Happiness

I Refuse to Manage My Expectations

The Huskers have a new football coach.  As the news was officially leaked, likely a day earlier than the University and the coach himself had wanted,  the state went crazy.  Weeks, months, years of frustration seemed to melt away in an instant.  The Nebraska kid who made good was coming home.  I was giddy.  And almost immediately I was reminded that I should “manage my expectations.”

It will likely take time to return Nebraska to its historical glory.  Recruiting may still be a challenge.  After all, despite evidence to the contrary this week, it gets really cold here in the winter.  After all, this season was less than a success in the wins and losses category.  After all, next year will be about rebuilding, and there is hard work to be done.

But still, I refuse to manage my expectations!

I choose to believe that amazing things are about to happen.  I choose to believe that a new coaching staff will find the magic, and in no time at all the Huskers will be a powerhouse.  I choose to see the best possible future for Scott Frost and his staff, for the student-athletes who are working so hard to find success on the field, and for the fans who admittedly care maybe too much about our football team.

I refuse to manage my expectations!

We choose each day how we view the world.  We can be pragmatic.  We can evaluate the pros and cons, weigh the many options, and then choose the safest course.  We can manage our expectations of others and try to manage their expectations of us.  And if I’m being honest, there are times when each of those is necessary and smart.

But for the most part, I choose to believe that in any given situation the best possible outcome is the one that will come to be.  I choose to believe that rather than managing my expectations, I should actually raise my expectations.  I should expect the most for myself and for those around me.  And I should expect the most from myself and from those around me.

Will I be disappointed sometimes?  Of course.  That’s life.  But the disappointment will be hard whether I anticipated it or not.  Why not choose to believe that things will work out?

I am not suggesting we ignore reality, bury our head in the sand, or forget that in most cases it is our actions that create our best possible future.  When we set high expectations, we also have to agree to do the hard work.  But why not choose to believe that we are about to find the magic?

When Your Best Isn’t Enough

We’ve all been there.  All of us.  At one time or another, we have all attempted something and come up short.  It might have been something as small as a grade on a paper or a test when we were in school.  It might have been something bigger like training for months to set a personal record in a half marathon.  Or it might have been something truly life-changing like taking a high-profile new job in an unfamiliar place halfway across the country.  Big or small, there is something especially painful about investing your time and energy into something, working hard, truly doing your best, and having it not be enough.   We’ve all been there.

I am not talking about that time I signed up to do a 5K and then never really got around to training.  That’s on me.  I’ve jumped head-first into plenty of endeavors only to find myself too busy to really invest the needed time to do it well.  I have a collection of hobbies in the garage that never really made their way into my daily routine.  Of course I am not an expert with my bow and arrow.  I’ve hardly ever used it.

No, I’m not talking about those things.  I am talking about the things that mattered.

I am talking about the things that were worth the time and money and patience and heart to get right.  I am talking about the things that got you up at 3:45 in the morning, the things that sent you back to school, the things you obsessed over and read about and journaled about, the things that convinced you to walk away from a safe job in a familiar place with people you knew only to start an adventure with an uncertain ending.

I’m talking about the pain that comes when one of those things doesn’t work out, when your best isn’t enough.  And we have all been there.

In those moments you have a choice.  You can choose to be defeated.  You can choose to wallow and retreat and shut yourself away.  You can choose to stop taking the big risks.

Or you can stand up, face the reporters (literal or figurative as they may be), and explain that you did your best.  You can continue to wake up at 3:45 and to take the big risks.  You can choose to hold your head up, maintain the highest levels of class and grace and dignity, and honestly mean it when you say that you would not have traded the experience simply because it did not end the way you had hoped.

“That wasn’t the measure of the experience.  It’s just the way it ended.” (Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing)

Embracing October 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  October has returned, and in its usual fashion it is equal parts glorious and hard.  No, that is far from accurate.  It is mostly beautiful weather and trips to the pumpkin patch and football and concerts and plays.  It is mostly vanilla-flavored candles and fun decorations on the mantle.  I love October!

