn’t it the whole commitment we make as teachers with students: to find and build on strengths.

    But I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Now you can carry the torch for believing in your best self.

    And, I wonder why we don’t give people space to grieve in this culture??

    Sorry if that seems off track, but really, no one works harder than an elementary/middle school teacher. I hope you find some rest along with that ride on the Energy Bus.


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