The ‘little joys’ challenge
Clare Campbell suggests eight simple tips for making life brighter, better.
Indulge me a moment … Here are a few words of advice which, if followed, will bring joy to your day. This day! Ready to have a go? OK. Here’s the challenge … I would like you to think about the tiny joys that can be found everywhere, every day. My advice is to seek them out. Look out for those little joys in every single day and make sure that you don’t end any day without finding at least one, no matter how tiny.
I am a mum and a Catholic headteacher, I have been teaching for 22 years and I still love to teach. I have always found great joy in my life as a teacher. When I became a Head, I learned that headship is different, your staff team almost becomes your new class. I worry about them, just as much as I used to worry about the different groups of children in my classroom.
For me teaching is a work of the heart and you can’t really do a good job if your heart isn’t in it. Some days it feels as if I eat, sleep and breathe my school and this hasn’t really changed in all the years I have been in the job.
Sometimes, children’s problems keep me up at night. School is likely to be on my mind as soon as I wake up in the morning and is often the last thing on my mind as my head hits the pillow at night. But despite the problems and stresses, just as I used to find joy in each day as a classroom teacher, I experience little joys each day as a headteacher.
For me, if ever I am having a bad day or I’m feeling a bit gloomy, the infant classes are the place to go to lift my spirits. Those little tiny faces looking up at me can brighten even the darkest of days. Young children are full of awe and wonder. Taking a three or four-year-old outside on a nature walk, even in the most horrible weather, is always such a lovely experience!
Children who are still so very young, who have only spent a matter of months on the earth, can be fascinated and sustain their attention for a really long time on a creature, a bird, a leaf, a creepy crawly, a muddy puddle.
So even if you feel that everything is going wrong, if you can, go and spend some time with young children.
Go and have a chat with them, listen to them, really listen. Tell them a story, make them laugh. Laughter is infectious and there is nothing more adorable than a three-year-old in a helpless fit of giggles!
It is so easy to get stuck behind a computer screen, or drown in paperwork, but no one ever found great joy in a spreadsheet. Spend some time with children, everything else can wait.
Next … Find joy in relationships. My deputy head is my professional best friend, my right arm, my go to person … I am so lucky in my school that I have an assistant head as well, with whom I share an office. My deputy and my assistant head couldn’t be more different in personality, looks, everything, but they are my dream team. No matter what is going on at school (and believe me we have weathered some storms together!), I know that they have my back and I have theirs. I can literally tell them anything and I know that they will help me find a solution to the trickiest problem. No one has all the answers, you can’t do a job alone.
You might not be so fortunate in your profession, or you may have a brand new team that you haven’t quite ‘sussed out’ yet, but you will need an ally, so my advice is to find one – and quick.
You may have a difficult job or a toxic atmosphere at work, but don’t lose heart. If you haven’t got an ally in your work yet – turn to your old friends, those friends who know you and your journey. If you have got something really tricky to deal with, remember a problem shared really is a problem halved. Talking to a friend over a glass of wine or a coffee is the best therapy you can have and it’s free!
Advice point three is simple … Don’t take yourself too seriously! Remember to laugh at yourself. For me, it helps that I live with my husband and two teenage sons who have inherited their father’s sarcastic sense of humour, so I am never allowed to take myself too seriously for long.
And admit your mistakes, we all make them and I for one have made some real clangers!
My next tip is, find joy in planning ahead. Things may be difficult right now, you will have a ‘to do’ list longer than your arm and you may have doom and gloom coming at you from all directions, but sometimes you need to park all that for a moment and start to plan something that you know in the future you will really enjoy. A theatre trip, a residential trip, a gallery visit, a new author or poet to read, a visit to a book shop, a visiting artist, a school disco, anything to take your mind off the tricky situation that you are dealing with.
You will deal with whatever problem is besetting you, of course you will, but we all need a break from time to time. When I am struggling, I give myself a work-related break by planning something for the children and it always puts a smile on my face when I think of the joy it will bring.
