January 24, 2005
Bringing back the Joy
I know this is not encouraging to some of you language learners out there, but Iíve completely stopped learning all languages. As I explain, I hope you will understand. I talk a lot about motivation and some of you who know me well, know that I am extremely busy, and never lack things to do. To do as much as I have been doing, Iíve had to give up some things and have had to motivate myself to do things I didnít really care to do. Regardless of what we get ourselves into there seems to be some things we donít enjoy about it, but we have to do it anyway.
Well, I didnít completely give up on Language learning, because over the last couple of weeks Iíve been sipping on some really awesome yoo-ja cha (Citron preserve tea) Itís a Korean product and itís healthy. It contains about 3 times the amount of vitamin C as a lemon. (so Iíve been told) Also a couple of weeks ago, my Russian friend showed me again how to make Turkish coffee. To me itís like making espresso on the stovetop in a funny bell-shaped pot with a wide bottom and narrow neck. We also talked about making Tvor-rog, a Russian homemade cottage cheese. To me these are some of the fun parts of languages. Yes, food is part of our language. Itís part of the real language in each of our daily lives. When I learn languages Iím not just learning words, Iím learning lives. Iím learning lifestyles and hobbies and how life is for the select people I come into contact with or read about.
This last Fall Semester at the UoM killed my enjoyment of the Korean Language and even of learning any language. I havenít pinpointed the source of my troubles yet, but Iíve been thinking about it a lot. Regrettably, I wonít be taking the fourth semester of Korean this year at the U. Iím taking a year off. Many people donít agree with my decision, for various reasons, but it really came down to how much money I have available. I simply wonít be able to afford it this Semester. Itís really sad news to me, because I would have found a way to do what I had to do to finish my two years of Korean for the language requirement, even if it was drudgery. This last semester proved to me I could do that. Now I have to wait a whole year to take the fourth semester of it. So in spite of tough talk about motivation and attitude, I end up making a tough decision. Quitting anything is extremely hard for me.
But maybe itís for the better, because I will attempt to get the joy back into learning languages as I restudy all of my previous material and play with the languages I love. (making more food is part of the plan and visiting more with my friends in the various languages Iím learning.)
I quit something else recently also, which was really hard for me to do. My good friend Cecilia talked to me and consoled me on that. Thatís also related to money. Iíve been supporting several people around the globe for several years and due to my current financial condition, I had to finally stop it all. It was not easy. This morning I got a call of despair from one family in India who Iíve been helping. I felt like crap. But as Cecilia told me, maybe this is for the better too, because what I was doing was not helping them live for themselves, but was enabling them to rely on me. My original goals were very specific and were enabling to all of these people, like buying medicine for a sick baby that would have died, or paying tuition and living expenses for someone so they could finish their education. But then in some cases, I just continued the support them even after the initial purpose was met. What I was doing was not sustainable. And I kept adding people to my list without increasing my revenues available for this purpose.
But I was still sad and that phone call this morning was heart wrenching. I could do nothing for my friends who called me this morning except tell them I was sorry. But I canít help my situation immediately. There are some good reasons why I am having financial trouble, but it has nothing to do with my willingness to work hard. Iím already working seven days per week. I have higher heating bills this year, I have unexpected college expenses from my son, I have a daughter who just started driving Ė insurance costs are staggering, I have expenses for my wifeís business that she is trying to get going, and other specific things. Itís all cumulative. I know I have to work at improving how I handle these parts of my life also. So thatís part of my challenge moving forward.
Now that you know the real reason Iím not taking the Korean class this semester, I want to talk about the loss of joy in my language learning over the last year. Even though I got an A in every class Iíve taken at the U of M since returning to college, I felt like I didnít learn anything this semester. To me real learning is being able to apply what I learn to my life. Information is just information until it becomes experience, knowledge. I felt like this semester and part of the previous one, I wasnít really doing that, at least not in my language studies. I felt like I was going backwards in my progression. Somehow I managed to do well enough on the quizzes, homework and exams, but my retention was getting worse. Gradually I was losing my joy for languages. As I learned a while ago, joy is an integral part of language learning.
In a Cadalyst Magazine article from August, 1999, Mark Middlebrook, the author of ďCoping with CAD burnoutĒ wrote about job burnout. In the article he stated that ďIt helps to recognize two characteristics of human nature:
Sharp people need to be challenged.
Human endurance has its limits.
Burnout is usually a result of violating one or both of these principles for an extended period of time. That is, people burn out because they are bored, overworked, or both.Ē
Although I think burnout is a real problem, there is also something missing from this explanation. That is the lack of Joy and enthusiasm for what we are doing. For many years I worked in a very high-stress computer consulting job doing sales, training, technical support and programming related to Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software. I spent a lot of time working overtime and loved it. I loved what I was doing and the difference I was making in other peopleís lives. To me it was the most rewarding job I have ever done. Unfortunately the company didnít make it and I moved on to something less demanding. In this case I did need something to challenge me, but without the joy in what I was doing, without having it matter to me, the job would have been impossible to maintain. I was overworked but didnít feel like it. The same is true with my work now. I work a lot, but burnout wonít make me quit, because I love what Iím doing. The difference is in the attitude. What will kill this part time job for me will be the day when I no longer find joy in doing the job (or if something happens with the company I cannot control, which I doubt will happen in this case, since it seems like a well-managed company.) Also, my other interests might move up higher on my priority list and then I would have to make a decision about what to cut out. Marks second principle has an application here also because even given the proper motivation I realize I cannot do everything at once, due to lack of time, resources and physical energy. I have to sleep too. Haha. So, even though Mark is right, I need to be challenged and I have my limits, the missing principal is that human beings need to find joy in what they are doing. Without it, itís drudgery. Itís a chore that we resist mentally, emotionally and physically. We will burn out for sure if we are lacking joy.
Markís answer to this burnout is (written from a managerís perspective):
1. Keep them learning
2. Challenge them
3. Donít isolate them
4. Protect them and fight for them when necessary
5. Remember that you canít win Ďem all (despite your best efforts some people will still leave)
6. Know yourself (so you donít ruin it for others by your own burnout)
And Iíll add, Ďfind the things that make it joyful to do in the first place and reinforce and encourage those things.í
Two examples of this:
In Star Trek, Captain Kirk was promoted to the rank of Admiral, which removed him from what he really loved doing, exploring the galaxy, making a direct, hands on difference. Also, one of my former co-workers was promoted to manager from a drafter and it removed him from doing the drawings he loved doing. He only lasted one year as a manager and had to quit. His energy and enthusiasm was sapped. He no longer had joy in his job. He wasnít over-worked. His job was challenging but he didnít like doing it. He liked the hands on drawing and creation process in drafting.
So, how do I bring the joy back into my Language learning? Find what I love about languages again and do more of it, nurture it, reinforce it and encourage it in myself.