Stand Firm. Stay Firm?

I read this book. Took notes. Then re-read it. Took more notes. Then made a frame on Jamboard, and noticed that it looks like a discussion invitation. Shared ideas in our Reflective Practice Global group. As I am still thinking about it, this post wanted to be written. It is not a book review, but I would certainly like to hear your impressions about it, if you decide to read it. I think I might have already inspired a couple of colleagues to read it.

The title* is translated into Ukrainian as ‘Stop’ (or ‘Pause’), and it was the title that initially attracted me.

*The full title of Svend Brinkmann’s book is ‘Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze’. This is what the book description says:

The pace of modern life is accelerating. To keep up, we must keep on moving and adapting – constantly striving for greater happiness and success. Or so we are told. But the demands of life in the fast lane come at a price: stress, fatigue and depression are at an all-time high, while our social interactions have become increasingly self-serving and opportunistic.

How can we resist today’s obsession with introspection and self-improvement? In this witty and bestselling book, Danish philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann argues that we must not be afraid to reject the self-help mantra and ‘stand firm’. The secret to a happier life lies not in finding your inner self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to coexist peacefully with others. By encouraging us to stand firm and get a foothold in life, this vibrant anti-self-help guide offers a compelling alternative to life coaching, positive thinking and the need always to say ‘yes!’

In the Content Page, you can see the seven parts/chapters, each offering an idea to consider (a piece of advice, or what can (should?) be done). In the notes I took there is an attempt to show what is meant there (but really briefly, so that you were still curious to read the author’s ideas!)

How is it related to ELT as Teaching and Training? I may be stating the obvious, but we are quite obsessed with very enthusiastic about constant, continuous, never-ending professional development, improvement, skill enhancement, upgrading, learning something new, and sharing that (oftentimes, in the free time or hours outside work, as the work itself is often about planning more, reading more, learning more. It does feel exciting, and I think the job we are doing is a (rare?) example of engaging, fulfilling occupations where we don’t get bored and can always find something to play with. Can there be too much of Professional Development? Do we/you/I always do it because we want to or choose to? Hopefully, yes, and if so, it is more than fine to keep going. I think it is also fine (or should be?) to have ‘development-free’ time, or the time (month? week? semester?) of ‘alternative professional development’ (APD?) or ‘creative professional development’ (when you learn something not 100% related to teaching, such as drawing, taking pictures, knitting) and then either ‘link’ it to your teaching style and activities or… not. One of my (non-teaching) friends has started making paper collages recently, and I love the outcomes she sometimes shares on social media.

How did the book impact what I do? One most noticeable outcomes in 2021 is fewer posts here, being less active on Twitter, and more journaling that ‘public writing’. I allowed myself to work out much more than usual, and even though running long-distance has always been something I enjoyed doing, this year it took a bigger part of my life. It may deserve a separate post, as I learned a lot about learning (and maybe, even teaching?). The truth that opened to me with the help of this book is perhaps too obvious to share, but I will still say it: life is so much richer than our professional part, and we can bring so much more into the work we are doing from the ‘non-teaching’ aspects we spend some time on. Some quality time, without feeling guilty for ‘not developing/growing/improving’ and ‘becoming the best teacher/trainer we can be’.

I am now reading ‘The Black Swan’ by Nassim Taleb (because his ‘Antifragile’ was so wonderfully thought-provoking, and … far from ELT 🙂 ) The next one on my non-ELT reading list is ‘The Developing Mind’ by Daniel J. Siege, because I am curious to learn more about Consilience which is ‘the discovery of common findings from independent disciplines’.

What are you reading now (especially non-ELT-related)? What are you planning to start reading over the festive season, if you have some time off?

Thank you for reading!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
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4 Responses to Stand Firm. Stay Firm?

