Gratitude

Grateful This Week…and Every Week

This week is Thanksgiving. I have no doubt that most of you will take time to pause and reflect and give thanks for the many blessings in your life.  It’s good to do that.

This week our students will surely be reading books and writing essays about thankfulness.  They will trace their hands to make turkeys and sing the same songs we sang as children.  They will have that once a year treat that is the Thanksgiving school lunch.  (No, I am not being sarcastic.  Many of us look forward to that school lunch all year.)

There will be turkey and stuffing and football and time with family and friends.  And there will undoubtedly be moments of gratitude.

But what about next week and the week after and the week after?

Every day we have the opportunity to choose gratitude and to model for others that despite anything that might be happening in our lives or in our world, we can choose to be grateful.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are passing along to the young people in our lives.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are sharing with our friends and family.  Gratitude is not something we should embrace in only the happy moments of our lives.  Gratitude is something that actually helps create the happy moments in our lives.  A joyful heart begets a joyful heart.

I am feeling especially grateful this week.  I live in an amazing, supportive community that comes together to do good things for children.  I work with an incredible team of people who focus tirelessly on the right things.  And I have friends and family who nurture me and support me in all that I do.

I have those things every week…not just this week.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving is to truly embrace the week and whatever it has in store for you.  I wish you food and fun and a little time away to relax.  And I wish for you a joyful heart that recognizes we have so much for which to be grateful in every week.

Be the Light

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In the midst of a difficult day this week, I was reminded that simple acts of grace can be the difference between darkness and light.  Our family buried a loved one this week, a remarkable mother and grandmother and great grandmother who baked cakes (our wedding cake for example) and told stories (the newborn triplets staying warm on the oven door for example) and wrote letters in a Minnesota/German accent that made us all smile.  She lived a long, full life, but it was a sad day.  In the midst of it all, I had some urgent things come up at work, things that could not wait.  I was emotional. I was out of town.  I wanted to be with my family.  And I needed help.

And the help came.  The help came in the form of colleagues who moved heaven and earth in my absence to get some things done.  The help came in the form of texts from friends who offered comfort and reassurance.  The help came in the form of time (short as it was) with an amazing family full of love and laughter.  People were kind and compassionate and helpful.

Grace, freely given.  Care, offered openly.  Help, willingly extended.  In the midst of a dark day, light.

I struggled a bit with what to write this week.  What do I have to offer to the current discourse?  I offer this.  When I needed it, many people were there for me.  Be there for others.  

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be helpful.

Act.

It is both that simple and that complex.

In trying times, it is easy to paint things and people with a broad brush, to make black and white that which is clearly gray.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, to join the pack, to jump on the bandwagon, and to lose the bigger picture.

Who we are and what we do matters!  How we treat each other matters!  Our actions matter!

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, remember these things.  Speak out for what you believe.  Act in the best interest of all people.  And for goodness sake, treat each other with kindness and grace.

Be the light.

2016 Was a Great Year

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2016 was a great year!

There, I said it.  Likely one of the least popular statements I’ve made in a blog, but there it is.  I refuse to give 2016 over to the Dark Side.

Don’t get me wrong,  I understand the desire for a fresh start.  It has not been an easy 12 months.  Loss, grief, change, and what can only be described as a tumultuous year for our country has left many people sad, angry, adrift.  I have found myself there at times as well this year.   It has been a challenging year.

I felt the loss of Carrie Fisher and then Debbie Reynolds in the last week.  I’m a child of the 80s, the Star Wars Generation.  Last week was rough.  It was like a final blow to our culture when we were already down.  And yes, I laughed as hard as anyone when I saw the Facebook post about the GoFund Me account to keep Betty White safe from 2016.  Believe me, I understand the inclination to wish the year away.

But despite personal loss, despite disappointments, despite disillusionment, 2016 was a great year!

I started a new job.  It was the fulfillment of a lifetime of work.  I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing people doing important work for young people.

My daughter got married.  So many family and friends, those there and those there in spirit, made the entire experience a joy!  It was a day filled with overwhelming love.

But even if none of that had happened, 2016 would have been a great year!

Life is short.  Each and every day is a gift.  In 2016 the sun rose.  In 2016 the moon shone.  In 2016 babies were born and friendships were forged and memories were made.

Our children laughed and loved and learned new things.  Our flowers bloomed, and our gardens grew.  Talented people made music and art and dance and theatre.  Academics debated the real issues in our society and reached for greater understanding.  And strangers held doors open and offered helping hands and said “Good Morning” and “Have a nice day.”

It is in the small things that we make a life.  It is in the routine of a morning kiss before leaving for work or a text from your daughter when she’s thinking of you during the day that we find real joy.  2016 was full of these moments.

