Lessons Learned At Warp 10

Going with the Star Trek metaphor in “Set A Course For Earth,” the ride at Warp 10 hasn’t been a fun one. I’ve wondered if there would be enough plasma in the warp drive and if the dilithium would last for the duration of the trip. I’ve had my dealings with life’s Romulans and Borg. Now it feels like I’m within a few parsecs of Earth, but not quite there yet. Between 40 Eridani and Procyon is where I am now.

Of course, the real life details are much more mundane and less fun. Here are some lessons I’ve learned in the past few months.

Communication is something I’ve been learning. Ironically, for someone who majored in English and Creative Writing, my ability to communicate was nil. I could conveniently blame this on a bad childhood or being an introvert, but my childhood’s long been over and social skills, though it may take more work for some, can be developed. My mother certainly tried to teach me that I shouldn’t just let people come to me if I wanted to articulate something, but that I should go to them. If someone takes the time to ask the questions, great; however, I should speak up for myself and make my needs known.

In approaching the various community colleges in San Diego County for courses in the fall, I had to approach the English department chairs or the professor in charge of hiring. No one is going to search through the list of people who possess English MA’s or PhD’s and ask them if they want to work for their schools. One is crazy to think that a school may hand a full time job to them as an entitlement for earning a post-baccalaureate degree. I’ve had to communicate with these people and keep in touch with them so I get assignments when they are available. My silence would certainly lower my prospects and would definitely not serve me well in the long run, especially when I want to apply to a full-time position.

If I had better communication skills when I ran the labor union’s mailroom, I would still have the job. I didn’t know what was expected of me because I didn’t ask, and I got the axe in the end. At times I felt bullied by some people (the accountant, my boss, and a couple of organizers), and this would not have happened if I stood up for myself. Speaking up for myself when I feel like I’ve been unfairly treated is a form of communication I’ll use in the future. Getting walked on is a failure to communicate (and the memory of it is enough for me not to let it happen in the future).

I’ve also been learning to listen in the past few months. I’ve never really been a good listener, and it’s amazing that I have even achieved mastery in the English language along with learning French and Spanish. Perhaps this is the reason why I don’t speak Japanese very well. It is a language where one needs to listen to the context and respond in kind. This is very important when something isn’t stated directly. However, when things are stated directly in any language, it is important to listen.

The ability to listen to criticism and grow from it is an important one. As a writer, I’ve learned how to handle criticism, especially when it seems like the critic ripped my work to shreds. A manuscript’s draft, especially in the early stages, is far from perfect and an outside evaluation is helpful. I may or may not agree with what someone said about my text, but if that person took the time to read the work and give their observations, then it would serve me well to listen to what they have to say. The same goes for hearing what someone says to me about me.

I could take someone’s observations about me as an attack on me or grow from it. In the past, I would have taken it as a tear down and feel like there wasn’t much I could do to change it (or that the person was mean when the comment wasn’t cruel at all). Yesterday, my class at the language center was off to a less than perfect start, and the director had a talk with me about the student’s comments about me. I listened to what he had to say, took it as an opportunity to address my weaknesses that day, and made my lessons this morning a better experience for my students. I took it as an opportunity to grow, not as an indictment of failure.

In a situation where someone does or says something that is unfair, I should still take the time to listen to what this person says or does. My response (speaking or standing up for myself) will demonstrate that I have heard what they have to say and that it is not the right way to go about what they really need to say.

This will sound redundant, but I have been learning to learn. As someone who has spent too much time in college and graduate school, it has been easy to portray myself as a man of learning, but real learning doesn’t always get you an A or a degree. Instead, it comes from communicating, listening, and taking action. In communicating with others, I send forth my statements and questions, and in turn I receive responses and further questions. One can communicate all they want, but listening is a key component. In order to synthesize information or experience, taking time to observe is necessary. Ultimately, the risk of doing is necessary to learn. By communicating and listening, I am learning how to do these things. In the past, I may taught my students that learning isn’t passive, but it’s certainly taken me a while to learn that myself. It is an active and ongoing process.

Now, Alpha Centauri doesn’t seem so far away. And then it’s a parsec or so en route to Earth.

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