What grade are you giving yourself in life today?

I was lounging around reading on this lovely snowy morning, which my dear friend MC likes to remind me is the luxury I have due to not having kids…  MC is my running buddy who went MIA this morning.  I am reading “The Art of Possibility” by Zander (husband and wife team).  I got so excited about the way they discuss a concept that I use a lot with my clients, that I HAD to get up and write about it.  I am going to practice it this week, and I ask you to consider practicing it as well.

I talk with my clients about the idea that how we “listen to” or view/ perceive the people in our lives actually invites them to be a certain way.  In other words, if we expect someone to be a jerk to us, we will give off all the vibes that say “be a jerk to me” – and they mostly will!  OR, whatever they do will be interpreted through our “jerk-filter” and we’ll assume they meant something bad by it.  Now, to counteract that, I have clients “create a new listening” or a new expectation for the people in their lives.  And I do this myself, and I think of it as “listening for their greatness.”  It seriously works, people are totally different when WE stop judging them harshly.

Well, the Zanders give me a new way to think about this… they talk about it in terms of “giving an A.”  Now this gets my attention because I was a teacher of high school math for two years (math teacher shortage – recruiting engineers), and I determined teaching was not the profession for me because of grades.  Not because I hated grading papers, but because I had such a hard time labeling students with grades in the society we have created that says people with A’s are better than people without A’s.  Yes, I was a straight A student, but that is irrelevant or even more frustrating because I know that an A grade doesn’t indicate learning.  I saw some students learn nothing but complete their work on time and get a good grade.  Then I had students who had very incomplete work and poor grades, but the work they did do, they had really learned.  And I would play around with different ways of grading that would measure a student’s growth and learning, AND their meeting of specific standards, and this felt nearly impossible.  At the end of the day I realized that a grading system just wasn’t for me.  I understand the need to show that individuals have mastered concepts and are qualified to do certain work, but the stigma and social pressure that goes along with this – “you SHOULD be at a certain level of knowledge, and have a certain work style, at a certain time,” did not agree with me.

Anyway, since grading has some passion for me, I loved the new analogy I read this morning about giving an A.  The book talks about a a leadership course at USC in which the top 50 students in the school are invited to participate, and of these 50 straight-A students, 1/3 get A’s, 1/3 get B’s, and 1/3 get C’s.  So, many of the top students in the entire school who have never received a C will now get C’s in this elite course.  It talks about how in this and many cases, grades are not actually an indication of mastery of material, but rather a measurement about how you stack up against other students.  Grades are a means of comparison.

Now, the prior chapter is all about how our world is one in which we constantly need to know how we stack up against others… a “dog eat dog” world in which we are all competing for scarce resources, and in order for us to have something (an A) someone else must do worse (a C) so that we can win.  Much of my coaching is about shifting people out of that thinking as it never leads to peace, joy, or happiness.  The Zanders call it the “world of measurement,” and they then introduce another “world of possibility.”  If we stop measuring ourselves against others, or measuring others in general, we can live in a world of possibility in which it is possible for us to all win.  Just like anything in our society, grades are an invented measure.  What if we invented a new grading system that was designed to simply make us happy?  More in love?  More connected?

So, I mentioned above that I use the phrase “listening for greatness” quite a bit.  I am adopting the new phrase of “giving an A.”  What if, rather than judging and comparing people on some imaginary scale of importance that we have in our head, we simply gave everyone an automatic A in life?  The way I think of this is that EVERYONE is an “A” at something.  It is not our job to judge what their something is, but rather to know it is there and then maybe even look for it.  If I pass someone on the street, I can know that they get an A.  I don’t know what it is for, but I can attempt bring it out.  Or simply smile because of the knowing that they have it.

As we go into the holidays, what would it be like to give an automatic A to each member of your family?  Would you be able to let go of what someone did or didn’t do in the past if you simply gave them an A in the moment?  This is essentially what I did to transform my relationship with my mother, I stopped worrying about how I saw her judgment of me, and I started giving her an A in life.  And what about KIDS?  I think of my students, and this is why I had such trouble giving them a grade.  Maybe they were not meant to master math in this lifetime… many people aren’t, which is how I ended up in engineering school – “If you can do math, you SHOULD be an engineer!”  If math is not someone’s strong suit, they have others.  But in our society, my students WERE judged on their grades in all classes, and they would make it mean something about themselves and their value as individuals, even if they had other brilliance.  So, what if we trusted our kids that they actual have tons of A stuff inside them and allow them the space to let it out in their own way?

Mr. Zander is the one, you may have heard of, who gave his entire class (he’s a professor of music) an A on the first day of class in order to relieve their anxiety about grades and trying to get it perfect, so they could allow themselves to be creative and try things that might even result in making mistakes.  He had them write, in advance, about all they would have accomplished at the end of the year to earn the A.  The things the students learned on Day 1 by doing that allowed them to create the possibility of an amazing year – they already knew themselves as great and were able to risk failure for the sake of learning.

What would it be like if you gave YOURSELF an automatic A at life?  What if you knew that whatever you did was in divine right order and aligned with the purpose for which you are here?  Even the so-called “bad” stuff!  What would you try if you knew failure did not really exist?  Or what would be worth trying and “failing” at because you knew that learning was your goal, rather than trying not to make a mistake?  For this week, are you willing to give yourself, and everyone you meet, an automatic A?  You will be creating a new club in which you are all members, and you’ll actually be connected at the holidays… which is the spirit of the season if I remember correctly.. 🙂

Off to run with MC, who finally called.  She and I have an agreement to give the A to each other without fail, so I won’t make her wrong for the earlier delay.  She gave herself the gift of sleeping in today, and I can so give her an A for that!

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