I am in no way trying to say that we do not have real, significant, difficult things to address in our world.  We do.  I am in no way saying that we should not strive for greater connections to each other, greater tolerance for each other, and greater acceptance of each other.  We should.

But I am saying that this life and this world is a gift!  This day, this week, this year is a gift!  Regardless of what 2017 brings, I will strive to remember that.

Works Every Time

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I had a bad day this week.  Nothing catastrophic, just busy and tired and not feeling great.    I have a good friend who listens on those days, and as I always do, I felt better after I talked to him.  The next day he sent me a text and asked if it was a better day.  I replied, “Absolutely!  I changed my attitude.”  He said,”It works every time.”

He’s right.

The holidays are a busy time, and with them come a set of high expectations for the perfect Christmas card, the most beautiful decorations, and the exactly right gifts for everyone.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  That’s a high bar.  It can cause stress at the time when we need it the least.   A positive attitude is important right now.

So how do we do that?   I think we do it by being intentional about the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves.

I love listening to stories from Steve Hartman on the CBS Evening News and Sunday Morning.  From early in his career he has focused on telling the stories of everyday people.  He went so far as to build an entire series on the premise that if you threw a dart at a map, you could find someone with a moving and inspirational story worth telling.

He’s right.

In a world full of news about violence and crisis and divisiveness, his stories remind that us that this world is filled with kindness and resilience and love. Everyday people doing everyday things building a life of meaning and filling the world with good.  We need to spend our energy telling those stories.

At the end of the day, share the most positive events of the day with your family.  Don’t relive the negative events.

Spend time each day identifying the people who were kind to you and who went out of their way to say something nice.  I walked out of the grocery store on my bad day this week and the volunteer ringing bells in the cold said, “You look lovely today honey.”  A total stranger, freezing in the cold to raise money to help others, took the time to say something kind to me.  Why wasn’t that what I called my friend to share?  It should have been.

And be the voice who is saying the kind things to other people.  It takes very little to turn someone’s day around.  A smile.  A warm greeting.  An affirming comment can make all the difference in the middle of a bad day.  Be the positive story that others tell at the end of their day.

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I can’t promise that December will not be stressful.  I can’t promise that nothing will go wrong or that no one will be cruel to you.  But I do know that in the midst of those things there will be moments of great joy, people of good will, and kindness and love all around.

Tell those stories!

Count Your Blessings

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“When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”  Irving Berlin-  White Christmas

In a week when we focus on gratitude, are you feeling grateful for what you do?

I work in education.   It is hard, important work.  This week I’ve been reflecting on why I do what I do.  I’ve been remembering the teachers who did for me what I hope I have done and now help others do for students.  Influence is such a powerful thing, and education is a profession with enormous influence.

So many teachers had an influence on me and taught me lessons that helped shape who I am.

In elementary school, Mrs. Landon gave me independence and individual opportunities to learn.  She “differentiated instruction” for me and for Amy and for Charlie and for Randy before anyone knew the term.  The four of us read and wrote and acted and researched many times on our own.  She allowed us the freedom to work ahead and to learn at our own pace. She empowered us with projects and leadership roles.  She taught us something important…

You are special.

In junior high (middle school wasn’t a thing yet), Mr. Reynolds did the same for all of his students.  He was an amazing teacher.  He acted out Civil War battles and made learning fun. And he was about the “whole child” before anyone knew the term.  He could relate to every student.  He allowed us all to tell our stories, and he supported us all in whatever we needed.  Over Spring Break, he took us to Washington D.C.  We watched as he stayed on the bus when we got to the Vietnam Memorial.  His experiences in the war were still too fresh.  He helped us understand that everyone has a story, and he taught us something important…

Everyone is special.

In high school, Mr. DiMauro challenged us.  He set the bar so high academically that many times I thought I’d never reach it.  But he found ways in class to “scaffold the learning” before anyone knew the expression.  He taught us Beowulf in Old English and somehow we were able to understand it.  Day after day he set impossible learning goals, and day after day he helped us meet them.  He taught us something important…

You can do hard things.

In college Mr. Blanke gave me a job as the Box Office Manager, but he did so much more than that.  He empowered me to run things and make decisions.  He gave me paperwork and office work, but he also gave me real work.  He let me design processes and change the way things were done.  He confided in me.  He processed with me.  He relied on me.  And he taught me something important…

You are needed.

Life is not always easy.  I have had real challenges and obstacles in my job, in my health, and in my life.  And every time I was able to meet the challenge and overcome.  I am grateful for the people who helped teach me the lessons that made me who I am today.

Working in education (or in business or in marketing or in food service or in anything) is not always easy. There can be hard days and weeks when you question why you do what you do.

When you have those days or weeks, remember, you chose this job.  You chose it for a reason…a positive, important, life-changing reason.  Reflect on the people who had influence on you, and reflect on the students, staff, and parents you can influence.  Be grateful for the opportunity.