But it can also be hard.  My children have been busy with school and clinical and jobs.  My work family has been busy as well.  It’s been amazing and important work, but it’s been a lot.  A few of us got pretty sick, and I have to admit that I have not been as patient or gracious or kind as I would like to be.  This can be a challenging time.

Something I have learned through the years though is that spending too much time focused on the negative serves no value.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

This has always been my favorite time of the year.

Halloween is big in my family.  What’s not to love?  Costumes and candy and pumpkin-spiced everything.  This year my daughter is going all-out in a “cubicle decorating contest” at work.  It is becoming epic.  I’ve got pumpkins in the entryway and gourds at work.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween.

The weather changed this week.  A more sudden shift from warm to cold than last year.  The leaves are turning, and the fall rain has settled in.  It is finally jacket and sweatshirt weather.  There is comfort in thick socks and a soft sweater.  There is comfort in wrapping up on the couch in a blanket reading a book.  I spent hours doing that this weekend.

In the sweltering heat of July and in the frigid cold of January, I sometimes wonder why we live here.  October reminds me!   Autumn in the Midwest is spectacular.  Nebraska is at her best when the rustic colors fill the trees and the gentle rain coats the streets.  This is my favorite time of the year, and I know I am not alone.

This will be a busy week in our district.  Conferences are in full swing, grades are finalized and being shared with families, and there are professional development and teacher work days next week.  There will be some long days.

I encourage you to pause in the midst of the crazy this week and savor the season.  It goes much too fast.

Focus less on the negative and more on the positive.

When someone says, “How are you?”  Answer, “Fantastic!”

Positivity is contagious.  Spread it around.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

#Goals

I hit a major milestone this week in a goal I’ve been pursuing all year.  I walk.  This year I’ve been walking a lot. I’m working toward a mileage goal, and it took me until the last day in August to be on track to hit the goal.  I’ve been behind for 8 months.  Eight months!  And I honestly have no idea if I can stay on track for the rest of the year.  But I’m there right now.

I’m part of an online community all working toward this goal.  I’ve been watching person after person hit the year-end goal all summer.  Most of the people in this community are runners.  The other people I know personally working on the goal are runners.  Good runners.  They finish miles so much faster than I do. It can be frustrating at times.

It’s hard to set a goal, work toward that goal, and watch so many other people beat you to the goal.  But such is life.  No matter how fast you are, someone is always faster. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Okay Theodore Roosevelt said it, but I’ve agreed with him many times.

Our goals are our goals.

I spend too much time wishing I was a runner.  The runners I know are amazing!  They are dedicated, passionate, motivated.  They have cool running gear, and they talk a lot about shoes and watches.  They are fit.  Man are they fit. It is impressive.

I walk.  I walk a lot.  That’s what I can do.  And I can certainly get cool walking gear and talk about shoes and watches.  And I can be dedicated and passionate and motivated.

Our goals are our goals.

The only person we are meant to compare ourselves to is the person we were the day before.  We do not have to be faster or thinner or wealthier than anyone.  We do not have to have a better job or a bigger house or a fancier car to be worthy.

Our goals are our goals.

I have some good friends who are competitive. Several even have competition in their top five Gallup strengths.  Competition is different from personal comparison.

Competition can be healthy.  It can show us what’s possible.  It can push us and challenge us to be better than we ever thought we could be.  I’m not discouraging competition, but we should not be judging ourselves based on a comparison with others.

I am enough.  You are enough.  Right now.  Just as we are.

So set some goals that will be hard to reach.  Challenge yourself to go farther or faster than you thought you could.  But appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the world.  Just the way you are.

Quiet Your Mind

I ruminate.  That’s an understatement. I’ve written about it before.  I’ve set goals and made plans to do it less.  And yet it persists.  Ideas.  Worries.  Worst case scenarios play out in my head.  It is the least productive, most destructive thing I do.  It serves no purpose, and I know better.

This was a week of ups and downs.  I watched a school community that means the world to me come together to experience a once in a lifetime moment during the eclipse, and I watched as that same community came together to grieve the loss of a staff member and a friend.  Highs and lows.  Sunshine and rain.  Nature teaches us that life needs both to grow.

