Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Things First

I do believe in progress not perfection.  I do strive to make today better than yesterday.  So, it makes sense if Stephen Covey's Habits for Highly Effective People makes an appearance on my blog at this time.  Thanks to Wikipedia for the synopsis of each.

Independence or Self-Mastery
The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e. self mastery)

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Synopsis: Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions (and how they align with life's principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow.

I do have some principles (and one principal).  So often in modern society we are bending to the fun moment and to the new person who tells us that they like us or need us.  We believe so much in the chance meeting, the instant friendship or the great opportunity that we forget to remain intact.  We trade our life for some glass beads.  We're trying to gain something; whether companionship or perceived social or economic advancement. 

I actually need to stop for a moment and catch my breath.  Breath is life.  I need to stop reaching out and instead deepen my roots into the ground where I stand.  This is where I've chosen to be. 

I've been here for over two years now.  This  is the longest my 6-year-old, Mr. Boo, has ever been in any home.  My job at the school is going into the third year which is the longest I've stayed at any school.

Right now I need to claim more of what I want and get rid of what I don't.  What is really striking me is that I don't need chaos.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Synopsis: Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles and relationships in life.

My goal is to be a servant of Allah.  In order to be that person, I need to have a firm foundation in goodness.  I need to continue to build a halal life.  I want to be proud of my life.  I want peace. 

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Synopsis: Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluating if your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you towards goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.

Truly, my job at the school is of the utmost importance.  It allows me the funds to live.  It provides an education for my son.  The hours and vacations are great.  The location is great.  I do my job well alhumdulillah and I believe that my efforts will be rewarded inshahallah.

This past week we ushered in the new school year. NOTHING can prepare anyone for the first day. It's an endurance test for all involved.  Basically, we teachers do what we can to make it as painless as possible. 

Two days before the start of kindergarten (and actually the day before my son started first grade), I got a phone call.  It was a woman from the  TV studio.  She spoke fluent Arabic...and very little English.  I hardly understood her but I did get her when she told me, "Congratulations" on the new job.  I guess I was somehow offered the TV presenter job I had auditioned for previously. 

It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I was expected to come for a meeting that night.  That was an element of chaos in my already full life.  I tried to meet later in the week.  No, it had to be either today or tomorrow.  I then tried to meet earlier in the day (like right after work) but no one is there until 9:00 PM.  That was an inkling as to what my life would be if I accepted.  I would be starting early at one job and staying late at another.  I hated that idea.  Yet, I was willing to hear what they said.  What had they thought of my audition?

We sat together in the producer's office and I asked him, "What was it in my audition that you liked?"

"I haven't seen it."

My mouth almost dropped.  The producer hadn't seen it.  I was dumbfounded.  Why would I drop everything to meet with a man who had no feedback on my audition?  Instead he wanted to show me what was on the previous programs.  I watched.  It was not good.  It looked canned, stiff and stale.  I found out then that all the questions came from that producer.

I informed him that I'm not a talking head.  I'm a teacher and a writer.  I've got my degree in theatre and experience on live TV.  I'm a mind and a heart and I connect with others on a real and immediate level.  I can offer that BURST of enthusiasm and discovery which only comes from spontaneous and real interaction.  There was no way I'd want him formulating questions for me. 

He left the room---twice.  Oh, and I understand that some phone calls are mighty important but then so is our sleep.  It was now 9:00 pm.  Mr. Boo sat patiently with us.  I looked my quiet little guy sitting cross-legged on the office chair and knew that I had cheated him.  I actually took out my cell and started a timer.  It was almost ten minutes of waiting.

Not good.

The men in the hall were distributing drinks amongst themselves.  Mr. Boo got one.  We did not.  We just sat.  In Egypt, not offering tea is considered extremely rude.

So, when the producer came back I told him that I didn't need this moment.  I had been told to come and I came.  For what?  He didn't even know what I could offer!  His leaving twice was not polite.  He appologized.  Us sitting without drinks was unheard of.  We were leaving. 

I stood up. He wanted to know what I would like.  I told him that I'm very honest and very straight.  I could act all smiley with him now and then bad talk him at home but I'm not like that.  I'm all for putting cards on the table.  I didn't like the way the meeting had gone and I didn't need this for me or for my family.  If he could figure out a way to use my talents without making my life chaotic, then he could give me a call.  And I left.

What comes first is peace for me and my family.

The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e. working with others)

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Synopsis: Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Valuing and respecting people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

So, I went home, got my Boo to bed and started on a few of the many projects I needed to finish within the next two days.

That's when I got the phone call.

My lovely new assistant was calling.  She asked how the meeting at the studio went.  She was the first person to ask after the fact so I went on and on. 