You are special. You are needed.

Now go do what’s hard!

 

Change the Behavior

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I suppose it makes sense that if I’m going to write every week that I will circle back from time to time to some familiar themes in my own journey.  Unfortunately overthinking things is one of those themes.  I reread several of my old blogs this week as I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about things that were small in the light of day.

https://heathercphipps.com/2015/10/25/a-better-nights-sleep-guaranteed/

https://heathercphipps.com/2016/01/16/are-you-overthinking-this

There has been something in my DNA from almost the beginning that makes for sleepless nights sometimes.  I wake up, turn over, and my mind starts to wander.  Sometimes those are the moments of my greatest ideas.  For some people, ah-ha moments come in the shower.  For me, those moments are more likely to come at 3:00 AM.

It’s also true though that 3:00 AM may find me ruminating over something that happened the day before, an unanswered email sitting in my in-box, or a difficult conversation I have to have the next day.  I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that when I get up in the morning, the issue will seem small. But in the middle of the night, it can seem almost insurmountable.

I was complaining about my lack of sleep this week when a friend gave me some simple advice.  He said, “change the behavior.”  Wise words.

Eckhart Tolle says, “When you complain, you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it.  All else is madness.”  Truth right there.

So I set about to design something tangible I could do to change this habit I have of overthinking things in the middle of the night.  In my experience, not once has this worrying helped me find a viable solution. So I need to change the behavior.  Complaining about it is clearly not working.

Later in the week, instead of laying there fixated on some current issue, I got up and started to think about all of the things I’d worried about over the summer.  None of them, not one, is still something lingering out there as a concern.  With time, almost all issues seem better.

Many of us have truly difficult moments in our lives, those with real consequences, significant loss, or extreme pain.  There is suffering that cannot be easily healed.  But most of the things that consume our worry are not those things.  So I am trying something new.

Every day I try to reflect on three things for which I am grateful.  I’ve done that for many years.  Jon Gordon’s idea of a gratitude walk is life-changing.  You cannot be stressed and thankful at the same time.  But this year, once a week, I am going to write down what I am most worried about.  For me, as a writer, sometimes just putting pen to paper eases the concern.

When I do that, I will look back on the things I wrote about the week before.  If any are still an issue, I make those a priority for my life or my work.  Likely, most will no longer be a concern, and I can let them go.

And the next time I am awake in the middle of the night, I can look at that list and be reminded that whatever is turning over in my mind will likely not be a concern in a matter of days.  And it certainly does not deserve to steal my serenity.

It’s Okay to be Sad

img_9677My darling daughters,

Yesterday was a hard day.  We lost our sweet Maggie, and just as we knew it would be, it was tough.  She was a great dog. She was a best friend to both of you over the years, and she will most definitely, permanently define your understanding of the love between a child and a pet.  You were lucky to have such an energetic, fun, forgiving dog.

kelsey145Kelsey, I’ll never forget her ability to move ever-so-slowly throughout the night in such a way that by morning I would find you tucked in a little ball in the corner of your bed because she had completely taken it over.  And you loved it. You never seemed to mind that she made your bed her bed.  Your stuffed animals became her stuffed animals.  Your pillows became her pillows.  She was your Maggie, Shadow, Kimperton, and you loved her and she loved you so completely.

image1-1Hunter, you loved her and spoiled her in ways I’ve never seen anyone do with their dog.  You taught her how to shop. She loved to ride in your car and get Starbucks and Dairy Queen with you.  To find her sleeping at the foot of your bed was evidence that even after years of routine, she had made a new best friend.

And she loved to camp.  So many nights spent trying not to step on her as she slept in the dark by the campfire.  So many games of fetch spent racing her best friend into the lake to see who could get the stick first.  It almost always resulted in the two of them swimming back together each holding one end of the stick in her mouth.

It was a sad day.  And it’s okay to be sad.

I don’t know if I’ve really ever told you that it’s okay to be sad.  You know that I believe more than anything that our attitude controls our lives.  Positivity is our greatest strength.  But it is possible to be positive and sad at the same time.  Sometimes life is hard.  Glennon Doyle Melton calls life “brutiful“, brutal and beautiful at the same time.  She writes and speaks eloquently about embracing the hard parts, sitting in the sadness and the pain, and using the experience to define who you are and what can never be taken from you.

hpim0306Maggie was taken from you.  It is sad, and it is hard.  But the memories of her, the unconditional love you learned from her,  cannot be taken from you.  Who you are because of your time with her cannot be taken from you.

Minutes after she passed, you both posted things on Facebook.  I wasn’t sure I wanted you to put your raw pain out there as quickly as you did.  But I am proud of you both for doing that.  I am proud of the way you jumped in with both feet to spend a last day with her- playing with her, loving her, crying over her, sitting in the sadness and the pain. I am proud of the way you put your sadness out there for the world to see.  I am inspired by the way you both said loudly “I am sad” and “Life is good” at the same time.

