Conscientiousness is the most important trait. This may explain how I manage to overcome the absence of so many others.

Great news. Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal.

How do the researchers define conscientiousness?

Basically, it’s being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.” It’s a trait that has been shown to increase your chances of finding a job, living longer, and living healthier. It is also strongly correlated with longer marriages and greater money and job satisfaction. 

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“It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness,” researcher John Roberts said. ‘But at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”

I’m pretty excited about this finding.

“Efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.”

That’s me. Four words couldn’t describe me better.

If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.

Perhaps it’s this trait that counteracts all of my flaws and shortcomings, as well as the multitude of traits that I lack, including:

  • attention to detail
  • restraint
  • tact
  • humility
  • caution
  • charm
  • respect for authority
  • moderation
  • mechanical aptitude
  • a decent golf swing
Posted in Autobiography, Idea, Science | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Favorite girls

I’m not a  fan of the selfie. The actual taking of the photo, the word, and everything that comes along with it.

Photos like these are beginning to change my mind.

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Posted in Family | 1 Comment

Death helps. Steve Jobs knew this, and unlike me, he didn’t need to die in order to learn it.

Nine minutes into his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs discussed the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

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The only difference between Steve Jobs’ view on death and my own is that Jobs came to this understanding at the age of seventeen after reading a quote.

It took me two near death experiences (Death #1 and Death #2) and a gun to the head and a trigger being pulled to bring me to the same understanding.

Jobs path to this bit of wisdom seems a little easier and a lot smarter.

I meet people everyday who can’t understand the way that my ongoing existential crisis and my obsession with death motivate me. They can’t begin to understand how someone can be so focused on the idea of mortality for so much of their day to day life. Nor would they ever want such a burden.

But it’s not their fault.

The ability to constantly remember that you will be dead soon apparently requires that you be as brilliant as Steve Jobs or as unlucky as me.

Both of these are conditions not easily achieved. It makes me wonder if the advice that Jobs gives is worthwhile.

A former life coach client once told me that he’s known two near-death survivors in his life. Me and one of his friends. He said that the two of us are alike in so many ways. The way we talk about goals. The way we try to maximize our minutes. The things we choose to ignore and disregard in favor of things that matter. The systems and routines that we create to increase efficiency and productivity. Our levels of self confidence.   

“Even the way the two of you walk through a crowd is the same.”

I say that I am unlucky, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But I wonder where I would be today had a bee, a Mercedes, and three armed men not tried to kill me.

I’m just not as smart as Steve Jobs. A little bit of death, spread out over the course of a decade, might have been just what someone like me needed to get ahead.

I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I’m not sure that if given the chance I would change a thing.

 

Posted in Autobiography, Idea | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My kids love each other so much, and you can shut your mouth about it.

It’s crazy how much my kids love each other.

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Even crazier is the number of miserable people who look at a photo like this and say things like, “Enjoy it while it lasts!” and “Sorry to tell you, my friend, but they’ll be at each other’s throats before you know it.”

My inclination, whenever I hear someone say something like this to me, is to stomp on their foot, and while they are crumpled in a ball on the ground, tell them how small and sad they are.

It’s difficult to imagine how much a person must truly suck at life in order to be able to tell a proud father that his children are going to be repellant, dissociative antagonists someday.

It’s even more difficult to imagine how stupid a person has to be in order to presume that his or her family dynamic is universal.

Why do people do this?

I was recently told by someone that in just a few short years,  my daughter is going to close her bedroom door and stop sharing her thoughts and feelings with me.

Thankfully, I’m immune to this nonsense. I simply assume that the person who is telling me this is an idiot.

But not everyone is as arrogant and condescending as me. These inconsiderate, hateful, and oftentimes inaccurate jerk faces are quite capable of ruining the day of an otherwise happy parent.

If you are one of these people, you suck at life. Stop it. Allow proud parents like me to enjoy the moment, expect the best, and remain hopeful about the future. Your apparently unfortunate reality is not the destiny of all, as much as you might wish otherwise.    