Fifth tip? Find joy in your work – even the boring bits. I am a real geek, l love making files and charts, resources for children and for teachers, and I can find joy in neat paperwork, even a new policy with our logo and mission statement on it gives me a little buzz.
If you do even the smallest and dullest tasks with love, no one may ever notice, but you will have the satisfaction of a job well done and have another task ticked off your ‘to do’ list.
Oh, and give up to do lists! I used to write them religiously every day and yet there would always be that one task that I never ticked off. I even began writing things that I had already done, just so I could tick it off the list, so it became pointless for me. Now, I don’t bother and I use the time I would have spent on making to do lists on something else instead.
Next counsel is – find joy in simplicity, not everything that is joyful has to be complicated. At my school we regularly use prayer and meditation to encourage the children to have golden moments of stillness and silence. Likewise, take time to enjoy the perfect cup of tea and a biscuit in peace with your door closed. Being still, being silent, praying, taking deep breaths, looking at the sky, watching the birds, listening to bird song, finding a new shoot, or flower … find joy in the simple things; be easily pleased.
All work and no play makes Clare a dull girl. Over the years I have taken less and less work home. I have become more efficient with my time and I have learned to delegate more. Even with a busy family life and a school dog to look after, I still need to find time for me in my working week.
I am an avid reader and writer and I love anything arty. I love the cinema and the theatre and catching up with friends, especially friends who have nothing to do with education. When things are tough at work, and they will be from time to time, you need a non-work related outlet. Find yours.
Go to the gym, walk the dog, play your trombone, go to a life drawing class, whatever inspires you, just give yourself an escape, some down time and a life away from work.
Daydream about your retirement plans, think about what job you would do if anything was possible, I like to call it my ‘exit strategy’. Find the joy in ‘what-if-ing’. Work will still be there in the morning.
Number seven on my list is … help others whenever you can. Giving is the best way to experience deep joy. Our school sends two volunteers a week to our local homeless day centre. When we are there, we muck in, we wash up, we serve food, we sort donations, we serve in the charity shop, we help people use the computers or phone services, but above all we listen to them. We chat, we let them know we care. It is the best personal and professional development course anyone could follow. What could you do to make a difference in your local area? What links could you forge to give others joy?
Suggestion eight is to try to find joy in your accomplishments, no matter how small. We tend to forget that baby steps still move us forward. In my second headship, I had a real ‘baptism of fire.’ It got to the end of my first half term and I was exhausted, stressed, deflated and sure that I had made a terrible mistake moving from my lovely first headship. But I do like a challenge, so it was my own fault really.
I met up with my good friend and ‘super-head’ Lisa, who instantly made me feel inferior as I listened to her many successes. I broke down in tears and told her about my desperate situation. I was uncertain about the future, worried for my children and fearful for their parents. She calmed me down and told me to write a list of all the little ‘wins’ I’d had so far. Even wins as tiny as learning all the children’s names were written down, but the power of these little things shouldn’t be underestimated, as they have the power to make someone feel special.
By the time I had finished writing, I had filled a side of A4 with all the little things I had already done. Seeing it on paper, written in front of me gave me a real sense of achievement and I felt like I had already achieved a great deal.
Yes, I still had a mountain to climb, but I could look back and feel joy from the small tasks already accomplished.
There are so many little joys to be found everywhere, every day. My challenge to you is to think of a little joy from today, look out for one tomorrow, and keep looking out for them every day of your life.
Good luck, and I promise you this: they won’t be hard to find!
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“No one ever found joy in a spreadsheet”
You just invalidated one of my greatest pleasures!
Not everyone is a ‘people person’ or an extrovert. Many of the things you mention doubtless bring joy to those who are that way inclined. To others they can seem as onerous as wrangling data on a spreadsheet must seem to you.
My own formula is based on a quote by U.G. Krishnamurti:
“Only if you reject all the other paths can you discover your own path.”