Your lives will not always be easy.  Real, painful, difficult things will happen.  It is absolutely okay be sad.  And it is possible to be sad and to know at the same time that life is really, really, good.

Awe

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It’s almost here.  The first day of school.  In a few days our kindergarteners will step into the building for their very first day of school ever.  And our seniors will step into the building for their very last first day of school ever.  There is something truly magical about this time of year.  It is a gift!

In fact, everything about this profession is a gift.  I am in awe of it.

We kicked off the new year with a welcome back celebration last week.  Our superintendent (@jsutfin) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) spent the day inspiring us to celebrate our successes and to be better than we are now.   We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  And we were encouraged to focus on the awe.

I had no trouble doing that last week.

Everywhere I look in our schools, I find reasons to be in awe.

I am in awe of the teachers who build knowledge, instill curiosity, and create thinkers.  They meet each student where they are, find ways to engage them, and motivate them to be better than they ever knew they could be.  They meet needs as simple as tying shoes and as complex as making a child feel accepted.  I am in awe of the teachers who spend their evenings at soccer games for students who invited them, their weekends at Dance Team car washes, and their early mornings on the field at Marching Band practice.  They make home visits, call moms and dads to share successes, and pick just the right moment to tell a child how proud they are.

I am in awe of the administrators who build relationships with students, even when it is not easy, advocate for the resources their teachers need, and manage to lead in the midst of extreme challenges.  They buy toasters and pop-tarts for students who are hungry, show up at graduation years after struggling with a child through middle school, and sit with families in the hospital during some of their darkest days.  I am in awe of their deep dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes.

I am in awe of the willingness of educators to put their hearts out there over and over, every time, for every child.  This is not always easy.  Our students sometimes make poor choices, in some cases ones that have devastating consequences.  But in every case there is someone, a teacher, a principal, who cares about them and supports them through all of it.

I have watched teachers unpack boxes, refill school supplies, hang bulletin boards, fire up iPads, and launch new apps. I have watched administrators greet families at Orientation and facilitate engaging and meaningful professional development. I have watched these staff members work and learn and grow in the last week.  And I was in awe of them.

And I am certain too that they heard the message to inspire awe in their students.

How do we create a sense of wonder in our students?

How do we expose our students to things that will amaze them?

How do we challenge our students to take risks, to step outside of their comfort zones, and to push themselves beyond their fears in order to become the best versions of themselves?

Awe is complex.  It is an abundance of amazement that can almost overwhelm you. Embrace every moment of the first days of school.  Be in awe!  It’s so worth it.

An Abundant Life

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There is nothing like a major life celebration to reveal the true abundance in your life.  My daughter got married Friday.  Her dress was stunning.  The reception hall was beautiful.  The food was delicious, and the dance was a blast.  But if none of that had been true, it would still have been a success.

My daughter and son-in-law were surrounded by family and friends who laughed with them, cried with them, toasted them from the heart, and frankly suffered through outrageous heat to get some beautiful pictures that they’ll treasure forever.

There were memorials and moments of silence.  There were hysterical stories about their childhoods, and person after person shared that they knew that they would marry each other…almost from the moment they met.

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Their lives are abundant.

They are very young, still in college, and working many hours a week to make ends meet.  They do their laundry at our house and drive cars that overheat and break down.  They do not have a lot of money or expensive possessions, and they have some lean years ahead of them like most young married couples.

But their lives are abundant…and so is mine.

One of my best friends married them.  Another one sat next to me while the best man, and my daughter and my husband reduced me to tears with their toasts.   Many of my friends drove miles, flew miles, and made arrangements to be there on a Friday afternoon to watch her say her vows, to hold me over and over as I cried tears of joy, and to dance with me as we celebrated.

We build a life relationship by relationship.  And this week I was surrounded by the people in my life with whom I have forged those relationships.  Those people, and their love, are the abundance in our lives.  Not money.  Not things.  People.  Never has that been more clear to me.

I was supported and encouraged every day of this past week by friends who reminded me to relax and to enjoy the experience.  One of my favorite texts came Wednesday afternoon.  “I have no idea what you are doing at this exact moment, but I am 100% sure that the correct advice is ‘Calm down!'”

Then I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and on Friday morning I texted a friend that it “might be a rough day”.  The response was perfect.  “Power through and choose to make it a great day.  Or cancel the whole thing.  Those are your choices.”  Pretty great to have people in your life who know you well enough to set you straight when you need a reminder…and who read you well enough to text you whenever you need someone to remind you to “Relax!”

The relationships in our lives are everything.  Because of those relationships, my life is abundant.  Focus your energy on people, not things.