  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post! The book sounds interesting, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m with you Zhenya. This obsession with professional development, is not always healthy. As my tutor once said, the ‘C’ in CPD is a little unrealistic. To continuously develop would be exhausting. Sometimes, we need to be able to just enjoy our competence at the level it’s at. ☺ It’s OK! I am also cutting back on social media, and like you, I published fewer posts in 2021. I am hoping that when COVID is out of the picture, I will socialize more with real, 3D people and travel more often. I am not reading anything new but every Sunday I revisit my favourite philosophy and poetry books, such as Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius and The book of disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa. Lots of love from Germany 🧡

    Liked by 2 people

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Rachel!
      Thank you for the wonderful comment, and for sharing the books you get back to. Coincidentally, the book by Marcus Aurelius is one of my ‘in progress’ readings! Strange, but I never seem to focus on one at a time 🙂
      I must say I am genuinely impressed how much you are learning and sharing Rachel, and I hope your 2022 will bring the balance and harmony and energy to keep going!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mariam Bedraoui says:

    Thank you Zhenya for sharing these inciting reflections. I read the post two weeks ago in a few stolen minutes amid the tasks of a very busy working day. But my head has kept responding to your questions and ideas without me intentionally planning to. I felt I needed to get back to the post and read it at a slower pace and with an intention to stay longer with it.
    Yes, this new obsession with improving professional knowledge and skills might disturb an inner locus of tranquillity and content with oneself. With the wealth of free e-books, online professional events, moocs, shared experiences of small successes and achieved learning in podcasts and Ted Talks and the never-ending generation of further suggestions that search engines and social media platforms are constantly offering, with all of these temptations, it is not an easy mission to stay focused and goal-oriented (self-actualization?). Access to this wealth can be very enriching and useful indeed, but might not help access the quiet and tranquil sense of being one resorts to at the end of the day. With wealth and variety comes anxiety and restlessness! I can understand how wealthy people might feel with the myriad options their money offers them!
    There is more in life than one’s profession! A Loud YES! The challenge is how to not to give in to the temptations that keep popping up everywhere one turns. Sometimes the thoughts and experiences one encounters on the job cross intriguing paths of one’ core interests (wholesome identity?): how people are learning creatures, how learning is such a natural and complex process, how some stations can be unpredictably impactful in the learning process? Our involvement in language teaching and learning expose us to a tempting realm of ideas, observations, findings, reflections, personal discoveries and self-knowledge than can be difficult to pull away from! But it does become overwhelming when the choices are so many, the work demands get high, and hours can never be extended! The challenge might be to stick to what can deepen one’s core inquiries and dismiss and what one assesses as irrelevant, untimely or that can wait on a list of priorities. But things are not this organised and easily dissected as the lines above might wrongly communicate!

    I loved the idea you shared from Brinkmann’s book:’ explore deliberate discomfort’! Our drive to relate things together and find a final explanation for every little thing might sometimes be tiring and harmful to our intuitive, sensual and unconscious ways of understanding.
    In 2021 I got back to reading novels written by modern young novelists of different backgrounds. “Unaccustomed Earth”, A collection of stories by the American- Bengali writer Jhumpa Lahiri, was a great read! It portrays very intricate aspects of people’s self-image across different cultures: their compromises, unfulfilled dreams, and their haunting idea of a HOME. The second was “Em and the Big Hoom” by the Indian writer Jerry Pinto. This one is excellent at letting readers get into the life of a family’s suffering and joy with a deeply deranged mother (an unavailable territory). It is funny and tragic! These books offered rich descriptions of complex lives.
    Thank you again Zhenya for your generous sharing of your thoughts and readings, and for inciting my head to respond without me planning to:)!
    I wish you a happy new year full of opportunities for tranquillity, self-discovery and peace!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Mariam

      Thank you for reading my post and leaving this amazing post! I can totally see it as a guest post on its own, and I am grateful for this conversation.

      Reading your thoughts, I noticed how the idea of having tranquility and peace of mind and focus seems to be central (in your writing, and possibly, in my post), and how the many PD tools and platforms can be seen as ‘temptations’ (and therefore, we are ‘tempted’ to read another article, take a course, attend a webinar, etc.) Why is the temptation working? Is it the fear that we are ‘not enough’ as teachers at the moment, the need to ‘be improved’ and not ‘stay behind’? Who may benefit from this tendency? (I’d hope that we can say ‘students’, but I am not 100% sure this is correct). On the other hand, maybe, well-rested and curious teachers, eager to learn about the world beyond the classroom/profession, can bring much more to the lessons they plan and teach. Lots of ‘maybe’-s!

      Thank you for sharing the books you are reading. As you mentioned Jhumpa Lahiri, I remembered one of her books I’d read a long time ago: ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ (also short stories, with lots of food for thought). I have never ready anything by Jerry Pinto but am curious now, as you wrote about the ‘rich descriptions of complex lives’.

      Thank you for the chance to think about this more, Mariam. Hopefully, the new year started well for you, and it will bring lots of new opportunities to learn, and amazing books to read and talk about!


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