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the first day

Today was the first day of a seminar I am taking on University Teaching. As with all first classes, there was that period of awkward self-consciousness when you first meet the professor and your fellow students. There was also a sense of confidence when I had ready answers to questions the teacher was asking because I had done my reading and have some teaching experience. Then there was the brief surge of being overwhelmed when I looked at the assignments due in the next 10 weeks, as well as some excitement at knowing that yes, I will get it all done, and I will enjoy the learning process.

Life resembles the first day of class in many ways, and I think that's a healthy thing. It means that I showed up instead of opted out of a learning opportunity. In fact, one could say that the three elements that I identified above can serve as a good indicator that one is alive and well and making progress in life.

1. Unfamiliar and Maybe Awkward: I think there should always be something that makes me somewhat uncomfortable in my life. By uncomfortable I mean something new that I am faced with, a challenge that I wasn't expecting, some awkward or messy situation that I need to grapple with, relationships that must be worked out and developed, personal issues that need addressing, etc. A certain sense of being awkward and unsure means that I am facing something new, and that is a good thing. It is one of the marks of living in the present (instead of focusing on past accomplishments or future hopes). It also keeps me humble and somewhat vulnerable, and reminds me that learning, like life, is an ongoing process. There is always an invitation to participate in it if I want to.

2. Confidence and Contribution: All newness and awkwardness, without the occasional sense of accomplishment, can make for a fearful and miserable existence. Been there, done that, did not have a good time. Every day, it is important for me to dwell in the land of confidence for a bit. I need to see that I have some life skills, that I indeed do some things well, and that I have something to offer those around me. When I practice what I have already learned or teach it to others, I not only solidify and hone those skills, but I find myself carried forward into more opportunities to give and receive knowledge, skill, wisdom, and encouragement.

3. Overwhelmed and Excited: When I look ahead and see what mountains are ahead for me to climb (like the assignments in a course syllabus), it is okay to be slightly overwhelmed. If I nonchalantly react with, 'no problem,' to a difficult task, that might be evidence of pride, an over-estimation of my abilities and an underestimation of what lies ahead, a tendency towards stagnation (nothing new to learn here), and perhaps a certain sense of entitlement (expecting a great result from mediocre input). This misplaced and premature confidence will make me blind to areas that I need to improve in and deaf to valid input, especially from unexpected sources. It does me good to acknowledge that the task ahead will greatly challenge my abilities. It motivates me, helps me respect my teachers, keeps me aware that I will need help to make it through, braces me for difficulties that I might encounter, and calls me to find courage to face what is ahead.
Let me embrace the present newness and discomfort, let me remember past accomplishments and important lessons learned, and let me walk forward with courage into future challenges.

Welcome to the first day.

This is a photo of a rusty chain on an outdoor fireplace: rust is what happens when you don't keep things well-oiled and moving.

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