I am currently the odds-on favourite to win the Mountains out of Grains of Sand competition. Not for me the simple paranoia that leads to making mountains out of molehills. That would be far too easy. No, I aim to scale the Everestian heights of total perspective failure that can craft Krakatoas of catastrophe out of the dust of irritation. And I am alarmed to report that I am well on the way to a hands down win.
This is a clear indicator that it is time to go in to work. I am very fortunate in my work in that the pay is good, the time is flexible, and nearly all of it can easily be done from home. But this is also a trap, because if I don’t get out of the house and into the company of the companionably insane, then things start to go horribly wrong. It all comes back to connecting with people, and thus maintaining a sense of perspective.
I am constantly reminded how important it is to have friends and colleagues who regularly push your boundaries. Who take you by the hand and lead you step by step out of your comfort zone, murmuring words of encouragement, or sometimes screaming “Banzai!”
Years ago I regularly hung out with a group of ScEngs who fulfilled this role admirably. Whether it was pushing my intellectual boundaries in the office, or cajoling me into doing crazy things in kayaks (“you won’t get wet, I promise.”), the one thing they refused to do was let me stagnate, get comfortable, take life for granted, or indeed, stay dry.
This may sound harrowing, but in fact it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. It stretched me (sometimes literally), made me stronger, and broadened my mind in strange and entertaining ways. Above all, it kept my metaphorical feet on the ground, even though my physical feet were often to be found flying through the air.
In a similar vein, during my last foray into the lecture theatre before resigning from Monash, I was teaching a subject I didn’t much care for. I worked hard to make it interesting and worthwhile for the students, regardless of my own feelings on the subject matter, but by far the best part about the subject was a group of students who generally sat together in a row (I think you can guess which row).
They were fantastic. They were intellectually engaged, and they were not afraid to challenge me on anything they thought didn’t make sense, or was just plain wrong. They argued with me, asked intelligent questions, and picked out errors in the material.
I was recently delighted to meet one of these students again, some 3 years later, and was amazed to find that she was somewhat hesitant in approaching me. She was afraid I had found them immature and annoying. Sure, they were back row dwellers with all that entails – they occasionally turned the screen of the lecture theatre pc upside down, or heckled from the back – but it was all good natured fun.
Without their challenging, demanding, engaging presence, the subject would have been dull to learn, and even worse to teach. The presence of just a hand full of bold, switched on, interested students made that subject one of my standout teaching memories, after nearly 15 years of teaching experience.
Perhaps it is some form of masochism on my part, but I find that not being challenged is my greatest challenge in life (it must be some sort of zen). If I am not regularly dragged from my comfort zone, life becomes distinctly uncomfortable. Small issues become huge volcanoes of stress. Everything anyone says gets analyzed for the tiniest particles of offense to be taken personally. And it gets harder and harder to drag myself out of the house, even though getting out of the house is the only cure.
So to those people who challenge me on a regular basis, I salute you. I am so grateful to have you in my life. (But you can put me down now, thanks, I’m getting dizzy!)