Life can change in an instant.  Life does change in an instant.  My heart is breaking for my Kiewit family.  They are hurting.  It was a hard week.  After a week like that, it can be a challenge to quiet your mind.  

“Worry does not take away tomorrow’s troubles.  It takes away today’s peace.”  No amount of ruminating stops the hard days.  It only adds unneeded struggle to the good days.

A friend shared with me the Zac Brown Band song Quiet Your Mind (https://youtu.be/syTVW8n5Cy0 ). It’s spot on!  Worth a listen!

“Soak it all in. It’s a game you can’t win. Enjoy the ride!”

This is not easy for me.  It’s not easy for many.  But I am redoubling my efforts to worry less, to quiet my mind, to enjoy the moment.  Will you join me?

“It’s from my School!”

It’s back-to-school week, and we had an amazing motivational speaker during our fall workshop. He was funny; he was emotional; he was inspiring.  He challenged us to be innovative. He challenged us to see the joy in the eyes of every child when they come into school, and he challenged us to be sure that we do not squelch that joy. Children are, by nature, learners. It is our job to fuel that fire, not to put that fire out. It was a solid message. It struck a chord. It was good stuff.

But in the midst of his message, a family movie from Hunter’s childhood came to mind. We’ve watched it over and over and over again in our family. It’s a classic. We have always looked to it as evidence of her sass and her spunk. But suddenly, sitting in that auditorium, the video came to mind and everything about it changed. I saw a different lesson.

First, let me apologize for the quality of this video. Clearly I should not be the videographer in the family.  But I’m glad we have it.

Take a listen…

Now, like I said, we used to focus on that moment when she says, “I did not want this book.”  We used to laugh as I tried to convince her that she should say thank you to the person who had given her the gift. But here’s what I saw this week. My child who has been read to every day of her life is less than excited by the prospect of a book.  My child who has an English teacher for a mother “did not want that book.”  Until…she saw the connection to school.  There is a moment, it’s my favorite moment, when her face lights up.  “Mom, it’s, it’s from my school.”  And everything changes!

School has that power.  Teachers have that power.  You have that power.  Engaging lessons, exciting content, and powerful relationships matter.  We can light a fire!

My nephew starts kindergarten in our district tomorrow.  My wish for him is an experience that make his face light up when he realizes, “it’s from my school.”  I am grateful for all of the teachers and teacher leaders, the librarians, the administrators, and the many other school staff who lit that fire for my children.  Thank you!

Our challenge this week is to do it all over again.  Have an amazing first week of school!

The Happiest Place on Earth…on Purpose

Have you ever noticed that when you start thinking (or writing) about something that you begin to see examples of it everywhere.  It’s like buying a new car and suddenly seeing it at every intersection.

It’s been that way for me all summer.  I have been working on myself, and I have been reflecting and thinking (and writing) about my purpose.  Last week my family took a purposeful break from the world and spent six days in the Happiest Place on Earth.  And it was just that!  Disney World does not disappoint.

We were surrounded by people and organizations clear in their purpose.  Our flights out were enjoyable.  I have always been impressed by the intentionality with which Southwest Airlines makes flights fun.  They know their purpose, and they seem genuinely happy to be making us happy during our travel.

And everyone knows that Disney tends to even the smallest detail in order to make it the Happiest Place on Earth.  They know their purpose, and each and every person in the organization is focused on making it a reality.  From the shuttle driver, to the women handing out buttons and badges at the bus stops, to the characters who never stop entertaining, it is magic, purposeful magic.

There is power in knowing your purpose.  It guides your steps and motivates your work.  We need purpose in our profession, and we need purpose in our personal lives.  This has been my journey this summer, to reflect on the many purposes I see for myself.

The purpose of our vacation was to disconnect from the world and to reconnect with each other.  And let’s face it, our purpose was to have fun.  Man did we have fun!

