There aren’t many perfect movies out there. The only ones I know of are The Princess Bride, Galaxy Quest, Casablanca, and The Great Escape.
Of course, that’s my opinion and you are welcome to have your own list of perfect movies. But mine is better.
I’ll add one more to the list: Groundhog Day.
If you haven’t watched it by now, shame on you. It came out in 1993 so I’m not even going to bother to warn you about possible spoilers. For those who have seen it, I won’t recap the struggles of our hero, Phil Connors, because you know the plot and the ultimate resolution as Phil learns to live his best life after reliving the same day over and over again (some arguments have been made that he spent over eight years reliving the same day).
The same day. Over and over again.
As a teacher, I’m sure you can relate.
The life of an educator is replete with repetition. No matter where you find yourself in education, routine is routine. Classroom teachers, administrators, students, custodians, assistants, coaches, instructional leads, technology coaches, whatever role you may fill, from one day to the next the structure of your day and many of your actions remain the same.
For many of us, frustration lies in the routine. We do the same things every day, often expecting different outcomes.
Some have said this is the definition of insanity. Trust me, it’s not (and Einstein didn’t think so, either).
Consistent consistency is the key to achieving just about anything you want from your time on this earth. Which, for every one of us, is time restricted by these flesh suits we walk around in every day. Eventually, whether through sickness, disease, or old age, we wear out and move on to whatever it is that lies beyond the veil, if anything at all.
Even our time as teachers is limited, whether by retirement or choosing to move to another career, we have a small window of opportunity to make an impact on as many lives as possible.
So, we follow routines. We know what works and we strive to learn more of what works as we move through our careers. Even the pursuit of learning becomes routine and adds to our development as educators and leaders of learning.
Doing the work, even when we don’t feel like it (or especially when we don’t feel like it as Steven Pressfield advises) is how we improve, how our students improve, and ultimately how our society improves.
While many don’t think of teaching as a creative endeavor, I’ve always contended that great teachers are some of the most creative people on the planet. They have to come up with new content every day, regardless of how they teach or how they choose to make learning happen in their classrooms. The teacher is the guide, the facilitator, the ultimate designer of learning in their piece of the world. Creativity is inherent in the teaching profession.
Creativity requires putting in the work, no matter what creative act is being pursued.
I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.— Stephen King, On Writing
Jerry Seinfeld built a career out of writing new material for his stand-up every day. Early on, he said he was a “write three days a week” comic but when he found himself working basement discos in LA in the 70s, he became a “write seven days a week” comic. The rest, of course, is history. His new book, “Is This Anything?” chronicles his best work (yes, he’s saved it all, across five decades of work in comedy) and gives some insight into one of our great creative minds.
For those who follow the philosophy of Stoicism, routine is everything. The only way to achieve the life that stoics believe we all should be striving for is to live in routine and habit daily. It’s the only way we improve.
Jocko Willink lives every day by his famous “discipline equals freedom” mantra. If you follow Jocko on Instagram, you’ll notice every morning he shares pretty much the same photo of his well-worn Ironman wristwatch, sometimes accompanied by the aftermath of his morning workout.
Recently, I began working with a personal trainer because, you know, I’m totally out of shape, I’m approaching my mid-40s, and I want to be around for as long as possible. In my first conversation with Kerry Overfelt (we just call him KO, which is quite possibly the greatest nickname for a personal trainer ever), he told me,
It’s not about where you start, it’s about how much you show up and how much you build over time. The people who win are the ones who show up consistently and put in the work in the gym and in the kitchen.— Kerry Overfelt
I can go on and on with more examples of people who committed to doing the work to get the results they wanted. But let’s go back to thinking about teaching…
Yes, you have school and district goals you are trying to reach with your students. Of course you do. But those aren’t really the goals we’re chasing.
We’re trying to raise up a generation of people who know that the only way they will be successful in life is to commit to doing the work. Just like we do every day.
The same, monotonous, often soul-sucking, mind-numbing, and sometimes totally fruitless work that we do every day that we will rarely ever see come to fruition.
But we don’t do the work to see the end result. We do the work because that’s what we do. We do the work because we chase what the Greeks called arete – we chase excellence. And for each of us, excellence means something different.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.— Will Durant
So, we keep working. I keep working on making a difference in schools with technology, even when things don’t work and the pushback from teachers is disheartening. I keep working on this blog because writing is important and putting out creative work is important.
I keep going because I want you to keep going. The struggle is real but so are the rewards. There is great fulfillment in doing nothing more than the work that is set before us.
Find fulfillment in doing the work. It’s worth it. And the world will be better for it.
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