Everyone Has a Story- Part 2

go exploreLast week I was reflecting on how much easier it is to be understanding and to show grace when we know people’s stories. This week I’ve been reflecting on how those stories reveal our complexity as human beings.

I am a positive person. I am talkative (anyone who knows me is laughing right now at the understatement). I tend to have ridiculous amounts of energy and enthusiasm. I see the best in things, and I’ve been accused of being “PollyAnna” on more than one occasion.

But sometimes I am sad and withdrawn. Sometimes I am frustrated and upset, and I honestly cannot explain why. I usually snap out of it quickly, but those who know me best know what I am talking about.

I am complex. So are you.

It is tempting to put people in a box. We meet someone, form a first impression, and we assume that is who they are. Rarely are people that easy to figure out. Some people are comfortable in a room full of strangers, but who they are in those interactions may bear little resemblance to who they are with their friends. Others are more reserved and take some time to open up, but they are listening and learning and getting to know people.

Someone told me this week that they appreciate my “authentic self”. It made me feel good. I’m not sure I always know though who my authentic self is.

Our stories shape who we are. The times that we have been hurt have left us jaded. The times we have been sick have left scars. The times we have disappointed others have left guilt. Even if we have moved beyond any negative emotions from the past, we are different because of the experiences.

Our stories also give us strength and resilience. Each one of us has overcome seemingly insurmountable things. We have tackled great challenges and come out on top. We all have.

I really am a positive person. My authentic self believes the world is good and kind and fun. None of that changes because I have a hard day, or a hard hour.

My challenge to you this week is to seek to see the people in your lives more deeply. We are none of us all good or all bad, all happy or all sad. It’s part of what makes us interesting. It’s part of what we should value and appreciate.

It’s a big week.  There are final exams and holiday parties.  There are celebrations and stressors.  Be kind to each other.

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!

 

 

I Choose to See the Best in the World

image

I had a great week!  Some amazing and fun things are falling into place at work.  I got to hear one of my favorite educational thinkers in person, and she was as good as I’d always hoped she would be.  Two of our district’s football teams won in the semi-finals and are headed to state.  And best of all, my niece Logan was born.  It was a terrific week!

Then I got home from football Friday night and turned on the news.  I’d seen glimpses of what was happening in Paris, but I had not slowed down to absorb the full weight of the attacks.  My heart broke, like it does every time I see the devastation wrought when evil and anger and ignorance manifest themselves in our world.

I am overwhelmed with sadness and fear and anger at the hate.  I am grief-stricken for the family and friends of those who lost their lives.  And I am worried for the wounded, in body and in spirit, whose journey to healing will be difficult and long.

The world can be a hard place.

Life ebbs and flows in even an average week.  And we’ve all had days that were anything but average when things went wrong and life got hard…sometimes very hard.  I have had bad things happen in my life.  My friends have had worse.

But for every story of pain and loss, there is a story of strength and resilience.

“The heart of life is good.”  (John Mayer)

I am resisting the urge to be fearful of the world our precious Logan has just entered.  I do not want her life to be about fear.  I want her life to be about joy!

According to the US Census Bureau, about 251 babies are born every minute.  Every minute!  That’s 251 opportunities every 60 seconds to change the world.

As I’ve said in the past, I am not burying my head in the sand and ignoring the very real threats to our physical, psychological, and societal well-being.  The world can be a terrible place, but if I choose to see the worst in it, I am doomed to a life of fear. I am of little use to the people who need me most.  I will not let that be Logan’s reality.

image

I choose to see the best in the world.  I choose to embrace the stories of compassion and support that were being reported alongside the devastation in Paris.  I choose think about the heroes who ran toward the violence in an attempt to save lives. I choose to celebrate the people in my own life who have overcome horrific events with grace and positivity.  I choose to think about the 251 babies born every minute who can be loved and nurtured and taught to care for our world.

I am a change agent.  You are a change agent.  Our world can be changed.  And in the meantime, there is more right than wrong with people.  There is more good than bad in the world.  There is more love than hate.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” (Marianne Williamson)  That’s what I’ll teach Logan!

How will the world be different because you were in it?

image

The world will be happier because I was in it.  At least that’s my plan.

Contemplating your own mortality is not something I’d suggest anyone spend much time doing.  But the reality is that life is short, and we would be wise to put some thought into the way we are spending it.

I have a friend who is focusing her energy right now on the crisis with Syrian refugees.  She has identified concrete ways that people can get involved and make a difference.  She is spreading that word, and she is working to improve the situation for people in great need.

I have another friend who has worked for the military and in the public sector.  She has lived in some of the most dangerous places on the planet.  Her work has shaped public policy, and she has risked her life for our safety.

I have a friend who is a Superintendent.  One who spent time working with the recovery efforts in Haiti and New Orleans.  My high school classmates are doctors and lawyers and executives.

I sometimes feel like my impact on the world will be small.  Maybe you have felt the same way.  History is full of examples of people who have sacrificed and served to make our world better.  There are people dedicating their whole lives right now to addressing social injustices.  How will the world be different because I was in it?

