Follow Up a Crummy Day Like a Pro

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning . . .

Viktor Frankl, Man’s search for meaning

I wrote this post awhile ago. It’s had some alternate titles: “From Yuck to Yes,” and also something containing a cuss word . . . You’ll be proud, Mom, that I took the high road even though this post warrants profanity more than most.

Anyway, today’s thought is so fitting as I had a pretty crummy day yesterday. It’s not if crummy days are going to happen, it’s when. Life is nothing if it’s not seasons and starting over again and again. The failure comes in not learning from our crummy days, of sitting mired in the crummy days rehearsing them again and again in our minds. Now, I’m not saying it’s not okay to have a crummy day. Far from it. If you haven’t read the children’s book Grumpy Monkey, check that thing out. Here’s the gist: some times you just need to have a Grumpy Monkey day.

Grumpy Monkey days are gonna come that wallop the tears and our worst words and our worst thoughts right out of us, leaving us looking up feeling shellshocked. That’s called being a human. But in Viktor Frankl’s epic work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he reminds us that suffering doesn’t get the last word. It’s worth noting that he was writing about experiences he had in a Nazi concentration camp. . . always good for the ole perspective.

But this is not a suffering competition. No matter how petty or epic your crummy day has been–whether the “day” has been a month, a year, a decade–tomorrow can be the day to don our super-hero capes and say defiantly, “I’m doing something new today! . . . because yesterday sucked.”

That’s the gift. We get to choose.

Crummy days are the stuff that kills off teachers. If you haven’t seen the teacher attrition statistics, a huge percentage don’t make it past the first years. I love and believe in teacher prep, but sometimes we do preservice teachers a dis-service when we make it seem like teaching is figure-out-able, like there is some magic research-based-best-practice way to never have a hard teaching day. At a recent training, Jeffrey Wilhelm, a man I find to be a master teacher, said it plain and kind, “Teaching is hard forever.” And while that might sound discouraging, it’s actually liberating.

So what are we gonna do?

Sometimes that does mean quitting. There are situations that require a big ole death and rebirth. But it’s worth noting that as a teacher, as we commit to re-starting again and again, joy and deep professional satisfaction comes when we wipe our tears, re-calibrate and say, “What’s next? How can I follow up this crummy day like a hero?”

Sorry folks, but teaching is doing that again, and again, and again.

And I say sorry, but isn’t that everything? It’s not madness, that’s reflection. The one thing that I believe makes teaching figure-out-able. The real secret sauce. No matter what has happened, we can reflect, re-calibrate, and start again.

I was reminded of this recently, when I visited my grandpa in the hospital. He’s in his nineties and just had an epic surgery that left his face looking so painful. I walked in and felt like crying as I asked meekly, “How you feeling Grandpa?”

From under his bandages, I heard a half a chuckle as he said, “I’m everything but pregnant.” The last human freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude despite circumstances. It’s the freedom that allows us to mine for thanks on even the crummiest of days. My grandpa was–and still is hurting–but he’s a wise one who wanted to make sure that I wasn’t suffering too. There’s an ornery courage in that that I just plain adore.

So maybe the crummy day is today. That’s okay. The question is, what are we gonna do tomorrow?

Gratitude Dare

  • Encourage someone who shows courage and perseverance.

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