Tag Archives: Education

How to Beat Workplace Burnout Like a Marathoner

Hidden in the canyons of Mexico’s Copper Canyon lives a shy tribe of people called Tarahumara, or the Running People. The Tarahumara live quiet lives, growing corn and beans and living in family groups in huts and caves often perched precipitously on the mountain cliffs. They are also all ultra-runners.Marathon-Runners---Black-Silhouette-Sunset

At social gatherings and celebrations, the Running People will conclude the festivities with a friendly footrace. A footrace up to 200 miles, that is. For a guy like me that is out of breath after four miles on the treadmill, the thought of these people running through mountain passes in handmade sandals sounds more like a mirage than a reality.

In Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, he marvels that in the midst of a 100-mile ultramarathon they, “churned up the slope like kids playing in a leaf pile.” Laughing. Smiling. Somehow enjoying a 100 mile run. For the Tarahumara, running wasn’t a chore—it was a time to connect with their world and with one another.

Now lets step back from the Copper Canyon and into your city, your home and your workplace. You’re fed up with the job you used to love. Coworkers you’ve collaborated with for years are grating on your nerves. Projects that excited you in the beginning seem stale and dusty. Like the American runners racing against the Tarahumara, you’ve burnt out, and you’ve got 150 miles left to run.

How do you return to the blissful state where you began? Mental toughness.

I know, I wish I had a different answer too. But oftentimes the only element in our day that we can actually control is our attitude. And, when the boss is happy and the workload is light it’s easy to stay upbeat. Throw in an irate customer, a missed deadline and some extra rush-hour traffic, and then you have a training ground for mental toughness. Here’s a few tips from the Running People themselves

Take Shorter Steps—your burnout might be the result of overextending yourself. Instead of focusing on everything you need to get done this week, focus on the five things you need to get done today. Break larger projects up into small pieces and knock them out one at a time.

Lose the Shoes—After researchers studied indigenous groups like the Tarahumara, they discovered these groups experienced far less injury than Westerners with hi-tech and cushy running shoes. At work, sometimes the very things we think we need are the things creating problems. Have you gotten bogged down in party planning drama or chasing down someone by email instead of picking up the phone? Maybe it’s time to pick up speed by simplifying your processes. Lose the shoes.

Look to your elders—Would you believe that among the Tarahumara, the best runners are often the oldest!? Though it seems contrary to nature, it’s true. The runners with years of experience have honed their speed, footwork, diet, and strategy. The same is true of great leaders in any industry. If you want to avoid burnout, begin to note the habits of those a few years down the road, and a few rungs up the ladder from where you find yourself.

Never run alone—In Tarahumara culture, racing is a means of bringing the community together. How would our workplaces change if we viewed collaborative work in the same way? Sure you might feel like the project is about as fun as running uphill in the boiling Mexico sunlight, but there is some solidarity in enduring it together. Find at least one person at your workplace who you know you can lean on during a particularly tough day. But be prepared to return the favor.

Mental toughness is choosing these attitudes and practices over the feeling of burnout. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 100 miles or just trying to make it through the last 100 days of school with a rowdy classroom. When nothing around you seems to be changing, change your attitude. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

140 Characters

How would your tweets change if you thought 140 characters had the power to alter your future?

A few weeks ago, I read the most fascinating article in the New York Times. With the explosion of social networking, more college admissions view applicants’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds as a part—officially or unofficially–of their review, which is causing some students to lose the opportunity of attending the college of their dreams. While this may be new to the world of college admissions, businesses have been screening job applicants’ social media usage for years. I’ve been amazed at the capacity for decent, polite, and respectful people to log on to the Internet and spew negative, hateful, and just plain mean speech.  I shudder to think what my 18-year-old self might have said if I had that kind of social platform in my formative years.

Social media is a great way to stay abreast of current events, keep in touch, and find links to thought-provoking articles and blogs (cough, cough). But even 140 characters can be wielded to tear down someone else’s reputation, and as this article observes, unintentionally damage your own image.