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The most wonderful thing about this experience for me has been to witness that same abundance in the life of my daughter and her husband.  They are surrounded and supported by people who love them unconditionally.  Their lives are truly abundant, and for that I am most truly grateful.

The delicious cake was just a bonus!

Little Shop of Letdown

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Major milestones in our lives offer an opportunity to reflect.  Such has been my spring. And as I have been reminiscing, I have been reminded of the many ups and downs that make up a life.  For me, for my friends, and for my family, life has not always turned out the way we thought it would.  Woven through the fabric of the many celebrations and achievements in our lives are a fair share of failures.

As we celebrated an impressive freshman year and an outstanding grade in college calculus, I was reminded of the struggles it took to get through my daughter’s first AP course.  School was not as easy for her as it was for her older sister.

As we celebrated awards and honors and some amazing achievements as she graduated college, I was reminded of the devastation when my oldest was cut from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” her junior year without ever even having the chance to read for the part she wanted.  She cried for days.

As I transition to a new job, I am reminded of the year I was so ready for my first administrative job.  I’d earned the degree.  I’d done all of the preparing, and I was sure the next administrative job was mine.  When circumstances caused me to miss the interview and someone else got the job I believed should have been mine, I was disappointed.  I was more than disappointed.

But as strange as this is going to sound, I am so grateful for the failures.  I may appreciate them even more than the successes.

With my daughter’s struggles in school came a strong work ethic, an ability to persevere, and an understanding of how to “do school”.  With my daughter’s loss of a part in the musical came an even greater ability to be humble, compassionate, and sympathetic. Having to wait for my first chance to lead as an administrator helped me learn patience and taught me that with time things work out.

My children are the amazing human beings they are today not because they have always been successful but because they learned how to respond with positivity, grace, and grit when things went wrong.

Failure is not an option.  Failure is a guarantee.  At some point we all fail.  Reaching for our dreams, imagining a different future, trying something new all mean risking failure.  And when we fail, we learn.

Take risks.  Try something that scares you.  Set what one of my friends calls stretch goals. Imagine that you can go well beyond what you thought was your limit physically, intellectually, or emotionally.  And decide now that when you fail, and you will, that you will maintain a positive attitude, persevere, and  learn from it.

Every experience, every success, every failure make us who are.  Appreciate them all!

A Letter to my Daughter…Enjoy!

Kelsey

Today marks the official beginning of the wedding festivities.  This afternoon you will celebrate with people who have known you, in some cases, for your entire life.  There will be food and gifts and games and likely some stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Your sister has worked so hard to make everything perfect. It will be great fun! Enjoy it.

Then in less than two weeks you will carry that banner in as you and the other SLP majors take your seats and celebrate commencement.  There will be speeches and tassels and pictures and happy tears.  There will likely again be stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Earning your degree is a major accomplishment.  Enjoy it!

Kelsey and HunterI don’t know if I did this well enough a year ago when your sister was graduating high school and having her senior dance recital and turning 18.  I don’t know if I reminded her often enough to slow down and enjoy the experience.  These times feel so busy, and I don’t know if I told her to take it all in and appreciate each and every moment.  I want to be sure we all do that right now.

These milestones are significant.  They should be cherished.

But I also want to say this before we get too far down this path.  As hard as we have all tried to be sure that each of these events are perfect, they will not be. They will be far from perfect.  Things will get missed.  The way you envisioned this or that will not be exactly the way it actually happens.  It will rain.  Your hair may come undone.  Your make-up may smear.  You may, in fact, fall flat on your face at some point in all of this.  Such is life.

The unexpected will happen.

But it will be those moments you remember most.  It will be the surprises that stick with you decades later.  So decide right now to enjoy those moments too.  Laugh at yourself.  Roll with things.  Enjoy them for what they are, not for what you thought they’d be.

And finally, cry when you need to.  There are people who should be with us for all of this who are not. There may be more loss in these next few weeks. Such is life.  Let every emotion in and remember that you wouldn’t be sad if you hadn’t loved deeply.

I guess I 787A2024just wanted to say that I am excited for you (and for me) as we start this journey. It will be fun and funny.  It will be emotional and draining at times. And at the end of it, the two of you will be married. Nothing else that happens along the way matters more than that! Enjoy it!

 

A Balanced Life

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April is a busy month.  And May is certainly not any slower.  There are choir concerts and Honors Nights and track and baseball and soccer.  There are the usual birthday parties and anniversaries.  And of course there’s graduation.

Spring is a busy time.  But so is summer…and fall…and winter.  Our lives are busy.  Between work and school and church and athletics, our families are running in many directions.  It is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are not living a balanced life.

I have had many discussions over the years with my friends about finding balance in our lives, finding that work/life balance, focusing on body/mind/spirit balance, achieving whatever that perfect balance is that keeps us healthy and happy.  Many of those conversations started with a well-meaning friend who was worried about my balance at a given time.

