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Showing posts from April, 2014

competitive edge

I watch reality television. Mostly competitions like Masterchef and The Voice. Not Survivor or American Idol, oh no, that’s a bit too contrived for me. What I find, especially on the shows which deal with specific skills like cooking or singing, is that the participants invariably get a lot better the longer they are on the show. And in their carefully edited interviews, the participants also remark on how much they have learned, how they have been pushed to do better than they ever dreamed, and how they discovered something deep inside themselves that they were never quite sure they had.
But something about these shows has always bothered me a bit, and it is this. Is the competitive platform the only way to get the best out of people? Must we be pitted against each other in order to personally succeed? Why must we always compare ourselves to others? Why must others be eliminated in order for me to get ahead?
Most of our culture is based on competition: our entertainment, our education,…

scary donuts

This past term I taught a course on Christian Spirituality at the university and Friday was the last class. I wanted to do something special for the final time we would meet as a group, besides giving a rockin' concluding lecture about incarnational spirituality, so I tossed around a few ideas on Thursday night. Give everyone a book on Francis of Assisi? Too expensive. Go on a field trip to a nearby church? They had already done their own field trip as an assignment. Bring chocolate? I did that for the Valentine's Day class. Go out for drinks afterwards? Not everyone would be able to make it due to exams and other classes, and since it would only be 11:30 am, maybe not the best idea. A cake? I didn't really have time to make one. Bring donuts? It seemed like the best solution. Everybody likes donuts, right? Well, maybe not. I had observed that quite a few of my students seemed to be on a health kick, bringing fruit, smoothies, and nut mixes to class. Perhaps some were eve…

perfectionism vs. vulnerability

I have been reading a book about the gifts of imperfection over the last few weeks [1]. For someone who has perfectionist tendencies (if you are a graduate student, you inevitably fall into this category), it has been a good reminder that what I am really looking for is not perfection but being loved and being okay with who I am. Perfectionism is often an attempt to keep fear and vulnerability at bay by controlling every detail of life. And because this level of control is impossible (life always involves things much larger than us), being a perfectionist can get pretty stressful.

Adhering to high standards and working hard to do one's best, well that's something else, and not defined by a joyless, obsessive drive to be perfect. In fact, working really hard at something you care deeply about in order to get it right is generally exhilarating! And usually accompanied by lots of trial and error as one figures it out. However, the ugly desire to control every last detail no matt…