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Remember to Sweep the Floor

I just finished reading Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is the Enemy. This book might easily make my top five books of the year because of Holiday’s ability to take history and make other people’s experiences helpful as we try to understand our own lives.

Holiday’s work serves as a reminder of two things for me. The first is that what we do is more important than who we are. He discusses Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers, when explaining the concept of a “Standard of Performance” (108). When we focus on what should be done and when and how, we can instill excellence. And Holiday argues that it’s this attention to exacting standards that is more impotrant than a grand vision. Like Walsh has said, if we pay attention to the small details, “the score takes care of itself.” Holiday ends this chapter with this: “Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution–and on excuting with excellence” (113). If we focus on the former, then ego gets in the way and we’re distracted from accomplishing our most important work and, instead, commit time, energy, and effort into convincing others of something that could happen naturally by just focusing on the work.

And the second is that our work, especially as teachers, takes perpetual refinement. It is never just done. Toward the end of the book, Holiday mentions his friend, Danielle Bolelli, and how Danielle once told him that “training was like sweeping the floor”: “Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.” This part is so important in our personal and professional lives. Just because we read something once doesn’t mean it’s readily accessible in our memories. Just because we taught something at the beginning of the year, like a routine, doesn’t mean students remember it entirely after break. We might have to “sweep” to resurface. And when we sweep, we become more refreshed and readily able to tackle our most important work with a clearer, more attentive mind.

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