“When the Macro Overwhelms, the Micro is Your Lifeboat.”

Messy Teacher Desk

This line was a seemingly-tossed off comment on Marc Maron’s podcast.

And yet, there are so many ways this applies to both life and teaching.

Here are some loosely-linked thoughts, presented for your consideration.


In a recent session of Office Hours, the teacher I was speaking with described learning new skills as a form of “self-care.” This immediately struck me as brilliant.

People are forward-leaning animals.

Stagnation feels terrible. 


While writing my novel, I spent hours a day typing in what I now know is one of the worst possible positions.

This gave me tendonitis.

I tried stretching. I wore beige wrist-braces that looked like orthopedic robot arms. I bought a giant vibrating massage tool that required a lot of explaining if I left it out in front of company.

Eventually, I went to a physical therapist. Most of the exercises he taught me were counter-intuitive; the most miraculous one involved holding myself in a pushup position while pressing the pads of my fingers into the floor, then slowly rocking in small circles.

It turns out that one of the core principals of physical therapy is using muscles in ways you’ve accidentally trained yourself to avoid.


Teaching involves so many micro-skills, so many tiny mental muscles.

It is possible to feel like you need to turn the treadmill down on some aspects of the job while craving a more challenging version of others. Both of these things can be true at the same time.


Sometimes, stress is a signal that you need to focus on something intensely until you find a solution.

But not always.

When the stressful thing is a giant cloud, or a looming uncertainty, or a political firestorm beyond your control, it can be more helpful to zoom in on a smaller, more manageable piece of the puzzle. Or, find a way to shift your focus so you’re challenging yourself from a slightly a different angle. 


The right-sized challenge is something that requires your best effort—but it’s also something that responds to your best effort.

Banging your head against a wall is not exercise.


When the macro overwhelms, the micro is your lifeboat.

Is there something related to this you’d like to discuss?

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