William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

70. Assume confidence, for use almost can change the stamp of nature

Wow. What a week. I feel like I’ve travelled through a thresher. And it’s been hot, even on cloudy days – I’ve been sweating in places that I’ve never sweated since working at the hay on my father’s farm on PEI last summer. Actually, every evening after a long day working I smell not unlike a moldy bale of hay.

Open lesson is approaching. It’s extremely important for the school. People make decisions about enrolling their children based on it. And I’m under the microscope, because I’m teaching science, and that’s a thing people will be particularly interested in seeing, since teaching science in English sets S.G. apart from other schools.

There was an impromptu meeting this afternoon – so much so that they didn’t even bring Mk. in to translate; M-sensei did so herself. Actually, she’s pretty darn good at it. She’s very calm and polite, too, which is also a major plus.

I had a few misunderstandings today about the science lesson, and W-sensei, who was there watching me, jumped in and did the last fifteen minutes of the lesson herself. Holy crow, it was embarrassing, but I don’t blame them – they were waiting for me to introduce a specific thing: the chart we’d be making about the various kinds of soils we’d be gathering and what we’d be observing about them. M-sensei had told me in the morning that I should make up a worksheet. I did – about soils in general! I should have asked for clarification – I thought she meant just a worksheet, not the worksheet, if you gather me.

These misunderstandings led to the meeting, and it started out very bleakly, with being reminded about how important the open lesson is to enrolment and therefore teacher’s salaries (theirs are actually somewhat respectable sums, I take it) and that we must not make mistakes. (Digression: I wish we weren’t so paranoid about making mistakes. How else can one learn anything?)

They talked me through Monday’s preparatory lesson step-by-step, in condescending voice. They didn’t seem to give me much credit for anything. They made me write down everything they said to me, and W-sensei even grabbed an eraser and rubbed out the first thing I wrote when I misunderstood how they wanted me to start off.

I can see where they were coming from – it is a complex lesson – but the erasing was a tremendous affront. They made me feel like a child.

However, things improved from there, and I got a lot out of this meeting – I’m at the point now where I know how I’ll pull it all off. Since I didn’t know that until now, I definitely needed this meeting.

After it was over, I jocularly asked if it was going to be like this for every open lesson. (The other teachers weren’t getting hauled in repeatedly.)

Rule #2 (we’ll get to #1 in a bit): Never ask a question if you dread the potential answer.

W-sensei spoke to me directly. “You say in meeting you are not very good science teacher. I think so too. English, so-so. Science - I think you are not science teacher.”

It was then I realized I’d made a grave mistake at the open lesson meeting earlier in the week. We were talking about the science lesson I was going to give, and it wasn’t going over well, so I decided to demonstrate my humility and honesty by admitting, “I’m not a very good science teacher.” Little did I realize that they’d assume the worst – I didn’t mean I was completely incompetent, I just meant that I was susceptible to improvement. They took the most direct meaning.

(Digression: I really hate it that all of my subtleties of meaning are almost entirely misunderstood. I should have expected this. It really handicaps polite discourse. And what else is funny is that I find many Japanese to be too direct when they speak English, even though they’re coming from a language and culture where being too direct is a no-no! Do they think that all bets are off just because they’re speaking English? There’s politeness and chicanery in English, too – we just don’t have ours fully conjugated in 501 Japanese Verbs.)

But this is me sitting in my apartment making excuses. In any country, I should not have said what I did in a professional setting. I had been suspecting that the extreme-seeming interventions had something to do with my frank admission, but I didn’t realize to what extent until W. vouched her emphatic, sonorous agreement with what I thought was just a run-of-the-mill self-effacing comment.

After they left, I sat alone in the room, somewhat stunned. I had to chuckle a bit, though, as I realized how silly I was to say I wasn’t very good at something. They took me at face value. I can’t blame them for that – in a second-language situation you’re busy enough trying to decode what someone is saying, much less trying to contextualize it as well.

But pondering the ramifications of my mistake made my lower my head onto my arms. I would have stayed in that room for a long time.

And yet W-sensei of all people came back to the other door, and looked in, and asked if I was OK! While apologizing repeatedly for her English, she told me that she thought I was in fact a good teacher and said that many teachers have come through S.G. and many have struggled particularly with science and social studies – not only me. I couldn’t always look her straight in the eye when I thanked her and said that I was okay, but I was both thankful and okay.

I was still there, still alive. The worst hadn’t happened. Earlier, when F. and I had heard my heard my name being bandied about in Japanese, she got the shivers and said, “When I hear my name being spoke, I fear the worst.” I replied, “Well, the bright side is that if the worst does happen, you won’t have to fear it anymore!”

I finally left the room and spoke with F. and D. I said that I’d learned something:

Rule #1a: Never, ever say in a meeting that you’re not very good at something.

D. agreed immediately. He understood that I was just being honest, but he said to:

Rule #1: Never sell yourself short in a professional setting.

“I should have just faked it.”


He later explained that there are two choices when you don’t feel like you have the wherewithal to do something:

1 – Act as if you do.
2 – Ask for advice.

It then dawned on me how proactive, progressive, and enabling a stance that is. Either way, it leads to better things. You don’t waste time worrying about your abilities, and you spend more time taking action.

At the same moment, I realized why a lack of confidence puts people off. For one thing, as D. put it, people who notice or hear you say that you aren’t confident will ask why. On top of that, who wants to waste their time on the job with someone who’s all dither and no action?

“It’s not so much an issue here – when you’re here, you’re kind of stuck here – but back home if you were to say that you weren’t feeling very confident in your abilities, your bosses might say, ‘Oh, really?’ and send you out the door.”

Up until now, I thought confidence was just something you had to fake in interviews. (I wouldn’t be where I am now without assumed job-interview confidence.) But now I realize it’s something that you have to maintain. You can’t really be open about your weaknesses.

And that makes me wonder – how long do you have to fake confidence in the dating world? Is it like a job, where you have to maintain the façade permanently? Or do you get comfortable with each other and start to open up – I don’t mean blathering on about every little thing and becoming a nuisance, but just general honesty. Is saying “I don’t think I’m very good at my job,” a catalyst for being dumped and fired? I’d appreciate your input on this point.

Still, they say to assume a virtue, if you have it not. I should have guessed this was from Shakespeare – in this case, Hamlet was imploring the Queen to stay out of his uncle’s bed – I’m alarmed to find that such a sordid scene is the source of such a great self-improvement quote, and the virtue I want to assume will be taken up mostly with action (instead of simple restraint), but anyway – Hamlet continues: “Refrain to-night, / And that shall lend a kind of easiness / To the next abstinence: the next more easy; / For use almost can change the stamp of nature, / And either exorcise the devil, or throw him out / With wondrous potency.”

Substitute “abstinence” for “confidence,” (although I suppose the latter may cure the former) and you have a reasonably workable maxim – if you think yourself lacking in confidence, be confident, and it will get easier the more and more you do so.

Well, let’s see if it works!
Tags: confidence, japan, jobs, maxims, meetings, quotes, shakespeare, teaching, work

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