The beach is where I go to get away, to recharge, to relax, to think and reflect. I have spent a lot of time there this year. On one of my last trips, as I watched the waves roll in and out and gazed out into the vastness of the ocean, my #oneword2018 manifested itself: Possibility.
I don't take this exercise lightly. Last year, it took quite a bit of time to narrow down the one word that I wanted to live from. I looked back at what I wrote: Good Bye 2016 and I was pleased, reflective and appreciative. My word for 2017 was: Forward. I wore a bracelet every day this year with that word engraved on it, so I wouldn't forget. It was this word that got me through a lot in 2017. No one's journey is easy, if it was, it would just be called a stroll. When I reflect on this last year, there are key events when I wanted to throw in the towel, where I went down rabbit holes, where I just wished to turn back or stop...but I didn't. I just kept moving in one direction...forward. But why? In my professional life, it has always been about the kids. As I am halfway through my fourth year away from the classroom, I am feeling more and more removed from those in which I work to serve. This realization just hit me, as I was writing. This realization makes me sad. I believe that in order to best serve those in our care, we must be with them. I need to be with them.
This is actually my second attempt at this post. I realized that my first draft was really focused on me and my journey. But I don't want it to be...I don't live my life for it to be. I need to refocus back on my purpose...Which a good friend reminded me not long ago is: To change school...for kids.
So how can my #oneword2018 help not only me, but other educators and students? I always start the work by creating a six word memoir. For me, the word constraint helps me to really hone in on the real. Here is my 2018 version: Look for possibility in every situation.
My call to action is this: Take some time to create your 6 word memoir and #oneword2018. Use the time to reflect and plan forward. Share it...live it! The time is now.
My heart is broken-I am shaken to my core.
Picking up a prescription, I overheard a teenage girl explaining why she was on a laundry list of medications. The reason; she had just been released from the hospital after checking herself in on a 51/50 hold. If you don't know what that is, it is usually an involuntary psychiatric hold for those that are in danger of hurting themselves or others. This brave girl couldn't have been older than 17 or 18 with a hurt so intense that she admitted herself. Heart broken.
This is where it gets awkward. My heart and mind race back and forth between empathetic action and conforming social norms. There is what I wanted to do and there is what I did do.
I wanted to grab her and hug her and tell her that she matters. I wanted her to know that if she could just push past, there is an amazing life ahead. I wanted to let her know that she is valued and she is worthy of love, caring and belonging. I wanted to cry with her and I wanted to hear her story. I wanted to give her perspective and show her that she is needed. I wanted to tell her how brave she was for getting help and reaching out. I wanted to let her know that she will, in fact, be ok.
But I didn't. I couldn't. All I could do was get in my car and cry. All I could do was create the above quote and share it out. All I could do was think about all of those in her same situation. Those who were not fortunate enough to reach out for help, but so desperately needed it. All I could do was reach out to some of those I care about, and let them know I care. All I could do was try to figure out a way in which to help.
We can all help. We can help by being vocal. We can help by letting others know their worth. That they matter. That they have a purpose. That they are loved. That they are worthy of care and belonging. We don't share enough. Why? Why is this not the norm? Why are people uncomfortable letting others know how they feel? Why is showing emotion, taboo? How is that working for us? Based on the stories I have born witness to, not very well. So let's try something different.
Think about those people that you encounter daily...students, colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, enemies, strangers. They all have a story...they are all dealing with their own truths. We have no idea of knowing what is going on in someone's head or in someone's heart. In this, we do not have any control. What we do have control over is how we interact with others. We may just be the ONLY interaction someone has that day- what do you want that mark to be?
But here is the thing. If we are going to do this, we need to be authentic in it. It needs to come from a vulnerable, caring place. There is nothing worse than inauthentic words- they have the complete opposite effect. We also need to be utterly in tune to the receiver. In this instance- if I would have inserted myself into this young girl's conversation, it would not have worked. I did not know her, she did not know me. In fact, I was just an outsider who happened to hear. Would things have gone differently if she was conversing with me? Absolutely! Would she have received what I wanted to say? That is unknown. So...
My call to action is this: Let us live our lives with intent. Let our actions and words help to lift others up. They are free but have incredible power. Let's use that power for good. You don't know how many stories I have heard about how someone's kind words or actions have changed the trajectory of someone's day-- or life. #choosekind
"But I don't do anything special...". How would you respond to this child in your care? How would you respond to this colleague? How would you respond to this friend? Now...I want you to think about how many times you say that phrase...about yourself. Either in your head or out loud. Hmmm...does your response change?
I have heard this phrase (or similar) a lot lately. One of the things that I am passionate about is sharing forward. Over the last year and a half, I have been blessed with meeting and collaborating with the most incredible minds and beautiful hearts. I have grown incredibly because of them. I want others to experience this as well, so I ask them to share their ideas and stories with others. I am often hit with "But I don't do anything special...".
It is interesting to me that no matter who they are...how accomplished they are...regardless of role, title, success or fame...many people have doubt. They question themselves; their purpose and wonder if they are making a difference. Either that or they don't realize their own impact. When people share these things, my response is two fold. On the one hand, I try to guide them in changing their perspective. To see themselves as I see them, because I do see their "special". The second thing is to make sure that they never stop questioning themselves. Well, that seems counter intuitive, right? But hear me out. To me, one of the best qualities of a leader is humility. Although I want others to see their own "great", I also don't want that to over take them. It is the humbleness that makes them great. It is what makes them self reflect, challenge their own ideas and seek to grow. If someone loses that humbleness, that someone loses their effectiveness to connect with others and create change.