Our Best Selves

You are going to be great at something; you just don’t know what it is yet. We should be saying that every day to the young people in our lives. We should be saying that every day to the adults in our lives. We should be saying that to ourselves every day until we do know what it is. We are all meant to be great.

Have you found your purpose, your reason for being? Are you doing all you can every single day to bring that purpose to life?

Finding purpose is the key to a fulfilling life. I have been blessed to find mine. I have been blessed by powerful mentors and coaches who have helped me find my purpose and more importantly to create a plan to make that purpose, that passion, a reality.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Expery

I have a friend who challenged me to take my writing to the next level. He helped me define specific, tangible, measurable, and realistic action steps in order to achieve my goal. He reaffirmed my purpose, and he guided my thinking around the steps to make my purpose come to life. And I, in turn, helped him do the same. He is almost done with a fantastic 300 page book. I like to think I had a small piece in pushing him to make that a reality.

I have another friend who encouraged me to pursue educational administration and to take the first step and the next step and the next step in becoming the leader I am today. He still walks side-by-side with me to push me, to challenge me, to support me, and to see to it that I get a little better each day. We all need those coaches.

Working in education is a gift. Every day I get to help create safe, caring, supportive environments where children can learn. Every day I get to take actionable steps to make the world a little better for the students in our care. Every day. It is a blessing I do not take for granted.

I have another friend who has helped me redefine my purpose outside of my profession. And now through the blog I hope that I have been able to extend my reach. I have enjoyed the comments, the messages, the conversations with people about the ideas I have put out into the world. It has given me a larger purpose, and I am enjoying the journey.

I want each of you to pause this week and to reflect on your purpose and the steps you are or are not taking to live that purpose. Life is short my friends. We owe it to the world to live the best version of ourselves.

Slow Down

Last week was spring break, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to relax.  I hope you did as well.  But if you are anything like me, it was a long way down!  The pace of “the real world” is intense.  Slowing down is a challenge.  But every so often, we all need to slow down!  It helps our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The first few days were the hardest.  My natural inclination is to go, go, go.  Letting go of work is hard for me.  I love what I do, and I feel an awesome responsibility to do it well.  Emails and phone calls and texts kept coming during the week.  It took a few days for me to put the phone down.  (It helps though when you are at sea and the wifi is crazy expensive.)

It was probably Wednesday before I truly felt disconnected, before I had actually changed my pace.  I set no alarm.  I used my phone only as a camera.  I took a nap.  It was wonderful.

The pace of our lives can take a toll on our bodies and our minds.  Intentional down time is critical.  I was lucky to carve out an entire week away.  Those are rare.  I encourage you to take a week if you can, but it does not take a week (or a cruise) to slow down.

I’ve written about this before.  We are at times too connected…to work, to email, to Facebook or Twitter.  Unplug.

We need long walks outside.

We need long breakfasts with our friends.

We need Blake Shelton concerts and free Saturday mornings at the art museum and musicals at the Orpheum.

We need time with our family and time with our friends and time alone.  Spend some time alone.  A game of solitaire or a movie or a night watching The West Wing on Netflix is not to be underestimated.  It can bring “balance” back to our lives.

I believe though that true balance is an illusion.  I’ve written about that before as well.  The best definition I’ve ever heard of balance is to have enough energy to enjoy all areas of your life.  Do what you need to in order to find that energy.  For me, work is energizing.  But so is down time.

Slow down!  For a week, for a day, for an hour.  It can make all the difference!

Reply All

It happened this week.  Someone sent a short, informative email to the staff in their school.  Instead of using the email group for their staff though, they used an email group that included a much larger number of people.  And so it began.

“Please remove me from this email group.”

“I think I got this email by mistake.”

“If you go to More and click Mute, you can end this string.”

And the memes.  So many memes.

It happens.  Not often at all, but at least once a year it seems to happen.  Some unsuspecting person clicks the wrong email group and we get 24 hours of interesting.  If no one hit “reply all”, it would end with that first email.  But that is the one thing that never happens.  It really is a social experiment of sorts.  People react so differently. Most are silent. Some get angry and impatient.  And a few get funnier than I could ever hope to be.  Clever.  Witty.  Creative.

