Safer Path to Exhaustion

In June, when I filled out my Cohort 21 information, I reflected on a possible theme.  It was that time of year when the totality of the year’s workload had me feeling burnt out. I promised myself that this year, I would not repeat the cycle of previous school years and instead use my “sphere of influence” to make better choices about creating space and time for myself and my students.  I was committed to change for this 2018-19 school year; committed to finding the “time” for myself that has been eluding me for the past 12 years as I try to balance the demands of raising my young family with working full time.


Summer came and went, and when I returned to school, I was refreshed, energized and ready to tackle a new year.  With the newfound support and inspiration of the Cohort 21 experience, I considered “How Might We” questions that I hoped would help me to stay focused on the theme of health and wellness and maintaining balance; to be my best self in the classroom.  My intention was to meet the needs of my students, who increasingly feel overwhelmed, stressed and distracted throughout their days, while modeling the behaviour that I was asking of them.


My initial “How Might We” question was:

  1. “HMW: Connect Visual Arts teachers within CIS to create a community that can problem-solve and that works together to support and encourage each other?”  Initially, I was interested in looking at a Design Thinking Model that would help us collectively plan for new assessment standards for CIS Visual Arts teachers that focus more on the process and less product.

My question has since evolved into:

  1. “HMW: Help students find a sense of empowerment through process and production in the Visual Arts?”  With a focus on student passions, interests, goals, while developing a design thinking template for a summative assessment.

It’s now mid-December, and we are all looking forward to the winter break. Ready for some time to unwind and recharge.  It seems a fitting time to step back and re-evaluate if I am on track towards achieving my goal; that promise to myself back in June.  I realize that the simple answer, is no.


Reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning left me thinking.  He claims that, “In order to make that forward leap, you need to trust yourself.  To create space. To have the discipline to say no to distractions or even to projects that put you back into the 1x mode.  The reason that there are so few 10x contributors isn’t that we lack innate talent. It’s that our systems and our self-talk seduce us into believing that repeating 1x work to exhaustion is a safer path” (

This makes me stop and think about how quickly we let 1x work fill our days.  It is what we know. It feels safe. As teachers, we can likely all connect with the idea of 1x work.  So I ask, how might we build time into our day for the 10x work of innovation and creative thinking? How do we give ourselves permission to slow down enough? What words do we need to use to convince ourselves for this self-talk?  


For those of you who are achieving this better system that he speaks of, how did you start?  

What is the first step off of the safer path?

Enquiring minds want to know.


4 thoughts on “Safer Path to Exhaustion

  1. This is a very honest blog, Sam. I think there is value in first being vulnerable to begin a path of intentional change. In my opinion, you are already on the “first step off of the safer path” by having identified that the current modus operandi of 1 X work is taking up too much of your time. I can identify with your struggle to build-in time for more innovative “10 X” work while balancing a young family, co-curricular commitments, and the responsibilities of teaching!

    I think that you will find that our next F2F session provides a real opportunity to spend an entire day intentionally thinking about your practice – something most teachers rarely have the luxury to do. Furthermore, you will be able to do this with the support of co-learners who are working on similar action plans. But, this is only one day…….

    Although I am far from creating the perfect conditions for a”better system”, I began running to work a couple of years ago. Aside from offering obvious physical health benefits, I find that this part of my commute provides me with time to think, reflect, and really process my “work”. This one small change in my daily routine resulted in other changes in terms of my energy levels and productivity both at home and at work. I often find my ideas “crystallize” when running in terms of making big ideas come together in manageable ways. In sum, making one small change to your daily routine may have unintended corollary benefits. Add/replace something in your daily routine that is just for you – it may lead to more self-talk and new ways of thinking.