I’ve spent more time than I should wondering if I have done enough good, wondering if I have taken enough risks to make a real contribution, wondering if I have made any lasting impression.  I know some of you wonder the same thing.

We have.  Our lives have made a difference.  My life has made a difference.

There is the very real contribution that I’ve made in terms of my children.  They are smart and compassionate and positive.  The world is better because they are in it.

As a teacher, I also feel like I have had the chance to influence others.  There are mature, confident, wonderful adults out there with whom I was able to connect when they were students.  I’m still in touch with many of them today.  The world is better because they are in it.

The world may not know my name, but my life has mattered.

image
http://tinyurl.com/oycr3hl

It feels small to say this, but I hope the world will be happier because I was in it.   If there is a “legacy” that I’d like to leave, it is happiness.

Happiness is not a buzzword.  It is not a fad.  It is not shallow.   Brightening the day for someone can have an impact on every other person they encounter that day.  I want to be the face, the voice, the message that spreads positivity.

I’ve recently become an Optimist.  Part of the Optimist Creed is to “look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true”.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the atrocities in the world.  This doesn’t mean that I’ve buried my head in the sand.  It means that in the midst of those things, I choose to believe that staying positive is a stronger way to live.

How will the world be different because you were in it?

Just for Fun…a Few of My Favorite Videos about Happiness

The Science of Happiness- Soul Pancake

The Happy Secret to Better Work- Shawn Achor

Kid President Pep Talk

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.

 

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

image

I stumbled this week.  I was presenting a report to our Board of Education.  It was an important project over two years in the making, and when the moment came, I flubbed it.  Now it could have been much worse, but I certainly provided the comic relief in a pretty serious meeting.

I had prepared for that moment for months.  I had written my comments weeks earlier.  I ran through what I was going to say over and over.  I didn’t sleep much the night before, but I thought I was ready for anything.

And then, when the moment came, I tripped up.  I got too excited and jumped right over protocols (and the Board of Education) and into my speech.  Everyone laughed.

I had a decision to make at that point, and thankfully the other people in the room showed me the right thing to do.

“That was awesome.”

“You rock.”

When I was done, my text messages were supportive and fun.  The lesson from my colleagues was clear.  “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Leaders are so often in serious situations.  Real, difficult, serious situations.  The opportunity to lighten the mood is not always evident. It would often times not be appropriate.  But when  the moment does present itself- run with it!  Life is short and too often hard.  If there is an opportunity to see the funny side, take it.  Take it especially if it means poking fun at yourself.  Moments like that can teach you humility.  People need to know…you need to know…that you are human, that you err, and that you recognize your mistakes and can give yourself grace.

I think it is important to note here that laughing at other people is never okay.  In my case, the room was filled with friends.  Everyone was clearly laughing with me and not at me.  Humor is essential to effective leadership.  Humor at your own expense can ease tensions and build relationships.  But humor at someone else’s expense will almost always damage relationships.

I wish that I had been nothing but poised and professional in my meeting.  I wish that it had gone the way I played it out in my head all those times. But it didn’t, so the options were clear: stress and worry about it, beat myself up about it, or laugh and move on.  Humor isn’t always the appropriate response, but whenever it is possible, don’t take yourself too seriously.

Be Awesome Anyway

image

School years have natural ebbs and flows, and the two weeks before Spring Break can sometimes be difficult days.  Anyone who works with children knows the phenomenon of the week before the week before a break.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  Right before a break, everyone exhales and sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  But that week before, the anticipation and stress peak.  It can be a rough time in schools.  My advice…be awesome anyway!

“If there are two paths, I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.”  Almost 35 million people have watched Kid President’s Pep Talk video on YouTube.  Why?  What message inspires that kind of following, and what can we as educational leaders learn from it?

Leadership is complex, but there is one characteristic that seems to inspire people universally.  Positivity!  People want to be motivated by their leader.  They want to feel like they can be better, achieve more, succeed.  Energy is contagious, and you can choose to spread negativity, or you can choose to spread positivity.

Effective leaders have insight, emotional intelligence, and gravitas.  When they are interacting with others, they show exceptional interpersonal skills.  In times of crisis, they display almost relentless positivity.

Leadership is difficult.  In schools it is about leading instructional change, making difficult and divisive budget decisions, disciplining students.  Many situations have two opposing sides. The pace is frenetic, and the stress is palpable.  Yes, leadership is difficult.

But when the moment is challenging, when people are angry, when the circumstances are frightening, people need a leader who is none of those things.  Leadership is difficult, but the best leaders have a way of maintaining their positivity.  A colleague who works with new administrators in our district describes his style as that of a duck.  Below the water, he is paddling fast and furious, but above the water, where people can see, he is positive, calm, and smooth.

Our Superintendent describes it as “getting back to zero”.  Regardless of the stress of the moment, effective leaders get themselves back to a positive place quickly.

Never would I assert that successful leadership could be broken down simply into any one thing.  We are all different as leaders, and our differences should be celebrated.  But if we could all start by being positive, I believe we could create a culture that allows for growth.

Regardless of the current circumstances, take Kid President’s advice. Be awesome!