Category: Health & Wellbeing

What If Our Passion Is Our Purpose?

I was recently invited to speak at the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts (CASA) in Oak Park, Mi.  CASA is a wonderful school that offers students from multiple local districts opportunities for alternate programming based on their interests.

I was honored to receive a “Distinguished Alumni Award” this year.

I thought about it.  

“Alumni” … certainly.  I studied Philosophy and Japanese at CASA.

“Distinguished” … I’m not so sure.

If I am distinguished, why?  

I have a family and a job.  I serve kids, and I partner with colleagues and parents to do so.  

My core is aimed at positive progress.  I think and I act on a foundation of optimism, growth, kindness, and determination.  

I hold on to hope even when I’m gasping for air.

I work hard to forgive my shortcomings and those of others.

I reflect with some intensity as I stumble through this world so that I can enhance that stumbling, and I even have faith that my stumbling could eventually become a stride.  

I work for it.  

I believe.

I don’t know that I’m distinguished on a foundation of achievements or position.  After all, I’ve been given so much.  I’ve been privileged my entire life.  I remain privileged.  

No, if I am distinguished I think it might be because I follow my passions wherever they may lead.

I wonder, what if our passion is our purpose?

What if the process outweighs the product?

What if attending to and sharing our passions sustains a fire within each of us that spreads when we connect with others?

What if, even with the stumbling along the way, that’s what changes the world?

What if our fires burn brighter when they’re shared?

What if life is a series of mutually beneficial interactions of inspiration that drives a collective passion and enhances our world?

I have passion for literature, for music, and for storytelling.

When I was invited to speak at CASA I thought I’d be sharing a part of my story with students.  It turns out I was sharing with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and fellow Alumni.  I was glad to have the opportunity.

I was also nervous.  I was very nervous.

I was especially nervous because I decided I’d be playing my guitar and signing that morning.  I believe I referred to my nervousness as “terrified” when I addressed it with the audience.

In full disclosure I decided to throw in the towel many times before the event.  I tried hard to convince myself not to do it.  I thought of many good reasons not to.  On the basis of my fears I vigorously attempted to talk myself out of it.  

But that morning I found myself carrying my guitar to the truck, and then to the space in which I would deliver the message.  I knew that if I had my guitar with me I was likely to play it.  If others saw me with it I was likely to sing.  They would expect it.  They did.

Before I left the house I asked my nine year old son how he prepared for the stand up comedy/ventriloquism act he recently did in his school talent show.  This kid has demonstrated some shyness over the course of his nine years, and the courage he brought forward for an outstanding, funny, and passionate performance was inspiring to so many people on so many levels.  Me and Lorelei especially.

His performance is embedded in my heart and my mind as permanent inspiration for the pursuit of my passions.

Nonchalantly, he told me the secret, “I took a deep breath and believed in myself.”

Indeed.  Out of the mouths of babes.

As I watch and reflect on the recording of my reading (thank you Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom: What Do You Do With An Idea?), my singing (thank you Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin), and my sharing, I see that some of that nervousness bled through.  

I would have thought that I might cringe a bit at jumbled words and phrases, misplaced notes and chords, off pitch vocals, and a wobbly-kneed presentation of thoughts and ideas, but I didn’t…and I’m not.

Actually, I feel good about the rawness of the moment.  I feel good about being fallible in front of a crowd.  I feel good about publicly moving through mistakes on the foundation of my core values and sharing a bit of my humanity with others.  

I am a husband, a farther, a learner, a leader, and a servant.  

What if this type of moment is just what I need to enhance my ability to carry out each of those roles with an increasingly positive impact throughout the moments that follow?

If I am “distinguished,” what if some uneasiness and the enlisting of a bit of determination to push through it is why?

So, in the hopes that a demonstration of followed passions and shared ideas might somehow connect with even one person in that room, or in this space, who might be in need of some permission to step over the edge in embracing and sharing a passion, a thought, or an idea, here’s what I did…warts and all:

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Awake

There’s more than one way to wake up.  

I’ve been a father for almost ten years. I’ve had lot’s of practice waking people up and being woken up myself.  I have four kids.  Each one wakes up in a unique way.  Jump out of bed, stretch for ten minutes, pull covers over head and go back to sleep, groan.  

