At the beginning of last school year I was chagrined to learn that I had been tasked with one of the most reviled administrative duties there is, at least in a high school: morning bathroom duty.
Morning bathroom duty sucks. Like, seriously sucks. It basically entails standing outside the main girls’ bathroom to monitor students as they come into school in the morning and be sure that none of the girls are smoking (or worse) in the bathroom. In other words, it’s a lot of unpleasant confrontation with surly teenagers, all before you’ve even finished your morning coffee.
When I found out that I had been assigned the dreaded morning bathroom duty, I moaned and groaned – a lot. I even tried to sweet-talk my vice principal into reassigning me, but he said that he needed an “ass-kicker” to make sure that no funny business went on in the hallway or the bathroom – so in other words, no, he wouldn’t reassign me. Dammit.
So morning bathroom duty it was, every day, at 7:10 – sharp. I told kids to take off their hats, remove their headphones, and quit making out in the halls. I told them to hurry up and get to class. I kicked the straggler girls (who were still doing their makeup or texting on their phones) out of the bathroom when the second bell rang. And I hated it. I resented being there, I resented having to start my day with scolding, I resented having to be Mean Teacher when I wasn’t caffeinated enough yet to even be Regular Teacher.
But eventually, a funny thing happened. My students figured out where I was in the morning and started coming to chat with me. My AP students would stop by on their way to class and go over vocabulary terms or ask questions about their homework. Students who had been absent would meet me at my post and turn in their make up assignments. In fact, my kids and I even turned my morning duty into a running joke. They would say something like, “I’m not finished with the assignment, can I turn it in tomorrow?” and I’d say, “sure, meet me in the bathroom!” and we’d have a laugh about how goofy it sounded.
So strangely enough, I found a way to turn that horrible duty into an opportunity. It was an opportunity to meet with my students before the start of the day to iron out their questions or concerns about the material. It was an opportunity for me smile and wave at them to start the day on the right foot. It was an opportunity to talk about silly stuff like prom and spring break plans and their jobs and families that you just don’t have time to do during class.
This experience taught me something profound about the power we all have to turn a crappy situation into something productive, and nowhere is this more valuable than when it comes to improving your finances. Stuck with a pile of credit card debt? Yeah, paying it off will suck (just like morning bathroom duty) but at the same time you have the opportunity to really question your values, like what you really need to buy and what you can live without. Forced to get a second job to make your student loan payments? Sure, that’ll be a drain on your time and energy (just like morning bathroom duty) but it’s also an opportunity to improve your resume and meet some new people. Gotta cut way back on eating out to find some money in your budget to build up the emergency fund? Yep, that’ll be a huge inconvenience at first (just like morning bathroom duty) but it’s also an opportunity to learn a new skill and improve the quality of your diet.
Managing your money is also about managing your emotions about your money, and if you start seeing the opportunities that your struggles present, some of the unpleasantness of budgeting and saving starts to fall away. You may even – dare I say it?! – start to enjoy the process of improving your finances.
Just like I started to enjoy morning bathroom duty. I’m not saying I’d volunteer for it, but if I got stuck with it again…I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world.