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Are You Proactive or Reactive?

There’s a great poem by Portia Nelson titled, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk that I use frequently with my Success high school students and my soccer players. In a very visual way, it sums up where so many find themselves every day…in a deep hole that is seemingly unavoidable. The reason they feel this way is because they are reactionary. Let me explain through the use of this wonderful poem.

Chapter 1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.”

Chapter 2

“I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.”

Chapter 3

“I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.”

Chapter 4

“walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.”

Chapter 5

“I walk down another street.”

I think we all can relate to being surprised by our circumstances in life. We often don’t see the obstacles coming and we find ourselves in a deep hole…that can happen to any of us. The key to dealing with circumstances like this is to first recognize the pattern or habit and then begin to take responsibility. For my students they often complain about a teacher who they feel is not doing a good job of teaching. They are failing the class (their hole) but it’s not their fault. Their F is the teacher’s fault. I tell them they are still in Chapter 1 or 2.

Some will admit that their F is their own fault but feel like there is nothing they can do. They are reactionary. They’ll walk down the same sidewalk, and fall into the same hole, every day and they are helpless. This is where I encourage them to become proactive. What can you do differently to learn the material? Can you get a tutor, can you ask for help after school, can you review the lessons online on Khan Academy? Can you talk to your counselor? These are all proactive things they can do to get to the other side of the sidewalk or to a different street.

I hear similar stories in sports. The coach doesn’t like me. She’s unfair and only plays her favorites. I don’t know why I don’t play more. Great players take ownership of their situations and they make a plan to improve. They talk to their coach and find out what specifically they need to work on to improve. They self-reflect after every practice to see what they did well and where they need to improve. They accept responsibility for their own actions, attitude and behaviors and they set goals and practice with purpose.

Bottom line…we all find ourselves in the hole in the sidewalk occasionally, what we do next has tremendous influence on where we will be in a day, a week a month or next year.