How do you measure success?
Am I alone in finding this a challenge? After all, I never won an award for best teacher and to my knowledge never won any award in any shape, size or form. Having been brought up in a highly conservative context, a conservatism I no longer embrace, it was always strongly frowned upon to come across as competitive or seek any recognition for oneself. Hiding my ambition and my relentless determination from those who would try to crush it, I strove for betterment in the confines of my normality, never realising that one day this would all change.
So no, I didn’t win any awards. No, I didn’t save the companies I worked for vast sums of money. And no, I didn’t set up a company that was turning over so many hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, by the time I was thirty. Does that mean I was scraping the barrel of achievement?
What do you count as achievements?
In my view, achievement can be seen in two ways. There is the classic I climbed Mount Everest approach that looks all shiny and bright. But what about the alternative I took ten thousand steps. I am a third way up this amazing mountain. I have found a way to reduce waste produced on our ascent. I have been looking at techniques to conserve energy yet cover greater distances each day. I have been instrumental in infusing the morale of my team members so we keep focused upwards and onwards…? True, you didn’t reach the top, but is your strategy on the way up any less of an achievement? Isn’t each step forward testimony that you are well on your way?
I could tell you about the time, fifteen years ago, I decided to learn Chinese and told everyone I would do it in a year.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I could tell you about the year I went back to university to get my first masters degree and decided to also train simultaneously to be a pastry chef.
Despite significant setbacks I qualified as the latter and passed my degree with high honours.
And still working in the time frame of a year, I could tell you about when I started my second Masters degree in International Education and told my classmates I wanted to do my internship at an organisation like UNESCO. A year later and that’s exactly where I found myself. But these high moments, while pretty amazing in themselves, are not necessarily the backbone that make us tick or the things we automatically talk about when we are asked about how our day was. Take, for example, the day I created a new exercise that left my students amazed at what they had just achieved. And the project I started that made one student make more progress in six months than he had made in twenty years of learning English. All without making him study more grammar or vocabulary. There’s also the student who saw one of my videos and automatically got something that had perplexed him for years. And my students who had failed over and over again suddenly infused with the desire and motivation to learn. I could go on and on. Each one puts a smile on my face that doesn’t fade with time. You see, there are times where we feel small and insignificant, almost lost in the vast space of life. We feel like we are walking, walking, walking, just seeing our feet move below us. This is when we need to look up and see where those insignificant steps have taken us and the corner we have just passed revealing something beautiful. By always focusing on our feet we may be missing out on a spectacular view. It is no different when it comes to learning. The elusive goal of speaking a language perfectly, fluently or becoming bilingual often remains just that. By focusing on cramming for all important exams, it is like climbing a mountain yet never lifting your eyes to enjoy the view. It is feeling the pain in your legs yet never slowing down to let them recover and build strength. For learning to be truly successful we need to catch all those small moments of achievement. Those are the moments that will build your fluency. They are the moments that will fire up your motivation. And they are the moments that will get you to the top of that mountain, while enjoying every step of the way.
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