Then she told me her news.  She had been in a car accident that afternoon.  Alhumdulillah she was alright.  However, her face was cut up and banged up and she had to recouperate at home until next week.

I now had no assistant for the final day of preparation and the first two days of school. 

I did what any desperate teacher does:  I begged!  I messaged my former assistant from last year and begged her to help me out.  This a favor for me; not the school that didn't ask her back.  She could get paid for a few days work and also get her work seen again.  It truly was "win-win" if she could see it clearly.

She told me that the school did her wrong.  And they did!  I agreed!  I wanted her back for this year but the administration had other plans.  So, this was a chance to right the wrong. 

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand,
Then to be Understood

Synopsis: Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving.

I then had to go to work and plead my case to the administration.  I needed qualified help on the first day of school.  My former assistant was a possibility if they would agree.  They wouldn't.  They wanted me to work with a new girl and frankly I couldn't trust someone I didn't know with such an important day.  They denied my request.

In the heat of the moment I actually stormed out ready to march to the Headmistress' office.  Yet, on the way, I made a u-turn and waited to speak to the principal instead.  This is the same principal who could not see eye-to-eye with me during The Revolution.  Now, I was putting my classroom's fate in her hands.

When we sat together, I started "Bismallah."  I calmed myself.  I made my case.  She spoke.  I listened.  We came up with ideas and solutions.  Yes, I could have my former assistant back for those few days and she could be paid out of pocket.  Maybe, even, if she proved herself, there could be a different position for her at school. 

I had to then speak to my former assistant and convince her that her hurt could not be mended at home.  She could come back; give another chance and get another chance.  She accepted.  She accepted because I never wronged her and she trusted me.  Alhumdulillah that I was, at least in that instance, the person I want to be.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synopsis: Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone. Get the best performance out of a group of people through encouraging meaningful contribution, and modeling inspirational and supportive leadership.

So, that first day I greeted moms and dads with the new kids.  Many of the families had sent me their older children previously.  This is a benefit to staying put; the trust and understanding is already in place. 

Alhumdulillah, the day went better than the other two years.  I've been able to get the rules into place very easily from the beginning.  I know that to a large degree it went well because of my former assistant agreeing to come back.  God bless her. 

Self Renewal
The Last habit relates to self-rejuvenation:

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Synopsis: Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.

We all made it through the first day, alhumdulillah.  I ached all over; headache, neckache, backache, legs, feet--you name it!  Yet, I couldn't just jump in a taxi and go home.  I wanted to celebrate.  Celebration is a beautiful thing; it means thanking the moment.  There was a lot to be thankful for.  I saw life clearer.

So, my boy and I walked together and talked about our days.  I wasn't in any rush to any studio.  I was going home to relax.  That felt really good. 

We stopped at the first cart along the way.  Mangoes were selling for 7.50 LE a kilo.  Of course, I was told that the ones I wanted were 10 LE a kilo.  I walked.

The next cart had a man who didn't know how to deal with me.

The third cart had a man with a cheerful demeanor.  Here's a translation of how our Arabic conversation went:

Me:  Asalamu Alaykom!  Your mangoes are all so beautiful.  I want to buy all of them but I only have five pounds.

Mango Seller:  These cost seven fifty so you can't have any.

Me:  My husband is difficult.  I only have five.

Mango Seller:  Your husband is Egyptian?

Me:  I said he was difficult.  Difficult and Egyptian!  What if I could buy two?  One for me and one for my boy.  See those over there?

Mango Seller:  These?

Me:  Yes!  Exactly!  Those are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  Here's the money.

Mango Seller:  Why did you marry your husband if he is difficult?

Me:  Naseeb.  Alhumdulillah.

Those hot mangoes chilled overnight and the next day there were perfection.  I almost felt guilty cutting into their sunset skin.  Each bite was sigh worthy.  Heaven.

There actually is an 8th Habit which was added later.

Habit 8:  Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs

So, here I am finding my voice.  This is the ideal place, or so they say, as Giza is considered The Throat Chakrah of the World.  I actually had to write this out before starting my new week.  I needed to put things in perspective. 

Inshahallah, my new assistant will be back.  I'm hopeful that we can work well together.  I'm encouraged by how the administration could work with me. 

I'm looking forward to saying, "no" to any sudden demands from the studio.

My focus needs to be on us; more of the mangoes and less of the pits.

And've read some of what I've written.  Maybe you're Muslim and maybe you're not; it doesn't really matter.  I hope you see how beautifully life unfolds for all of us if we stay true to ourselves---our most effective selves.

1 comment:

Tamara Y said...

This is inspiring :-)