The Last Hurdle
When I was in high school, I was 5’11 and 115 lbs. I was long and lean, basically just skin and bones. I had legs that went for days and a passion for athletics. My true loves were volleyball and basketball, but I needed something for the spring time so track became my spring event. I actually hated running even then, so the likelihood of finding myself in a track uniform should have been slim to none. My first cousin and best friend, Katie, told me I should do it. She said I could just high jump and we would have fun. She is one year older than me and I have always believed every word she said, so I joined the track team. When I met with the coach he took one look at me and said, “Hurdler!” I replied, “High Jumper!” He replied, “Hurdler and High Jumper!” I said okay. He didn’t have the 100m hurdles in mind for me…oh no…he had the 300m hurdles in mind. He eloquently explained to me how it would be easy and the hurdles are even shorter and there aren’t very many of them. He dressed that event up in a $3,000 gown and diamond encrusted slippers. So, since I love a challenge and it sounded like an easy task to accomplish…I became a hurdler.
The 300m hurdles are no $3,000 gown with diamond encrusted slippers…they suck! If running at full sprint for an awkward distance isn’t enough…there are actual barriers in your way. These hurdles aren’t figurative…they are real and they hurt if you run into them. I can still feel the pain of making the last turn into the final 100m of the race. You want to puke because you think there is no way you can sprint anymore and the lactic acid burn begins to set into your thighs making you think there is no way you can clear one more hurdle. The finish line comes into view and all you begin thinking about is crossing that line. But, there is one hurdle left between you and the finish. That last hurdle is by far the hardest to clear. In fact, in my very first race…I didn’t clear my last hurdle. My front foot shorted the height and down I and the hurdle went. The pavement met lots of my skin and my momentum came to a screeching halt. There I lay 25 ft from the finish line wondering if I could finish.
It’s been 15 weeks. 60 class meetings. 165 hours of in class time. Several more hours of outside of class prep time. It is here. The finish. There is just one last hurdle to clear. The 175 multiple choice comprehensive final exam? Nope…that’s not it. That is what I use to think was the last hurdle in academics. Got to get over the final exam and get the grades in and then cross the finish line. In fact, I spent the first several semesters with that mentality. But, I didn’t realize until recently that I was actually stopping before I cleared the last hurdle. I wasn’t finishing at all. I was missing the all-important last hurdle: self-reflection. When you get to the end of a semester you are weary, you don’t feel like you can do one more thing. But, it is exactly at that moment when you need to push yourself to do this one more thing. Taking the time to perform self-reflection right after the event/semester/action is over is the perfect time because your memory of the event/semester/action is the best it will ever be. Waiting until planning and prepping for the courses the next year will not be as fruitful because you won’t have as clear of a memory of what went well and what didn’t. Self-reflection that occurs as the last hurdle is exactly what your brain needs to untangle the chaos of the semester, to sort through the experiences and emotions that occurred, and to learn from your mistakes and victories. Self-reflection is often where we have our greatest amount of growth.
But, how do we do it? How do we push ourselves to clear that last hurdle and finish strong?
1. Schedule it!
At the beginning of the semester or at the beginning of a project at work, go to the proposed end and schedule a slot of self-reflection. Every semester, I put final exams in my calendar and then the day after my last scheduled final exam, I block out 2 hours of time to self-reflect. You have heard me say it before, but I will say it again…What gets scheduled, gets done!
2. Identify your important questions.
What are the questions that will help stimulate your reflection? Having a set of prewritten questions can spark your thought process in the right direction. I have a list of my go to self-reflection questions that I usually begin with. They include the following:
“What do you think went well this semester?”
“What do you think did not go well this semester?”
“How did you help your students achieve their goals?”
“How did you help your colleagues achieve their goals?”
“How can you be more effective as a teacher?”
“How can you be more effective as a friend/colleague/leader?”
3. Do it!
At some point you just have to dig in your spikes and push yourself over that last hurdle. Start small and build from there. If self-reflecting feels like a scary thing to do (I still feel anxious when I begin to open my journal and start the process.), start with just 10 minutes.
In my first race, I may not have cleared the last hurdle, but in my final race as a senior I cleared every one of them with a personal best time. I never earned first place. I never earned third place for that matter, but I enjoyed the challenge and growth I experienced from the process. Self-reflecting can sometimes be a painful experience, but it can also be a joyous experience. The point is you need to experience it. Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.” Clear your final hurdle today.
Do you regularly self-reflect? What is your process?