Special Skill(s): Reflections on Worst-Case Scenario Thinking and How Teaching Is Taking Over My Life and Brain

It’s Reading Week, the toned-down, much-colder, Canadian version of Spring Break and a much needed few days to focus on things like not obsessively planning lessons and figuring out who I am as a person when I’m not making PowerPoint presentations.

I’ve settled into a bit of a groove now and started to remember why I used to enjoy getting up in front of thirty-plus students to perform an interactive, nerve-wracking academic play three times a week. For that, I am grateful. Still, emotionally (why do I hate that word?) speaking, the transition back to my program has been rocky, and teaching has been hugely, borderline unbearably, anxiety provoking for me. There’s nothing like commencing each lesson with the assumption that you’re going to mess up and embarrass yourself while also crushing your professional ambitions, all due to a single typo on a PowerPoint slide that you didn’t catch despite spending an excessive amount of time proofreading.

Someone (ok, a therapist) recently asked something to the effect of, and I’m paraphrasing only a little here, “if you screwed up while teaching for realz, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Whenever I’m asked the “what’s the worst that could happen” question, which is relatively frequently since I have an anxiety disorder and the incredibly annoying tendency to ask for constant reassurance—which is fine, right?—I can come up with many impressively elaborate and horrible scenarios to illustrate the worst things that might happen in the perverse world that only I inhabit. It’s one of my special skills. Maybe my only special skill: the jury’s still out.

So if I made a biggish mistake in the classroom? The very small rational part of my brain is pretty sure I’d live, my students would live, I’d correct the error, and we’d all move on, but let’s not waste time thinking about it.

Yesterday morning, on the bus on my way to an amazing vegan café—yes, I included the “vegan” so that you know that there’s some variety in my diet—to meet an extraordinary person for a coffee date, my mind wandered to next week’s classes. I noticed, to my shock and amazement, that I didn’t instinctively put myself in a position in which I knew I’d get get angry by reading comments on articles in the Guardian in order to distract myself from my stupid ol’ other-kind-of-negative feelings, which is my usual maladaptive strategy.

Sitting there, wedged between an elderly woman who smelled like 1974 and a guy doing some serious manspreading, I was, miraculously, simultaneously running through a lesson plan in my head and experiencing a weird, pleasant emotion.

I think it’s called contentment.

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One thought on “Special Skill(s): Reflections on Worst-Case Scenario Thinking and How Teaching Is Taking Over My Life and Brain

  1. A huge smile covered my face at two points (“extraordinary”?! Aw, man…), but the more important point was the end. What a huge delight and relief it is to feel that, eh? Congratulations!

    I’ve received the “What’s the worst that could happen?” question from a similarly trained individual regarding teaching (the beginning of the semester, every day before teaching, I would be virtually paralyzed with fear and doubt), but also regarding my PhD: “So, what’s the worst that could happen if you made an error in your exam? Would you fail out of your program? And even if you did, would your life end? Would your family and friends shun you?” It’s so helpful when other people illustrate it that way, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah. The world actually WON’T end!” and feel victorious for about an hour. It’s vitally important to remember the moments of victory and, as you say, contentment to counsel us on the days when such positivity isn’t as evident; it’s also essential to remember that you friggin kick ass at what you do and your students are fortunate to have your mad skillz.

    Also, I loled at “Sitting there, wedged between an elderly woman who smelled like 1974 and a guy doing some serious manspreading.”

    Finally, we need to get Bloomer’s to make muffin tops…

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