So when someone shares with me that they don't think they are doing anything different, or they don't see their impact...I ask them to zoom out for two reasons:
1) Birds of a feather: It is in our nature to gravitate to those who are like minded. This is very powerful, because we are social beings. We need others. We grow with others. We stretch with others. But what also happens is, when we spend so much time with like minded individuals, we tend to forget that not all think and do the same. When this happens, we start to believe "I'm not doing anything different than everyone else", because we start to see our "everyone" as those in our circle. So I ask them to zoom out, and start to look at a wider sampling. By doing this, the hope is that their is a change in perspective about themselves. That they see they ARE doing things differently. After that realization, it is up to the individual to grapple with that and use that information, forward.
2) See the forest beyond the trees: It is hard to keep going when we don't see the impact of our actions. It is also hard to see our impact when we are in the middle of it. So many of the highly influential people I know; shockingly do not realize their reach...their impact on others. This can cause frustration at times, especially when the going gets tough. But when one can zoom out and really take a look, the hope is that they can see the truth clearly. That everything they say and do impacts others, and those others will impact others and so on...there is a ripple effect. We all have the potential for great power...but with power comes great responsibility. So it is important to check our reach, to keep us in line with our own purpose as we move forward and continue our impact.
My call to action is this: Take some time to look at yourself from a different perspective. My friends Jon Corippo and David Culberhouse often talk about looking from the 30,000 foot view of organizations. But let's use the same idea when we are reflecting on ourselves. Change your perspective and it will change you.
"Why do you care?". Just four words. Pretty simple question. But it captured all of my thoughts yesterday. This question was posed after I was venting to a friend. I was sharing some frustration about what I call "running on the hamster wheel". I feel like I just keep saying the same thing and I am not being heard, so why do I keep talking? Sounds like there should be a logical solution to that problem. Just. Stop. But I can't. Why? My answer to the question was this. "I guess I care because we can do better, because our students deserve better." If I didn't care and I didn't keep fighting the good fight, I wouldn't be me. I have learned, as of late, that I am a fighter and fighters don't quit.
This idea of starting with "why" is not a new concept. Most of us have either read or seen Simon Sinek's Ted Talk. But I think this is an extremely important concept when we are self reflecting. To me, our "why" is our purpose and our purpose is what grounds us. It is also our compass, our thermometer and our springboard. In the book Emotional Agility; Susan David writes "Walking with your why" is the art of living by your own personal set of values- the beliefs and behaviors that you hold dear and that give you meaning and satisfaction. " Whenever I feel uncertain about my path, whether it is chatter from others or chatter in my head...it always helps to focus back on my true purpose. Is what I am doing and saying aligned with that? If so, I feel more confident in moving forward, if not...time to course correct.
This idea of finding and pulling from our purpose has come up in a lot of conversations lately. I have learned that regardless of who someone is, their role, their title, their success...there is struggle and there is doubt. We are all human. In those times, people often begin to question themselves, personally. Are they making a difference? Is this worth the fight? Am I good enough? Am I on the right path? Can I do this? Why bother? This is when it is most important to refocus on our "why". If what we are doing is not aligned with our purpose, then maybe we need to rethink our line of action. But, as Dr. David writes "To make decisions that match up with the way you hope to live going forward, you have to be in touch with the things that matter to you so you can use them as signposts." When people share with me that they are at a crossroads, questioning themselves, I often take them through a series of questions to get them to hone down on their purpose. Once they are armed with that, they can "walk their why".
This blog post was inspired by many conversations as of late, but it was also inspired by a single tweet from my good friend, Tony Sinanis:
This is why I believe so much in self reflection and spelling out your purpose. So when someone asks you why you care, you...yourself know the answer. When you are "walking your why", you have YOUR signposts to help guide you in YOUR right direction.
My call to action is this: Take some time to write out your "why". I like to do this as a "Six word memoir". The reason I do that is because I believe the constraints help us to synthesize and really focus, drill down to our core. I created mine four years ago and it is displayed above my desk. I look to it often as my anchor. "One who inspires and encourages others." If I am not living that every day, I am not being me.
A few years ago, one of our Middle School principals shared an activity she did at her site. She printed out pictures of every student on the campus and hung them up in the teachers' lounge. The teachers were to put a tally mark under the picture if they spoke to the student that day. What was the outcome? Realization. Shocking realization. Some students had 0 tally marks. Some students went through an entire school day without any adult contact. That is heart breaking. This is not to fault the teachers, this is to call attention to this idea. What are the implications from this exercise and what changes were made?
But here is a layer I would like to add. How many of those tally marks were marked because the teacher talked TO the student rather than WITH them? There is a difference. Stop and think about that for a second...
I often say that words matter, because they absolutely do. This is an immense responsibility. How are we using this power?
Here's the thing. This does not only hold true for our students...it holds true for all people, young and old. I believe that we don't tell people enough what they mean to us. We don't share our appreciation, our caring thoughts, our genuine care for one another. This is not the norm, but why? If these sentiments are genuine, coming from the heart, they should be shared. But if it is just inauthentic lip service, it could have a detrimental effect. There is a difference and it is felt. We usually do not know what others are dealing with...everyone has doubt, struggle, issues. No one's are bigger or worse than another because it is their reality. So let us be more cognizant of the effects of our words and be intentional with them. Let us use them to create good...to create positive...to make a difference. They just might be exactly what someone needs. Be the difference.
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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