This week I decided to just soak it in and look for the life lessons…happens when you commit to blogging every week. So what did I take away from the experience?

1- Know Your Technology – Do your best to avoid using the wrong email group.  Do your best to check that you are replying just to the person who sent the email and not to the whole group.  Learn the tricks to mute a conversation when something like this happens.

2- Show Grace- No one intentionally emails a message to the wrong group.  Accidents happen.  (At least they seem to happen to me with some frequency.)  Simply hitting delete is likely the most gracious response.  Likely the person who sent it already feels terrible.

3- Laugh- I think what I most appreciated this week was the humor.  Many (one in particular who will remain nameless) took the opportunity to connect with other people they had never met and share a funny moment.  No one was mean-spirited.  Many were incredibly creative. All made me laugh.  And laughing is something I don’t think many of us do often enough.  I am thankful for the people who find ways to make others smile.

Last year this same thing happened on an epic scale.  An email was sent to the entire District in error.  It was quite the morning.  After the same varied responses that happened this week happened with almost 3,000 staff members, our Superintendent jumped in.  He was gracious, he was funny and creative, and he put an end to it.  Exactly what needed to happen.  When leaders find ways like this to connect, it is powerful.  Life is serious.  Once in awhile, we should lighten up.

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.

Disconnect

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I was an English teacher.  I enjoy few things more than a spirited debate over language.  So I know we could go round and round about the difference between disorganized and unorganized, disinterested and uninterested.  I had just such a discussion this week with a friend who disconnected.  It was winter break, a time designed for celebration, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  He had decided to carve out some time away from other people and away from technology.  It was a smart decision.  Disconnect!  But do not be unconnected!

While seemingly having the same definition, there is a difference between disconnecting, intentionally or unintentionally separating, and being unconnected.

Choosing to disconnect is an action taken to temporarily step away from the craziness of life.  It allows you to think.  It allows you to get out of the minutia and focus on the big picture.  It is when people dream and imagine and invent.  Likely some of your greatest thoughts happen when you are disconnected.  If you do not take time away, you are likely not doing your best work or being the best version of yourself.  Disconnect!

See a movie on a random afternoon.  Have breakfast with a friend and leave your phone in the car.  Take a walk.  Allow yourself time and space.

But do not be unconnected.  It is our connection to other people, to nature, to the world that makes us human.  It is connection that makes us wiser, and stronger, and better.  Even while we are disconnecting, we can be connected.

My father may take issue with this blog.  He is the first person who taught me the importance of being precise with language.  He taught me the difference between affect and effect, obtuse and abstruse.  He will most definitely reach out if he disagrees with my definitions.  And that connection has made me better.

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.

Inspiration 

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It’s Aaron Sorkin for me.  He does it every time.  West Wing is the best.  Hands down.  No comparison.  Every episode, almost every scene of every episode, moves me and makes me want to do more, be more.  Newsroom does not disappoint.  A Few Good Men.  Steve Jobs.  The list goes on and on.  His stories, his words inspire me and make me want to be a better person.

I want to believe that I can be one of the people he writes about.  I want to believe that I can do things that matter and that make the world a better place.

What inspires you?

Books, music, film, television.  These are powerful tools for changing the stories we tell.  Authors and actors, photographers and artists are the storytellers of our time.

I am a movie fanatic.  I see almost everything.  I love to sit in a dark theatre and lose myself in a story.  I love to reflect on what is and imagine what could be.  Movies about the underdog rising up and winning against all odds help us believe that we too can win.  Stories about adventure, creativity, and love can warm our hearts and ignite a spark in us.

Television shows about teachers, politicians, reporters, doctors inspire us to dream and to do.  There is nothing as powerful as the real stories of athletes, scholars, leaders who challenged the status quo and pushed for making things better.

It’s cold outside. It’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book, to light a fire and turn on a movie, to spend an afternoon in a museum.

Read!

Listen to old music and new music!

Tour museums!