Posted in Critic, Family, Parenting | 1 Comment

The difference between playing school and teaching school

Budo, from Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, is credited as saying that there are two types of teachers:

Teachers who play school and teachers who teach school.

In truth, he stole that one from me.

But he’s right.

I’m often asked to expound upon this line from the book, which is one of the most quoted from the book.

For many educators, this sentiment seems to have resonated quite a bit.

Essentially, it’s the difference between the teacher who focuses on the classroom versus the teacher who focuses on the student. It’s the difference between the teacher who prioritizes the preparing of materials and lessons versus the teacher who prioritizes the building of honest, genuine, long-lasting relationships with students and families.

As a student, I could spot these two kinds of teachers from a mile away.

You probably could, too. 

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Here’s a couple good rules of thumb:

If your teaching methods closely resemble the teaching methods from your childhood, you are probably playing school.

If you speak to your students in a way that is fundamentally different from the way you speak to friends and family, in either tone and affect, you are probably playing school.

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A race to the bottom: Which state will be the last to legalize same sex marriage?

Over the weekend, a judge overturned Alaska’s ban on same sex marriage.

On Tuesday, Alaska and North Carolina began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples for the first time.

Thirty states and Washington, D.C. now allow some form of marriage for same-sex couples.

Can you believe it? This seemed impossible just a few years ago, and now a  majority of Americans live in states that permit same sex marriage.

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The states that are still resisting same sex marriage must understand by now that resisting is only delaying the inevitable.

Right?

As the number of states in which same sex marriage is still illegal continues to shrink, we have to ask ourselves:

Which state will be last to legalize same sex marriage? And does that state want to carry the stigma of being the last to recognize this right?

Depending on how you define integration, Alabama, Arkansas, or Mississippi were the last states to integrate their school systems. Alabama has the unfortunate honor of often being thought of as the last to integrate, with Governor George Wallace refusing to do so until the military intervened and forced his hand.

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Isn’t that amazing? The military had to forcibly integrate schools in Alabama and other parts of the South.

I can’t imagine that the people of Alabama are proud of this moment in their history.

Alabama is one of 20 states that in which same sex marriage is illegal. It’s currently engaged in a race to the bottom.

Which state will earn the unfortunate distinction of being the last to allow this basic human right? If these politicians in these final 20 states were smart, they would try like hell to avoid being the last. It’s an honor that no state should want.

Unfortunately, intelligence and wisdom tend to be in short supply when it comes to the bigots and hypocrites who struggle to keep these bans in place, so it’s likely to be a shortsighted, clawing, ugly battle to determine which state is run by the largest percentage of them.

Posted in Current Affairs, History/Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Teachers: Stop commenting, positively or negatively, on your student’s physical appearance. It’s only hurting them.

As an elementary school teacher, I have made it my policy for more than a decade to avoid commenting on a student’s physical appearance. A student’s appearance should be the last thing of concern to a teacher, but more importantly, these comments, even when positive, can be damaging and hurtful to kids.

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This policy has been scoffed at by many of my friends and colleagues. I have been laughed at and criticized for my position. Told that I am taking things too far. Becoming too politically correct.

Yet I have articulated this position to every class of students over the past ten years, and I have never had a single student scoff or laugh or even question my policy. Every single student has appreciated and supported my position. Some of have tried to adopt it as well. 

It’s only adults who think I’m dumb.

Up until this point, I haven’t cared. I know I’m right. I know I’m doing right by my students. I’m accustomed to suffering fools gladly.

Then I watched Meaghan Ramsey’s TED Talk “Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you.”

It turns out that Ramsey would agree with me. She would support my position. Endorse it, even.

In her own words:

“Why can’t we compliment people based upon their effort and actions and not their appearance?”