After much reading, many conversations, and some serious soul searching over the years, I have arrived at my own understanding of balance.  There is no such thing as balance, and I wouldn’t want it if it existed.

If I am going to be honest,  I have imagined a life where I workout every morning, read the paper, and make a real breakfast before heading to work.  Then I connect personally with all of my co-workers, clear all my emails, and check everything off my to do list.  I leave work a few minutes early, check in with my parents and my siblings and take a few minutes to catch up on Facebook and Twitter.  When I get home I take a quick look around the house to pick up any messes, go through the mail, stay on top of the bills, and play fetch with the dog.  Then I cook a delicious meal and set the table for dinner.  I clean up the kitchen, watch a few of my favorite shows on Netflix and login to do any evening emails and finish up my work from the day.  I read for fun every night before bed, pray, meditate, stretch and do yoga before turning early and getting 8 hours of sleep.

My meals are healthy.  My clothes ironed.  Everyone gets their birthday cards on time, and I never forget an important event in a friend’s life.

Obviously I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  Until there are 47 hours in a day and I become a much more perfect version of myself, it is unlikely even half of that ever becomes reality in a day.

And I am fine with that.  For years I wasn’t fine with that.  For years I thought if I read enough, reflected enough, or made enough to do lists that I would be able to find this perfect balance that would make my life complete.

Well guess what, my life is complete.

When I need to work more, I do.  When I need to go away on a cruise for a week, I do.  Are they balanced?  Not even close.  I think our lives are about finding the things that bring us joy and then doing them.

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So release yourself from the guilt that comes with working late at school or leaving school early to go to a soccer game.  Give yourself grace when you buy your contribution to the potluck or put your children in a store-bought Halloween costume.  Some years you sew Pooh and Piglet costumes in the basement, and some years you buy a ladybug costume at the store.  Your children will remember both years fondly, and they won’t love you any less because you bought their costume.

We each get to define what brings us joy.  Likely what makes my life complete is different from what makes your life complete.  Normal in my family is different from normal in my neighbor’s family.  We establish our own routines and traditions.  I am not advocating selfishness or wanton disregard for the needs of others; I am just suggesting that we stop beating ourselves up for not being balanced.

Are you overthinking this?



My daughter is getting married.  Someday I will write a blog about how I feel about the precious little girl who used to sing and dance and put on shows for us getting married, but today I am reflecting on the evening we spent this week choosing decorations for her reception.

She and her fiancé had a group of people with them.  In addition to me, her sister (and Maid of Honor) and several of their friends came along to offer suggestions on everything from the food to the lighting to the centerpieces.  It was fun, but it was also a little overwhelming.  Sometimes too many opinions make it hard to make a decision.

As we looked as centerpieces, I kept asking myself, “Are you overthinking this?”

Life is complicated.  I would never pretend otherwise, but sometimes we make it more complicated than we should.  Choose a centerpiece.  Decide on the lighting.  Pick the turkey over the pork.  In the end, those choices will not matter as much as the marriage.  Don’t overthink it.

In our lives we make big decisions and small decisions every day.  We choose little things like what we will wear each morning and what we will eat for breakfast, and we make big plans for trips or new hobbies or changing careers.  While it is important to be reflective and planful, it is also possible to overthink things.

In my family, we tend to make the big (and expensive) decisions quickly and obsess about the little ones.  We made the decision to buy our house in five days and a new car in less than a week, but it took almost two years to choose a vacuum.  I might overthink things.

Sometimes we sabotage our happiness by obsessing over every little thing.  Instead of embracing the moment, we fixate on the things that aren’t perfect.  Instead of being grateful, we worry.

I am not advocating reckless abandon, but I am suggesting that we should take a leap every now and then.  Life should be enjoyed.  If we spend too much time overthinking it, we are likely missing out on some of the fun.

 

Who You Are Matters

Everything you have ever wanted, is sitting on the other side of fear.

Leadership is not easy.

There is risk and vulnerability in taking on the challenge of leading…in your classroom, in your department, in your building.  Anyone who has ever led a project or a group of people knows this.

Stepping into a more “official” leadership position requires a willingness to risk judgement, disapproval, and failure.  It is daunting, and it is immeasurably gratifying.

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Shane Lopez (@hopemonger) speak eloquently this week about creating hope for students.  What resonated with me though was what he shared about creating hope for the staff members in our care.  There is research from Gallup around hope that helps identify what we need from our leaders.

Who we are matters!

People want a leader they can trust.  You will almost always hear the word “integrity” used when describing the leaders people most admire.  It is comforting to know that the person you are following, the person making decisions that impact you daily, has a strong moral compass.  We want leaders who are also good people.

We need to trust that our leaders are honest and ethical.  In education we also want people who are good role models.