Watch movies no one else has heard of!

See plays, watch documentaries, attend the ballet.  Find the things that educate you, challenge you, inspire you.

 

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!

 

Rusty

img_2558I spent a few days in Huntington, West Virginia this month.  It sits on the southern bank of the Ohio River, minutes from both Kentucky and Ohio.  Although we flew in on the edge of a hurricane, it was the perfect time of year to visit this beautiful part of our country.  The city is nestled inside lush hills, and the leaves had all turned gold and burgundy and burnt orange.  Picturesque is the only accurate description.

The highlight of the trip was a complete surprise.  It was one of those magical moments that seem almost too good to be true.  We met a man who left an impression.  His name is Rusty.

We had a little time to walk over to Marshall University.  You can’t visit Huntington and not visit the Marshall University stadium.  The Thundering Herd suffered a tragedy in 1970 memorialized in the movie We Are Marshall.  The school has done a remarkable job of honoring the past and celebrating the future.  The stadium was closed, but Rusty was cleaning the parking lot.  We asked him if he would take our picture.  Almost immediately he started sharing stories about Marshall.  Rusty has worked there for 50 years.  He grew up in a house that sat where the Marshall practice field sits now.  Rusty has some stories.

img_2569He took us up to the private boxes for a tour.  He showed us the press box.  He shared stories of Huntington community members and the history of the school.  It was riveting.

img_2589But Rusty shared more than the story of Marshall.  He shared his thoughts on life.  He shared his wisdom.  He told us that if he were rich (and after spending time with him- trust me that he is rich in all the ways that matter), he would give $25,000 to a young couple.  “Can you imagine how much it would have helped to have someone get you started when you were young?”   He also shared that he would sit down with the couple and their parents to make sure they had a good life plan.  When Rusty imagines being rich, his thoughts do not go to what he could do for himself, but what he could do for others.  And he recognizes that what we all really need is just a little help.  “Imagine if everyone could just help one other person.”

Imagine.

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

I watched one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing this weekend.  Two West Wing staffers met a man in a bar who was taking his daughter on a college visit.  He was talking about how hard it can be to provide for your family.  “It should be hard.  I like that it’s hard.  Putting your daughter through college, that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment.  But it should be a little easier, just a little easier.  And that difference…is everything.”

As I watched it, I thought about Rusty. And I realized that we already have the capacity to make it a little easier. Imagine if everyone would help make one person’s life better, one situation a little easier.  One person at a time we would make the difference for everyone.

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.

First Days

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This week as I made my way around the district on the first day of school, I was reminded that our experiences on first days are pretty similar.  Whether it was the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school, or the first day of high school, the pictures on Facebook looked the same….students smiling nervously, parents beaming with pride, and school staff excited for the beginning of another year.  The human experience is the human experience.  Starting an adventure in a new place is exciting. For our students, for our parents, and for our colleagues, finding a sense of belonging and establishing relationships in that new place is scary and hard and really important. Regardless of what’s new, we all tend to ask ourselves the same questions.

“What should I wear?”

This question feels oh so middle school, but it’s not.  I had tons of kindergarteners gushing as they showed me their new outfits on the first day.  And I know the high schoolers and their friends talked about what they were wearing for pictures at Orientation.  Will this help me fit in?  Will this help me stand-out?  Am I over-dressed?  Under-dressed?  Believe it or not, even as adults, we ask ourselves (and our friends) these same questions.  We all struggle with the simultaneous desire to fit in and to stand out.

“Will people like me?”image

It is easy to dismiss this as a superficial question, but we have all worried about this at some point in our lives.  Belonging is a powerful human need.  Friendship and relationships are cornerstones of our well-being.  This is true for five year olds,  eleven year olds, fourteen year olds, and adults.  People need a tribe, a community.

This is one of the most powerful ways we can work to make the world a better place.  There are tangible things each of us can do to help others feel accepted.  Children instinctively know this.  They are more likely to talk to someone they do not know, to invite others over to play with them on the playground, or to call someone a friend almost immediately.   We lose some of that as we age.  My hope for the first days of a new school year is that we all, students, staff, community, reach out to others and make people feel welcome.

