by CareerActually Contributor, Peter Luscombe


Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.

~Chinese Proverb

Each year hundreds of students passed through my classroom; over time mounting to thousands. Like many feel about their work I was at times ambivalent, however, in the main I loved teaching. I found ways to be recognized and acknowledged, ways to enliven and vary what I did so there were returns for me, and ways to appreciate those I worked with both in class and out, as well as have funMost importantly, I learned ways and means to get the most out of work.

A lack of space and time to be yourself is probably the biggest work issue any one faces. Believe me in teaching, when you have 25 students turn up to work with for a session, then another 25 or so, then another, right through your working day, you can feel over run and breathless at times. You walk a corridor from one class to the next amidst a sea of jostling bodies intent on getting to their next class, or dragging their feet and socializing on the way – throwing comments here and there and bitching as teenagers do. At times such can be suffocating as can happen at work for anyone. You do your best to meet the next deadline, get to a meeting prepared and on time, drudge through e-mails and a mountain of matters which all seem immediate and urgent. The pace of work can disorientate and bring you down. Instead of feeling at the helm, you feel all at sea.

So? What did I first learn?

Create your own space – give yourself room to breathe

With so much going on around me, I needed to have my own ground to stand upon and work from. I discovered one significant aspect was to put pauses into the flow of events – take a breath. This worked for me and my students.

Let’s all just take a deep breath now and relax.

Two minutes silent work time now. No one speak or refer out. I will be quiet as well.

When you’re at the coal face, I think having pauses in your work day is crucial. You need to create your own space outside the rush. For some that will involve the mindful STOP. That in itself is a power tool. There’s nothing wrong, and much to be gained, from simply saying: “Let me think about this for a moment.” You remain there in the working moment, yet have briefly stepped out of the flow and signalled you’ll be back. I think sometimes we forget to pause to ‘gather our wits.’


Quite often I found myself rushing within myself and around. Being aware of this isn’t always easy, however, when I felt my heart racing, or like I was surging ahead, it was time for a pause. My body told me. As a form of the mindful STOP I had a mantra.

Take a breath. Let go. There’s nothing right here and now that needs doing. I don’t have to engage or worry right now. All’s fine. I’m OK in this moment. For the next breaths, few seconds, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing at all.

If you can’t immediately relate then think of those times during a conversation when you stare out the window or into space. Basically, it’s the same and what anyone does and can do.

Create your own space – add a personal touch.

Because I like to have a personal stamp within a work space, I used to have a vase of flowers in class. They might be what I picked from my own garden, or supplied from the horticulture class’ garden. They sat on my desk at the front of the classroom. During class time I’d look at them and have a pause. I felt connected to something from outside the four, work-day walls; something which brought in brightness; offered a window beyond where I sat at my work table.  Days when I was disorganized or whatever so no vase of flowers sat there, my students commented and one or two said they felt sad.

In a previous post where I talked about Feng Shui, I mentioned how personalizing your office brings in positive energy – Chi. I learned that giving space for a personal stamp afforded benefit for me and others. That vase of flowers gave to me and to my students. I also realized the value of a pause of appreciation right there and then when I needed it. When I might have wanted to get away at times but couldn’t I did have right there and then something which delighted.


I learned much from teaching. All the while I looked for opportunities to make the best of matters. I endeavoured to remain, like we all try to at work, at the helm. Learning is a journey so the lessons went on.