In my book Sticks and Stones Exposed, I talk a lot about the power of positive uplifting words. After reading the Times piece, I wonder what would have happened if the admissions officers had seen positive words on the applicant’s social media feed—encouragement to a fellow student, excitement for a campus visit, gratitude to a coach or a teacher. Likewise, if a hiring manager searched for an applicant’s blog and discovered insightful business posts or Facebook shout-outs thanking colleagues for their contributions to a big project. You see, in addition to inspiring others around us, positive words reveal what we can contribute to a group—be it a professional organization or a college campus. Positive words are the hallmark of the inquisitive mind, the team player, and the great collaborator. Which are exactly the kind of students universities want to accept, and later, the kind of professionals companies are clamoring to hire.

You may not be a “leader” in you business, school, or community, but you can be a leader to others in the way you conduct yourself online. Instead of tearing people down, laugh at yourself. Rather than complaining, share something that you’re thankful for. Your influence and attitude online has the ability to move you closer to achieving your goals or abandoning them—140 characters at a time.

Commentary on NYT Article “They Loved Your GPA then they Saw Your Tweets” and the power of words.

To Some it’s Not “Just School”

This is the time of year when virtually every school system in the nation is gearing up for the start of a brand new year. I have the both the privilege and the opportunity to be the Convocation speaker at many of these events.

At one of those beginning of the year kickoffs this week I had a conversation with a lifelong educator who relayed this story to me.

She had been having a conversation with a student one day on the subject of year round school. The student had asked her if she was in favor of it. This teacher, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, jokingly replied, “Oh, no! I don’t think I could put up with you all summer long!” They both shared a laugh but then the student said, “I’m for it.”

This teacher was surprised and asked him, “Are you serious?”

“Yep. I’d come every day if I could.” he said.

“Oh come on…even Christmas?” she asked.

“Sure would. Even Christmas.”

She pressed him, “But why?”

His answer is one that she has not forgotten in years, “Because here, I can eat. I am warm. And somebody cares about me.”

I submit that this little guy is probably speaking for thousands of young people who feel the same way. So to all you teachers and administrators out there, remember school might be the very best part of your students’ life. Take good care of them.

A Passion for Learning

As a speaker, I run into many different kinds of audiences in my travels. Occasionally, I encounter a group that really stands out in my mind (this could be for good or bad reasons). This past week, it was my pleasure to present to the faculty of Marumsco Hills Elementary School in Prince William County, Virginia.

Talk about having the “deck stacked against you”…this school is one of the poorest schools in the entire county, has a student population that is 90% minority, and every year experiences an incredible amount of “churn” due to the transient nature of the neighborhood in which it is located.

Amazingly, despite these challenges and more, the teachers at this school continue to produce students that are fulfilling their potential, scoring well on their standardized tests, and the school continues to remain both accredited and make Annual Yearly Progress(AYP).

I am always intrigued when I meet a group that is consistently doing what others claim can not be done. What is it about them that causes them to succeed? What do they have that others don’t? How do they accomplish the “impossible”?

Well, this faculty spoke loud and clear to me…and they didn’t even have to use words.

At 8:00am that morning, as I headed out the door to the school, a snow storm burst on to the scene. In the short drive to the school, over 2 inches of snow had fallen and there was no sign of it letting up any time soon. School systems all around were shutting down. Flights were being canceled at the Washington, DC airports, and the streets were getting treacherous.

Joanne Alvey(standing with me), the principal of the school, looked out her window at the storm and said, “Well Dave…” I interrupted her as I finished her sentence saying, “…Yeah, I guess we’ll just have to reschedule.”

She looked at me with an expression that said “are you nuts” and finished her own sentence (without my help this time), “Well, Dave, we might have to start a few minutes late this morning due to the roads.”

I, of course being the all-knowing wise speaking consultant, thought the cold had simply numbed her brain and she was not thinking clearly…after all what crazy teacher would fight through this kind of weather to get to a school when the students already had the day off due to a planned teacher workday.

One by one, the parking lot began to fill up as teachers pulled in and made their way through the snow to get to the building. We started only 30 minutes late, with over 90% of the faculty present! And get this–the other 10% called in upset due to the fact that they had been turned away by the police a few blocks from school because the roads were unsafe (couldn’t get up a hill).

How do they accomplish so much with their students? I’ll tell you how…they have a passion for learning. Nothing was going to stop them in their search for personal growth and development. They wanted new strategies to help them be better people and teachers. And their attitudes were positive and upbeat.

You know, attitude is contagious. And the students in this school catch it from their teachers.

What a great lesson for all of us!