    1. Hi Marc,
      Thank you so much for your feedback and taking the time to offer suggestions and ideas! I really truly appreciate it and it’s nice to know others are in the same boat, trying to find balance. This post made me super self-conscious because I love to take on new projects and ideas and jump in with enthusiasm, before knowing exactly how to fit it all in. I feel uncomfortable admitting when I’m tired, or when I’ve taken on too much. I know I have to own those decisions and the truth is that I am always looking for more, not less. Your post made me reflect on some small intentional changes that I can make in my daily schedule that will give me more time to process. I have made these changes and intend on keeping them. I love to run and connect to your comment about how it gives you time to process and makes big ideas come together in manageable ways. Often I’ll skip this in order to fit in managing a need for someone else. It can feel selfish to take that time. I am going to remind myself that it isn’t selfish, it’s essential. My new self-talk.
      Again, thanks for taking the time to weigh in and connect. It’s greatly appreciated! I’ll look forward to seeing you at the next F2F!

  2. Sam,
    Thanks for sharing!
    First, I agree with Marc – running or biking to work has provided me with a huge amount of mental space to think and reflect and I often come up with (in my opinion) great ideas when I’m running or biking.

    Aside from that little life hack, I think that moving from a 1x to a 10x mindset starts with a realization that 10x doesn’t have to be more work or harder work. In fact, I found that when I threw out all the 1x stuff that I was doing in the classroom, and wasn’t afraid to take those big 10x leaps, it often didn’t feel like work at all because I was excited about trying something totally new. It was also often less work than 1x work because I would be transparent with my students and tell them that we were going to stop doing make-work and start going for 10x ideas. Giving them space to think 10x gave us all space to see the bigger picture and realize that the work they were doing was meaningful. We would plan things together, making them part of the process and removing the amount of work that I was doing to “teach” them.

    It might seem counter-intuitive, but I don’t think that slowing down to think 10x is the right approach. I think it’s actually about speeding up. Instead of spending tons of time thinking and planning, just start doing. Throw out the 1x work and start running with the 10x work, even if you have no idea where it’s going. We call this a “bias towards action” in design thinking. Or, “ready, fire, aim” as @gnichols would say.

    You will have time to develop some of these ideas in our next face-to-face, but the most important part will start back at school when you just dive in and make things happen.

    1. Hi Les,
      Thanks so much for your comments and your perspective! Your feedback really resonated with me and I can connect with the idea of “jumping in, without really knowing where it’s going”. I love that approach, and it’s that type of energy and enthusiasm for new ideas and projects that fuels my teaching. I often abandon the 1x work and focus on 10x work because I want to see where it goes, and I love experiencing new artists, exhibits, workshops, projects, mediums, materials – you name it- with my students. It’s my favourite part of this job!
      The hook, (and I think you’ve just given me the encouragement to let go, so thank you!) is that I let the idea of the 1x work weigh on me. In some way, I have been hanging on to the idea that, I’m not doing things the “right way” because the way I was taught was to have a more formal planned approach. Why have I let this weigh on me for so long?
      I agree it’s time to let it go and jump in. I’ve been doing that but also pulling myself back, and not letting myself enjoy it as much as I should. Life is full of tensions, pulling us in different directions. A forward, backward, sideways approach all at the same time.
      It’s taken me a while to respond. It was Christmas Day when I read this. I thought of taking my post down; that in some way it sounded like I was “slacking” or wanted to do less. My idea of “going slow”, was more about giving myself and students some time for processing, finding quiet for the moments of inspiration. I guess the reason I wrote about it, is because I struggle with it so much. I really prefer to go fast. To jump in. To deal with it later. To just see what happens.
      Today I read Seth Godin’s blog. He wrote: “Managing our leaps is an essential part of innovation. In or out. Go or don’t go. But don’t hand the decision over to the market or to your peers. Professionals know when to leap.”
      Perfect timing to respond to you and to think about trusting my judgment and knowing when to leap.
      Thank you again for weighing in, giving me this very valuable feedback and reminding me of @gnichols “ready, fire, aim” approach. I’m ready.

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