There is something reassuring about knowing that if you say you will do something , you will.  The best leaders have amazing follow-through.  We trust that they will make good plans and see those plans through to fruition.

People want a leader who creates stability.  Who you are today is who you will be tomorrow.  Who you are with me is who you will be with others.  The core beliefs of our organization will be the same from day to day, year to year.

Leading frequently requires difficult decisions and conversations.  It is important to create a safe environment where you can tackle those challenges while building and maintaining positive relationships.  A stable leader does this.

People want a leader who is compassionate.  Dr. Lopez went so far as to call this love.  Engaging communities feel like a family.  The staff celebrates together.  The staff mourns together.  The staff shows up for each other.

This was an emotional week for many reasons.  There were some exciting celebrations, some scary family challenges,  and a difficult anniversary.  Such is life.  The real world rarely stops interfering as we try to teach or lead or live.  Compassionate leaders recognize that we are all traveling a sometimes fun, sometimes challenging path.  They listen to our stories.  They ask about our families.  They respect that we have good days and bad days, and they make the bad days easier.

Our schools are our work families.  It should not take a crisis for us to tell each other how we feel.  We do not say “I love you” enough in this world.

Finally, people want a leader who creates hope.  Gallup defines hope as “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so”.   In education, what more could we want?  We teach to touch the future!

As a leader (and we are all leading in some area of our life), who we are matters.  Seek to be someone that others would want to follow.

Embrace the Moment

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If you believe the songs on the radio, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  And while I truly do enjoy the season, it comes with its share of stress.

I am a planner.  I appreciate a well-made list and feel like an organized life is to be embraced.  Let’s face it, things just go better when there is a plan.  Christmas is no exception.  There are lists for cards and lists for gifts and lists with the details of the many celebrations.

Traditions are not just comforting because they remind us of seasons past; they are comforting because they provide a routine and a plan for the significant moments of our life.  They help us know what to expect.

This is a time for traditions. Putting the star on top of the tree with your dad, opening a new pair of pajamas and wearing them while reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on the hearth, and snacking on your grandma’s party mix are hallmarks of the season. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

But it would.

Traditions are important. They provide a structure for our celebrations and our memories. They are the stories we tell and the things we look forward to each year.  But traditions change.

Children grow up. People move. Extended families get bigger.  These are good things, and we should enjoy them.

Embracing change is as important as valuing traditions. Every holiday, every day is a gift. We have to find the flexibility to enjoy them all.   In fact, when I really think about it, most of my best memories were things that happened spontaneously or when the plans I made went horribly wrong.

imageLast weekend I had breakfast with some of my roommates from college. We were reminiscing about some of the holiday fun we had.  There was the time I decided to try baking a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin (not a good idea people- use the canned pumpkin). There was the message on our answering machine sung to tune of “Let It Snow”.  And then there was our trip to see Santa at the mall. We spent hours getting ready, put curling ribbon in our hair, and took a million pictures.  None of those things were planned.  None of those things were traditions.

The year I dropped the pumpkin pie on the kitchen floor was awesome. The year of the blizzard when we spent Christmas Eve alone at home was intimate and exceptional.  Every Christmas has been special, and this one will be too.

It should always be the most wonderful time of the year.  We should create traditions with our children, but we should also teach them to embrace change, to enjoy the spontaneous moments, and to laugh when things go wrong.

from your friends at the local co.My wish for you is a week full of love and laughter, time with family and friends, and a focus on the real reason for the season!

 

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone Has a Story (1)I spent a powerful evening with some friends this week.  We were collaborating on a service project and working really hard.  But we passed the time by sharing stories from our lives.  We talked about the joys and the sorrows, the ups and the downs.  It made the time go quickly, and I feel like I know them so much better than I did before.

I care about them.  I want good things for them.  I hope that was true before I learned more of their stories, but I have to believe that those feelings are deeper now.

In my life there have been moments of great joy and moments of incredible pain.  I have achieved and succeeded and failed miserably.  I have celebrated miracles and mourned losses.  So have you.

We all have a story.

It has been my experience that once you know someone’s story, it becomes almost impossible not to treat them more compassionately.  It is one of the fastest paths to kindness.  A co-worker may annoy you with their peculiar habits or their negative comments, but when you learn even some of their story, you are more understanding.  It is easier to show someone grace in their worst moments when you know some of the story of their life.

Listen to people’s stories.  Ask them about their childhood.  Open the door to a conversation.  Then be present and learn about who they are and what they have been through. It will change how you treat them.

imageAnd be willing to tell your story.

Everyone’s life can be hard sometimes. Illness, injury, and disappointment are all a part of it. They define us as much as the good times.  We need to tell our stories, all of our stories.

