When I was trying to get Stanford Magazine to run a review of Notes to a New Teacher, I asked if I could submit a short piece for the column at the end of the magazine. Editor Jennifer Worrell suggested I write about how a career is a marathon, not a sprint (She had heard me say that in a TV interview on the book).
A few ideas came to me overnight, and I banged out the piece in the morning.
In case you aren’t downloading this onto a Jumbotron, which would allow you to read the small print, here is the original draft of the article:
Loneliness of the Long-Distance Roadrunner
The man who may have been the best basketball coach ever, John Wooden, used to tell his players, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” It’s good advice. The Road Runner was always quick; the Coyote always hurried. The Road Runner, of course, is still undefeated.
On my first day as a busboy, I hurried. Carrying a heavy tray up on a shoulder and holding it steady with one hand seemed inconceivable to someone who, even in the halcyon days of his youth, combined the grace of a set of falling car keys with the athleticism of a giant sloth. In a very busy kitchen on a packed Saturday night, I dropped the tray. When the manager showed up to survey the disaster, he found me with my butt somehow wedged into a barrel of pickles.
A cook pointed to a wet spot on the floor as the culprit, either out of kindness or in anticipation of the physical comedy I might provide that summer.
I kept the job. The fate of the pickles is unknown.
My first full-time teaching position consisted of five classes, plus labs, in three different rooms, in three different wings of the school.
I hurried between them, trying to do the impossible all year long. In the process, I neglected myself. I stopped working out, I lost sleep, and I became cranky. By the end of the school year, my back was killing me. A specialist said I would need surgery and could never play basketball again.
July and August saved me, as I did hundreds of sit-ups daily and built myself up for the rigors of the school year. While job stress would make my back hurt at times over 26 years in the classroom, I never had surgery, and I played basketball until I was 56.
The workplace can be a sensory overstimulation tank, especially when you’re new. A superintendent in that school district advised one of my overtaxed colleagues, “One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself.”It was a guide to survival, really — a nod to keeping perspective when you start to veer off course.
Sometimes you have to step back from a situation in order to gain perspective. Try exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga, hobbies. All this will equal increased creativity and efficiency on the job. That’s what you should be telling yourself as you call in sick on a beautiful sunny day.
You can let your career define you, but don’t let it consume you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take the time to look around when you’re on the run.
Dana Dunnan (STEP ’74) has written books on politics, professional wrestling and teaching. They are described at http://www.chalkdustmemories.com.