Interruptions can come in all forms. Some interruptions are worthwhile. Others are not. I was interrupted three times today with people asking for password resets. No fun. But I was also interrupted by a child who needed to have a life-changing conversation. It wasn’t necessarily fun, but it was meaningful and important.
This post is day five of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.
Tonight, I had a problem. I needed to talk to someone I could trust. Although it was the evening and I don’t usually bother my friends at night, she said I wasn’t interrupting. She made time to talk to me. She knew it was important and I don’t ever ask. She prayed with me. The result will be life changing no matter how it turns out.
When are interruptions worthwhile?
So are we bothered by interruptions? I think sometimes we can be so intense getting the job done that we don’t do the job.
For example, my job as a teacher is not just to teach lessons and content. I believe I help kids learn how to live a good life.
Teaching and interruptions
Sometimes kids need to have a conversation with me that has nothing to do with binary numbers or how the Internet works. Instead, they want to discuss how life works.
I could see these students as interruptions. Or I could realize that children with real problems are worthy uses of the time of a good teacher.
Friends and interruptions
The same principle applies to having friends. Sure, you can set appointments and have lunch dates. You can fit friends into your little appointment schedule.
However, a true friend will interrupt their life when you’re in need. If you’re crying, they will cry. If you need prayer, they’ll pray with you. If you’re hurting, they’ll listen.
It doesn’t they have to take hours on end every single day in order to be a friend. That isn’t necessarily healthy. My friends and I aren’t like that because we’re very busy professionals. We have a lot going on and love spending time with our families.
But there are times we need to talk to someone. There are times kids or our employees need to talk to us.
I mentioned it before on day two’s post about kairos versus chronos time. These moments are kairos times.
Pointless Interruptions: Chasing the Cat
Then, there are the massive distractions.
Let’s call it chasing cats.
This comes from a story my friend and math teacher at my school told me today. Azalee Vereen, also the math teacher at my school, gave me permission to share. I believe this story fits this thought of worthwhile versus pointless interruptions.
When I looked at her today, I could tell she didn’t feel good. When I asked, she said she thought she had cracked a rib or two. This is what happened.
She was at the beach over break with her husband. They had taken the cat to the beach. When she opened the door one night, the cat flew out of the beach house. So, she proceeded to run in the dark after the cat. There was a huge rock in the front yard and she tripped and fell over it. She said if she’d fallen on her face, she would have lost a mouth full of teeth. But she didn’t fall on her face, she fell on her ribs and cracked those instead.
She said she was worried about the cat but her husband told her to stop running after the cat. She was more important than the cat. If the cat was smart, he’d come back. If not, then they couldn’t catch him anyway.
So, they got her ribs wrapped and she went up to the bedroom. Her husband went back to peek outside. When he opened the door, the cat came running in! Smart cat. My friend said she wasn’t so smart, though.
I asked Azalee what she learned. She said
“It is pointless to chase cats… especially when you’re over 50. You’ll just hurt yourself.”
That’s the thing about cats. They do stupid things. Sometimes they just like to be chased. Other times, they don’t know what they want. But either way, chasing them is pointless. You can’t catch them and it won’t change anything.
When are interruptions like chasing cats?
How does this story fit with interruptions? So far, we’ve talked about how sometimes we need to be interrupted for something important. And sometimes we need others to interrupt their lives for our important thing.
But some people and circumstances are literally like chasing the cat.
Talking with some people in perpetual crisis is pointless. Nothing is going to happen from it.
Let’s look at cat chasing a different way. Right now, I’m going through John Maxwell’s Today Matters with my ninth graders. He makes the statement that not all hard work brings success. The kids wonder how that is true. Hard work brings success, right? Wrong. Not always.
To demonstrate this point, I take my index finger and I do what looks like some crazy finger exercise. I point it at the ceiling and then the wall and back at the ceiling. Back and forth and back and forth. I keep doing this as we talk.
Then, I say,
“Wow, I’m working hard. My finger is really working hard. Hard work brings success, so if that is true, I’m going to be a really successful person as long as I move my finger like this all day.”
Now, is this true or false? Is this finger exercise going to make me successful because I work at it? Does all hard work make me successful?
I admit, every time we have the “crazy finger” talk, the kids look at me like I’m the one who is crazy. Finally, some brave student will tell me that moving my finger like that is pointless. It accomplishes nothing. And my finger moving is keeping me from doing other things that could be a better use of my time (and kind of annoying.)
Just like working hard at pointless work does not bring success — working hard at pointless conversations doesn’t make successful relationships.
What does “chasing the cat” look like in real life?
Actually sometimes chasing the cat is not just time wasting. Sometimes you can injure yourself chasing the cat.
For example, you know that person who always does drama. They are always spouting off about something that makes them furious. They are mad all the time. They become completely unhinged about something they cannot control. Whether it is politics or the person who got their parking place, they are rabid with fury about some injustice that they nor you can fix. They run in circles with no solution and no resolve.
So, you decide to try to talk to this angry person to calm them down and give them your wisdom. You’re chasing the cat. You spend all your energy trying to help them relax. But in the process, you completely stress yourself out and you almost lose your mind. And you never calm them down. It won’t happen. It can’t.
Our Action Item for Today: Examine Interruptions for their Worthiness
Today, I just want to encourage you to examine interruptions. Ask yourself if the interruption is purposeful or if you’re just chasing cats.
I hope this will help you understand an element of excellence.
Because excellent people don’t chase cats.
Excellent people interrupt themselves for people and for moments that actually mean something.
Tips for minimizing teacher stress
- Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
- Simple advice for coping with stress at work.
- Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)