Motivation is a factor, too.  Getting out of bed at 4:30 AM for a road trip to our favorite water park looks a bit different from getting out of bed on your average icy cold Monday morning in January.

There’s also a strange space that sometime exists in which we feel awake when we’re actually asleep.  Some dreams are so lucid they’re deceptive until reality snaps in.

Like a dream about not being prepared for a test or a presentation.  Sitting in the front row of a class or a meeting.  A teacher or a boss standing directly in front of you offering an enthusiastic thumbs up.  You look down for a last peek at your notes or a double check on your number two pencil but nothing’s there.  

Sweat forms on your brow, your heart begins to race, it couldn’t feel more real. 

As your name is being announced or the test is being placed on the table in front of you a rhino in a floral patterned cardigan and riding chaps nonchalantly sauntered across the back of the room, puffing bubbles from a classic Sherlock Holmes style pipe. 

He catches your eye with a wink and a nod.  Consternation sets in for just a moment, then relief at the understanding of the impossibility of the situation before you shift into reality, thankful it was a dream.

There’s lots of ways to wake up.

There’s lots of ways to be awake, too.  Awake doesn’t necessary mean aware, and even when it does, there are levels of awareness.  

The most we can hope for in any given situation is that our lived experiences, our sensibilities, and our core values match up to help us navigate each moment with maximum benefit to ourselves and those we serve.

I engage in this reflection on the foundation of my diversity and inclusion journey, as an educator, a parent, and a human being.  

I think about and explore wakefulness in the light of my understanding that there’s so much more for me to know about myself in order to effectively lead in culturally competent ways.  

One of my biggest struggles in this realm is that each person I serve and each one I serve with is on a bit of a different journey.  

I struggle to understand where along the wakefulness continuum my partners are.  Ironically, this is critical information for me to know if my partnerships and my leadership are to be impactful.  Covey continues to remind me that I must first seek to understand people, their perspectives and their needs, before I’m able to support, encourage, and connect.

Every so often I learn something that rattles my foundation.  Most often that something is about myself.  Something about my level of wakefulness.  The more I learn the more I figure I’m less awake than I’d like to be, and less awake than I would have previously described myself as.  

Sometimes I wish the right person would dump a bucket of cold water on my head, but then I remember that when I wake up with a start I’m cranky and clouded, not calm and clear.  

I know that when I wake up gently, with a caring, patient hand on my shoulder and a soft voice of encouragement in my ear I’m apt to receive the day in increasingly rational ways, more closely connected to who I am, who I am becoming, and who I intend to be at my very best.

I want those around me to be awake.  I want those I serve to live in heightened states of wakefulness while embracing their dreams as components of learning and growth. 

I’m working to enhance my ability to wake, and to help other wake in gentle, compassionate, calm, and patient way.  

I’m finding it requires trust.  

Waking slowly brings the looming threat of missing out.  Ironically, as I engage in slow, steady wakefulness to the best of my ability, it seems that just the opposite might just be true.

We live in a system in which many people are marginalized.  As parents and educators we must constantly and stringently reflect on our roles in this system.  A difficult and confronting task to be sure.

We must wake up to the extend that we’re not already awake, we must seek to understand our level of wakefulness and enhance it with each reflection, we must gently nurture the wakefulness of others, we must own our lived experiences, our individual pathways, and our collective responsibility, and because our efforts are in earnest we must forgive ourselves and one another with each exacting realization so that we move forward on behalf of the kids we serve and a brighter further for all.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Moon Hearts, Best Friends To Be, And My Unremarkable Brain

Sometimes my wife and I tell our kids that we love them as much as the moon and the stars.  Sometimes we say we love them with all our hearts.  A few days ago our youngest told me he loves me with all his moon heart.  Even better.  It kind of took my breath away.  I kept the tears at bay, and they were working hard to surface.  

Joy, a fascinating emotion.

We’re blessed with a lot of love in our family.  Love takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s flowing, graceful, and easy.  It’s certainly a treat to bare witness as our kids grow into themselves, individually and as a crew, on the foundation of the love we share.  

The other day we were dropping the sister off at a play date.  She has lot’s of those.  She doesn’t have any sisters at home, so instead she has a whole bunch of friend-sisters who she loves and loves to spend time with.  