I am not suggesting we wallow in despair.  In fact, I am suggesting quite the opposite.  Positivity is the trait I value most.  There is nothing more inspiring than hearing someone who you know to be optimistic and positive talk of a challenge or a disappointment or a truly devastating loss.  They model that we will all experience those things and can still be happy.  How we tell our stories says a great deal about who we are.

Tell your happy stories.  Tell your sad stories.  Tell the stories that make you look good.  Tell the stories that make you look ridiculous.  We all have them.

I do not want to over speak, but our stories have the power to change our world.  Countries, cultures, religions have stories too.  When we seek to know them, we are more understanding.  We treat each other better.

image“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  Never underestimate the power of learning even part of someone’s story.

Life Needs More Exclamation Points!

imageI’ve joked that you can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the English teacher out of the person.  In a meeting recently with some colleagues, we were revising the word choice, construction, and punctuation in a document.  There was an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, and we were debating whether or not that was appropriate.

Exclamation points are commonly used to express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong emotions.  Grammarians would caution against overuse of the mark.  But a wise friend in our meeting asked, “Shouldn’t life be filled with more exclamation points, not less?”

Yes!

Our lives should be filled with excitement, surprise, and astonishment! We should seek those opportunities.

Say Yes

Every day, every moment, life presents us with opportunities.  Say yes to them!  An invitation to an event can feel like an obligation, but it could be the experience of a lifetime.  A new professional opportunity can feel overwhelming, but it could help you grow in ways you’ve never imagined.

Trying something new can be scary, but I agree with the advice that we should do something everyday that scares us.  There is a thrilling exhilaration in doing something new.  Your heart beats faster.  Your adrenaline spikes.  Your emotions go into overload.  It’s fun.

Risk-taking is part of a well-lived life.  Now I’m not suggesting you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, but I am suggesting you be willing to say yes to an opportunity even though it scares you.  It may feel safer to maintain the status quo, but the best things in life are almost always a result of challenging it.

Be Present

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  (Ferris Bueller)  We have to do more than just say yes to those opportunities; we have to be present enough to  enjoy them when they are happening.  Noticing the best moments when they are happening is a skill we should all cultivate.

Two of our football teams had the opportunity to play in the state championship game in Memorial Stadium last week.  As they were leaving the field at halftime, a player’s dad said to me, “I hope they are taking a few minutes to look around and really soak this all in.”  The experiences of a lifetime are always worth savoring.

Extend Opportunities to Others

Everyone deserves a life filled with exclamation points.  When you have the chance to invite someone else to join you in an adventure, extend the offer.

Experience Wonder

If you read the blog a couple of weeks ago, you know that I have a new niece.  There is something miraculous about a baby.  Holding Logan this weekend has been priceless, and I have tried to enjoy every minute of it.

imageOur world is full of awe-inspiring miracles.  I could watch a mountain stream flowing over rocks for hours.  Vacations are alive with opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature, but if we take the time to look around, we’d see that beauty everyday.  The autumn leaves have only now fallen from the trees. The first frost has left a shimmer on the grass.  The colors of the sunset as I drive home from work this time of year take my breath away.

Our lives need more exclamation points!  Be intentional about looking for them!

 

 

‘Tis the Season

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Thanksgiving is a special time.  As a child, I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”  I remember pilgrim costumes and crafting turkeys by tracing my hand.

As I got older, I remember deeper lessons about history and social justice. I remember essays and poetry and singing “Tis a Gift to Be Simple”.

But mostly I remember someone asking me every year to pause for a moment and give thanks.  English teachers, music teachers, social studies teachers.  Art teachers, science teachers and math teachers all found engaging ways to incorporate a lesson about gratitude.  And it stuck!

I really do choose to see the best in the world, and we know from research that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a powerful way to develop that mindset.

This is not just me talking.  Forbes outlines  7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.  Our own physical and psychological health can be improved, our relationships can be improved, and our mental strength can be improved.  There are simple, tangible things we can do to improve our lives.

It isn’t always easy though.  Life can be hard.  In the midst of illness and grief, during times of fear and stress, gratitude is likely the farthest thing from your mind.  But practicing daily or weekly gratitude rituals can ease your stress and cultivate a positive attitude.

“You can’t be grateful and unhappy in the same moment.” (Dan Baker,  What Happy People Know)

I have included several links this week because many have written about the benefits of gratitude and outlined concrete steps you can take to be intentional about growing in this area… taking a gratitude walk is a great one.

This week I offer a challenge to all of you.  Take some time to pause and reflect on the good things in your life.  Write them down or make a mental list of them as you take a long walk in nature (with a warm coat).  If you work with students, ask them to do the same.  You have the opportunity to shape a mindset that just might stick with them for the rest of their lives!

For me, I am grateful for my family and my friends, for my life’s work, and for the opportunities that continue to present themselves on an almost daily basis.  I am grateful to be alive, and make no mistake, that is no small thing.