Hope is Not a Game Plan: Adapting to Change

There is a meme floating around social media that depicts a crying, distraught adolescent with the caption, “I don’t want to go through things that don’t kill me but make me stronger anymore!” Considering everything that 2020 has thrown at us to date, this is a valid and relatable sentiment that many in our community are feeling deep in their bones. However, challenges only make us stronger when we choose to engage with them, and, in order to grow through what we go through, we must accept our reality and claim full responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Historians will be writing of the epic beating our collective physical, mental, emotional, economic, and relational health has sustained since March, but you get to write your legacy of resilience. As the world around us continually changes without notice, we must be proactive in order to survive and thrive. This week’s blog aims to build a foundation upon which you can reclaim control over your experiences in academia and beyond.

ACCEPTANCE

Acceptance involves seeing things as they are in the present moment. However, rather than leaning into reality, it’s common to find ourselves clinging to what once was in the past or what we hope will be in the future when the present reality isn’t what we had wanted or expected.

Hope and optimism have been shown to contribute to resilience in the face of challenges across various contexts and settings, but adopting an optimistic outlook is starkly different from ignoring, resisting, or denying the present reality.

AVOIDANCE MINDSET:

“This sucks! I hate online learning, and this isn’t what I signed up for when I started my degree. I hope that things will return to ‘normal’ soon, but until then, I will do the bare minimum this semester to get by until we can return to face-to-face learning in the classroom.”

ACCEPTANCE MINDSET:

“I accept that face-to-face learning in a classroom is not an option this semester and I will embrace self-directed study and online learning in the virtual space to be successful in my program. I am optimistic that this will not last forever, and I am hopeful that there might be more of a hybrid model offered next semester.”

What most of us fail to realize is that wishing or waiting for a return to face-to-face learning is actively keeping us from being fully engaged in the present moment. When we embrace a mindset of acceptance, we can both recognize that we don’t like the cards we’ve been dealt and choose to play the cards we have to the best of our ability. 

RESPONSIBILITY

When we accept that many aspects of our lives are outside of our direct control, the next step is to claim full responsibility for the elements we can influence. In this sense, you are encouraged to take responsibility for yourself, including your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

We can control our mindset, attitude, behavior, mood, work ethic, words, thoughts, decisions, and choices; therefore, we are also responsible for all of these aspects of our lives. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat of your life experience and must take an active role in advocating for yourself.

It is not your school’s fault that you struggle with distance/online learning. It is the school’s responsibility to provide students with the tools and resources needed to succeed in their courses. It is your responsibility to use what is provided, give your honest best effort, and ask for help when you need it. Your instructor’s responsibility is to meet your needs to the best of their ability or refer you to an appropriate resource.

It is not your teacher’s fault that you earned a low grade for an assignment. The instructor’s responsibility is to clearly communicate the instructions, expectations, and grading criteria for an assignment. It is your responsibility to read what is provided and ask for clarification if there are parts that you do not understand until you have the information you need to complete the assignment successfully.  

It is not your classmate’s fault that you are feeling angry, upset, or frustrated. Your classmate’s responsibility is to participate in the required work for a group project fully, and it is your responsibility to effectively communicate the expectations for group roles and the division of labor. It is then each person’s responsibility to fulfill their roles and contribute to the project. It is common for us to confuse another person’s behavior (their responsibility) with our interpretations of their behavior (our responsibility); however, nobody can “make” us feel anything. They simply behave, which we interpret in a way that incites an emotional response. In this way, we are fully responsible for our feelings.

CONTROL

We are living and learning during a global pandemic, continued socio-political conflict, and multiple environmental disasters. Though it might feel like too many aspects of our education are outside our direct, or even indirect, control, there are still many things over which we have considerable influence.

CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR MINDSET AND ATTITUDE.

Our mindset and attitude are always under our direct and complete control. We chose to pursue higher education, and in doing so, we accepted that we would be challenged intellectually, intrapersonally (within ourselves), and interpersonally (socially). The only thing that has changed is the nature of the challenges; it’s like someone finally rolled the dice in Jumanji and instead of needing to dance-fight a group of poachers, we are trying to escape from carnivorous vines. There is no version of academia that is NOT uncomfortable, and there is no growth without discomfort. Focus less on the cause of the problem and more on possible solutions to overcome it and thrive!

TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR SCHEDULE AND DEADLINES.

The disruption of routine over the last several months has had a tremendous impact on the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of individuals of all ages across the country. However, you have the power and the ability to create a new routine for yourself to provide structure and direction to your day. Most undergraduate and graduate courses will require about 80-100 hours of work outside of time spent in class; this time doesn’t magically appear; we must make space in our lives for our academic responsibilities. It can be helpful to schedule time into your day as if it were a meeting with your boss, and then actually keep those appointments with yourself. Additionally, tune in to your flow of energy throughout the day and make your schedule work for you! If you are more focused and creative first thing in the morning, set aside a block of time to work on writing projects with a hot pot of coffee. If it is easier for you to read and comprehend textbook material in the afternoons, play to your strengths! Remember, a little work each day can often be more productive than a single, massive chunk of time once or twice a week, but the best combination will be dependent on your unique personality and preferences.

COMMUNICATE INTENTIONALLY AND TO ADD VALUE TO YOUR COMMUNITY.

Our words matter, especially in an online learning environment. Not only do we use words to communicate knowledge and our understanding of concepts, but they also express concern, empathy, and compassion. Besides our needs for sustenance and safety, we also have an innate need for community, creativity, empathy, and meaning (purpose, contribution, and fulfillment). These needs can be met in the virtual space if we are willing to make an effort. By stepping into our role as class leaders, we can foster a sense of community while making a meaningful contribution to our learning and our classmates’ learning. Moreover, sharing our personal experiences and perspectives on discussion boards creates opportunities for meaningful and empathetic connections with others.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Life happens, but we don’t always like it! How we choose to handle our personal and academic lives is a personal choice. We are facing a global pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, and all we can do is accept our new reality and move forward. By letting go and unlearning what we knew to be true in the past, we are able to create space for the new model of our world and how to be successful in it. Therefore, claiming responsibility for what we can control and influence in our academic lives becomes pivotal to our ability to thrive.

*This blog was co-authored by Dr. Amanda Leibovitz and Dr. Jeff Allen.

About Jeff Allen

My mission is to balance the goals of my personal and professional life while continually gaining new knowledge and seeking wisdom. This effort to balance my goals should not dilute the quality of my goals, but should enhance the quality of life for my family, co-workers, friends, and students.
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