After listening to Meaghan Ramsey’s talk and learning more about the incredible struggles that young people face when it comes to physical appearance and body image, I decided that it’s no longer good enough to simply ignore my detractors. I need to change their minds. Convince them otherwise. Make them see the light. 

I want my policy of refraining from commenting on a student’s physical appearance to become a policy that all teachers adopt. I want this to be a policy that educators embrace and champion.  

If you are a teacher, I ask you to consider adopting this policy for yourself. Watch Ramsey’s TED Talk. Read my original post on the issue, which outlines my rationale. Ask yourself if there is any reason in the world to compliment the pretty dress or the new haircut in your classroom today. Of all the finite minutes that we have to spend with our students, do you want to use even a tiny fraction of that time talking about wardrobe choices and hairstyles?

Is that the culture you want in your classroom?   

If you agree with me, I ask you to do more than simply adopt the policy yourself. I ask that you become a champion for this policy as well.

  • Talk to your colleagues.
  • Forward them this blog post.
  • Share this blog post via your social media channels.
  • Pass along Meaghan Ramsey’s TED Talk.
  • Find like minded people who will support you, and when they cannot be found, convince them to be like minded.

Even better, talk to your students. They are likely to be more supportive of this policy than many of the adults with whom you work. Enlist the support of the kids. Turn them into the spokespeople for this issue.

If students rise up and demand that teachers stop commenting on their physical appearance, both positive or otherwise, things would change overnight.

I plan on doing my part as well. I have already reached out to several TED conferences, asking if I can speak on this issue. If you know of someone hosting a conference let me know.

Whenever I am standing in front of a group of teachers (which happens more often than you would think), I will speak about my policy, tangentially if necessary, and ask them to adopt it for themselves.

I’ll look for outlets with larger audiences who will publish my thoughts on this issue. Magazines. Journals. Online resources.

I will seek to change minds and convince teachers that this is the right thing to do.

And it’s not easy. When I first adopted this policy for myself, it took months to train myself to refrain from commenting on physical appearance, and I was never one to mention physical appearance to begin with. I had to reframe my thinking and construct strategies to avoid situations where complimenting a student’s physical appearance almost seemed necessary.

When a student walks into my classroom and asks if I like her new haircut, I had to learn to say, “I didn’t notice your hair at all, but I loved the way you didn’t give up when we were solving those problems in math yesterday. Persistence is going to get you far in life.”

That’s a hard transition to make. It feels incredibly awkward at first. It’s still a little awkward. Explaining my rationale to my students helped, but it was still a long road to where I am today.

Get on the road now. Don’t delay. And spread the word.

It’s the right thing to do. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hemingway was an idiot. Write sober.

It sounds clever, and the association between writing and the consumption of alcohol is a powerful and lasting one, but I disagree with Hemingway on this one. Frankly, I think he was an idiot when it came to this idea.

How about we all just write and edit sober and do our best work instead?

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John Steinbeck was an unrealistically and obscenely mature man

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Posted in The Writing Process | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Mystery of Prince Rupert’s Drop: A small piece of glass made amazing

This is six of the most fascinating six minutes of video on the Internet today. Both in terms of subject and presentation.

Stop and watch.

The Prince Rupert Drop is named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who I recommend you don’t spend any time reading about lest you end up feeling terrible about your own accomplishments.

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The man was ridiculous.

For example, he was a soldier from a young age, fighting against Spain in the Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War and against the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. At the age of 23, he was appointed commander of the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War. He surrendered after the fall of Bristol and was banished from England. He served under Louis XIV of France against Spain, and then as a Royalist privateer in the Caribbean. Following the Restoration, Rupert returned to England, becoming a senior British naval commander during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch wars.

That doesn’t even touch on his role as a colonial governor in Canada, founding member of the Royal Society of Science, and his work as a scientist, inventor, and artist. The man was also a cypher, a manufacturer of weaponry, and a metallurgist.

I’m all for over achieving, but Prince Rupert took it to an obscene level.

But he left us with, among other things, the Prince Rupert Drop.

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