And a beautiful side effect of focusing on helping others feel accepted is that it takes our minds off our own need to belong.

“Will I like them?”

I believe we are happier when we are surrounded by people we like, people who lift us up and make us better.  In school this can look like spending your time with others who share your academic, athletic, or extra-curricular interests.  We know that students who are involved in activities have higher GPAs and are more successful academically in school.  I don’t have to “like” you to learn from you and to get better because of you, but it’s sure more fun if I do.  Building a network of people you like is important.  At work this looks like finding colleagues who are also friends.

Our world gets better when we are accepting of each other.

This is my challenge to you for the new year.  Find ways to help others feel like they belong.  Focus on being inclusive.  Focus on reaching out to someone who is new at school or at work and asking them to join you.  Focus on the well-being of others.  You’ll be amazed at how much that helps your own well-being.

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.

50 Years from Now

256px-Bumblebee_Transformer_-_Flickr_-_andrewbasterfieldMy family laughs at me every time the movie Transformers is on TV.  Almost without fail, I jump into the story at the exact same moment…the point of inspiring motivation and life-changing wisdom. Do you see now why they laugh at me?  I may be the only person in history who has ever described Transformers as life-changing, but it is.

There is a scene early on when the first Transformer reveals himself as Bumblebee, an alien robot.  (And with that, the rest of you start laughing at me as well.  A movie about alien robots shares life-changing wisdom?)  But when Bumblebee invites the young heroes into his car, leading to unknown adventure and considerable risk, one of the main character hesitates.  The other one utters the words that I’ve been saying to myself ever since…

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

Life is full of choices, chances to try something new.  These opportunities can also be filled with risk.  It is not easy to take a leap and jump into something unknown.  It is not easy to take a chance and know that you could fail, but nothing amazing was ever achieved without risk.

From our earliest years, we have to make choices about what adventures we will tackle and which ones we will let go.  Auditioning for the school play is a risk.  Trying out for the football team is a risk.  Taking an Advanced Placement course is a risk.  But those risks are necessary to create the best possible life.

Say yes!

I am a terrible bowler, but I always have a good time when I play.  I am not a runner, but I’ve finished three half-marathons. Stand directly under the frozen, powerful waterfall at Smith Falls on the Niobrara? Every time!

When people are asked about their greatest regret, they almost always list the things they didn’t do.  At the end of our lives, it is not what we tried and failed to do that haunts us, it is the times we failed to try.

Embracing this attitude is essential not just for the day-to-day things, but it is key to living the best possible version of your life.  Taking risks is necessary in order to find success.  Go back and get the degree.  Apply for the job that seems beyond your reach. Volunteer to be the one who fills in at a meeting or on a committee.

Every day there is a chance to say yes.  “Want to go to lunch?”  “I have an extra ticket to the game, want to come?” “We need someone to lead this project, are you interested?”  A good meal, a new relationship, a powerful experience might be the result.

Something we learn as we get older is that things will not always work out when we say yes.  There is a winner and a loser in all epic battles.  We only have one President.  We only have one state champion.  We only have one gold medalist. But without the risk of failing, we cannot succeed.

“50 years from now when you’re looking back on your life, don’t you want to say you had the guts to get into the car?”

 

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.

 

Hugs, Hive Fives, and Hope

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There is no greater purpose than to make life better for someone else. Time spent in service to others is time well spent.  In education we are blessed with the opportunity to do this every day.  It is the greatest job in the world!

I had one of those moments recently that all educators have.  I saw a former student and was reminded of the impact that we have on the young people in our care.  In a brief encounter, she hugged me no less than five times.  Our connection is deep.  Middle school was not an easy time in her life.  She struggled with behavior; she wrestled with friendship issues; and she lost a parent.  We spent countless hours together in my office working through issues.

We all have those stories.  It’s a natural consequence of our profession.  But we could all have more of those stories if we were more intentional about our interactions with each other.

