The Value of Work

In 2011 I started teaching robotics classes. First at Macquarie University, then UOW, and local schools in the Illawarra. Over the course of 8 years, I taught thousands of students in hundreds of classes around the world. We taught building & programming skills, problem solving & teamwork strategies, and engineering concepts. We also coached teams around the world and represented Australia every year in global robotics competitions. This continued smoothly until 2015 when my world flipped upside-down.


For most of my schooling life I was home-schooled. This was a great experience and provided a lot of opportunities, including the chance to compete with and teach robotics all over the world. In 2015 I was torn from this world of individual learning and opportunity and tossed headfirst into the world of year 10 mainstream school life at my local high school.

Starting year 10 was a weird mix of semi-familiar things with a steep learning curve. Most of all, switching from home-schooling to a regular high school meant that I could no longer compete in my robotics team, and limited my teaching days significantly. But I didn’t want to let something so important to me go.

Not long after starting, I remember having a conversation with the principal of the school about integrating my robotics with my school education. He agreed that it provided unique opportunities for me and valuable education. We settled on allowing me to take a half day of school for team meetings and to continue my part time teaching job. This was a solution that compromised in my favour.

For the remainder of the 2014-2015 robotics season, I continued this pattern, until April when I travelled to the USA to compete in the St Louis World Championship. Upon returning home, I returned to my full-time school schedule with my teaching work reduced to one after school afternoon.

The biggest disruption for me wasn’t just the mentality shift from home-schooling to a regular high school but moving from “teacher” to “student”.

I have always valued learning. In my blog “Skills in Sound” I discuss how I value learning skills and knowledge of all kinds. For me, going to school was a similar experience. I was faced with opportunities like studying geography, ancient history, wood tech skills etc. This shift from “teacher” to “student” really concreted this value for me.

It wasn’t until I eventually left my teaching job at the end of 2018 that I realised how much I really valued working. It was in the weeks and months after leaving that I realised the absence of regular focused work almost felt like an absence of purpose.

The following year I got a job as an intern for a company in Sydney. I immediately noticed the stability and routine that was brought back into my life. I was grounded in very real things I could do to change the world.


Reflection is a double-edged sword. It provides perspective and rationale to previously overlooked circumstances. Steve Jobs in a 2005 commencement address says “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking back” [Stanford, 2008]. Reflecting on the disruptions to my very early working life has shown me some implicit values that I have that weren’t visible in the moment. Arthur Frank in his work “The Renewal of Generosity” makes the argument that “what we do reveals who we are” [Frank, 2004].

This concept of values being absent in the precent yet implicit in our lives and visible through reflection is concept coined “the absent but implicit” by South Australian Psychologist Michael White [Carey, Walter, & Russell, 2009]. Michael uses this concept to describe values in our own or other people’s stories that aren’t directly mentioned but are implicit by the things withheld.

“It is not possible to talk about anything without drawing out what it is not”

Michael White – [Carey, Walter, & Russell, 2009]

In my example, my value of stability and purpose strongly influenced my feeling of stability. Losing those things when I went through disruption and change made me feel like my whole world was being rocked.

I never went back to teaching robotics at Universities or Schools. Maybe someday I will.

What would rock your world if you lost it? What do you value, that if you lost you would shake you?



References:

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, YouTube, 2009 [Link]

Frank, AW 2004, The Renewal of Generosity, University of Chicago Press,

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The Absent but Implicit: A Map to Support Therapeutic Enquiry’, FAMiLY PROCESS, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 319-331, [Link]

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