Life can be hard.  Growing up is not easy.  The day to day work of making friends, doing schoolwork, finding a seat in the cafeteria or on the bus, it’s hard.  Then throw in making or not making the team or the cast or the choir.  And some of our students are dealing with so much more, issues that no one should have to experience, poverty, illness, death.

But we have the daily opportunity to help make life better for them.  What makes the difference?  A person makes the difference.  You make the difference.

As a teacher, get to know the children in your class.

As an administrator, get to know them too.

I truly believe that while all of our students are unique, they also all share a few similar needs.

Everyone wants to be known, to be seen and appreciated for who they really are.

I call it sparkle.  Our students each have a sparkle.  You can see it in their eyes when they talk about their passion.  You can see it in their work when they are doing what they love most.  Do you see it when they sparkle?

And they want to be encouraged.  Something as simple as a hug or a high five can make the difference in someone’s day.

As we start another week, look for opportunities to find the sparkle in your students.  Know them. Encourage them.  Care about them.  You could be the hope they need to make their day, their life, a little better.

 

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.

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!

 

 

The Beautiful Caterpillar 

What is our fascination with butterflies?  Oh I understand, they are beautiful.  In my family we love monarchs.  My children hunted for milkweeds with their grandma to find the caterpillars that would someday become the monarchs.

But what’s wrong with the caterpillar?

It’s as if the potential for something more beautiful, more appreciated is instinctive.  “What if” sometimes seems more important than “what is”.

I’m guilty of it myself.  I wrote about the butterfly and asked Whose Wings are You Seeing.

But the caterpillar is valuable and beautiful in and of itself.  It does not need to transform to have value.

Helping our students see their potential is important.  We build lessons and design activities to help them imagine success in high school, a college experience, or a future career. All great things to do. But it is equally important to ensure they know they are wonderful right now.

As educators it is our privilege and our awesome responsibility to ensure that every child in our care knows they matter.  Right now, in their current condition, in their current state, they are wonderfully and perfectly made.  Will they grow?  Of course.  When they know better, will they do better?  I hope.

But I am trying to focus on appreciating people, and appreciating myself, for who we are right now.

 

What’s Wrong with an Ordinary Life?

“We were made for so much more than ordinary lives.  It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive.”  Casting Crowns

I truly believe that I am thriving.  I think I am lucky enough to be living my greatest possible life.  But if I were honest, I’d have to admit that there are times I wonder if I am doing all that I am capable of doing or contributing all that I could.

I’ve been thinking about something a friend said to me this week.  “When is it enough?”  When have we earned enough?  Acquired enough?  Achieved enough?  At what point do we settle into our lives and stop wishing for more?

Since I was a child, people have  been telling me that I am extraordinary.  Now, lest you believe that I am in some way unique in this, rest assured that parents and teachers all over the world have been saying the same thing to children for centuries.  I’ve said it to my own children…both biological and those I’ve taught.  And I meant it.

What does it mean though to be extraordinary?  And what’s wrong with being ordinary?  I think our society has become captivated by the idea that some people are leading lives that are by some measure more.  Celebrity, power, wealth are often times the mark of this extraordinary life.  As if people who make an average salary and spend their lives raising a family and/or working in a job that lacks visibility are somehow less extraordinary.

In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clay Christensen talks about  the limitations of our human mind that lead us to create a hierarchical system for measuring the lives of people.  As if we could somehow create a system to rank people as more or less successful in living a good life.  As a professor at the Harvard Business School and TED Talk presenter (talk about extraordinary), he compares this to what businesses do.  Too often businesses and people pursue “the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement”.  If I just get that promotion or if I were just on that committee, my life would be worthwhile.

There is no single achievement that will move our lives from ordinary to extraordinary.  A bit cliché, I know, but I looked up ordinary in the dictionary.  It is defined as “with no special or distinctive features”.  Well, we are each by design unique and therefore extraordinary.   “When is it enough?”  Now.  It was always enough.  I am extraordinary.  So are you.   Let’s start spending our time and energy enjoying this ordinary life.