On the car ride she was pushing every brother button she could push, and even finding some new ones.  The boys were justifiably beyond frustration.  One of them told her he was glad she had so many play dates.  He’s a great big brother and he loves her with all his moon heart, but he’d had enough.  I understood.

We finally arrived.

As she bounced out of her seat and through the threshold of our mini-van door she informed them that, “one day everything will change, we’ll grow up, I won’t torment you like this, and we’ll all be best friends!”  Then she stuck her tongue out, wiggled her bottom in their direction, and skipped over to join her already hoola-hooping, bubble-blowing friend sister with a huge, joyful smile on her face.

I believe part of the comfort she demonstrates in being able to go off and play so often has something to do with her comfort in knowing that home, love, and in particular…the bothers are always there for her when she returns.

I believe the truth is that she knows they’re already best friends, and that she finds sizable joy in the friendships she shares with her wonderful brothers.

This is what I believe, and within the pages of this reflective journal I’ve poured out many beliefs on the foundation of my thinking.  But friends, be careful, I recently found out that my brain is unremarkable.  So, the hundreds of pages of reflective thinking that precede this page are arguably unremarkable, too.  Please read with caution.

I was at a follow up appointment with my neurologist regarding the moment of Transcendental Global Amnesia I enjoyed in December when I got the official word.  I read the report myself.  My brain was described as “unremarkable.”  I had my suspicions but this was official and conclusive.  

I told the doctor that while unsurprised I was deeply offended.  He courtesy laughed.  A nice guy.

He assured me that I want an unremarkable brain.  He told me it’s the kind that nothing’s wrong with.  He told me it’s the kind that lasts.  

Then he told something that didn’t compel the smarmy joke mechanism in my unremarkable brain to trigger.  

He told me that sometimes scary, unsettling things happen for reasons we don’t understand before we investigate and reflect on them only to realize we’re actually alright.

Ain’t it the truth.   

I sometimes yearn to be sensational.  I often look at my children and see them as exceptional.  I occasionally find myself hoping for extraordinary things to happen as I round the corners of this strange journey.

What if moon hearts, best friends to be, and my unremarkable brain are enough?  What if what seems unremarkable is actually remarkable?  What if what seems ordinary is actually extraordinary?  What am I searching for anyway?  What I actually have it? 

“Actually alright.” Enough.

Unremarkable. Joyful. Lasting.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

King Jr. Moments

We are each unique, which actually goes without saying because the words “each” and “unique” are not so unique from each other, both indicating one of a kind.  An individual thing as distinct from a larger set of things. Therein also lies a suggestion of similarities between each unique one of us.  “One” says we’re unique and “of a kind” says there are similarities between us.  I am me, and in being so I am one particular kind of person.  The “me” kind.  For better or worse. 

It seems to me that we’re each sort of different combinations of some of the same stuff and some different stuff wrapped up in the same kind of packages.  The human being kind.

If that’s not complex enough, we also have senses and choices. 

Senses give us information about stuff that exists around us.  Senses also give us information about what among that stuff we like, dislike, appreciate, or repudiate.  

Choices let us incorporate some stuff into our uniqueness and distance ourself from some of the other stuff.  

I may not be right, but I’m not alone in believing that each of us also has the capacity to learn, and that with some determination we’re each capable of applying that learning to our lived experiences, thereby perpetuating the unique designs we each have on our own lives, knowingly and possibly subconsciously.  

It’s easier said than done in some cases, and that makes it exhilarating.  Frustrating, discouraging, infuriating, nerve-racking, woefully maddening, and exhilarating.  The human journey is a dizzying ride.

Sometimes our learning takes hold and sometimes our intentions are waylaid by the organic ebbs and flows of the dizzying ride of a journey we’re each on.  Sometimes we’re in control and sometimes we’re out of it.  

The often-challenging news is that there seems to be no end to our struggles.  The confusingly-exciting news it that no end is almost just like perpetual progress (if not exactly like it), and that’s cool because it keeps us each in motion.  

As a parent and an educator I often hope my senses are keen enough to help me choose healthy, meaningful kinds of stuff to incorporate into my lived experiences, learn from, live by, and consequently model, so that the kids I serve have opportunities to sense that stuff too, and then make related choices that keep them living healthy, meaningful lives.  

I understand that health and meaning look different for each of us.  My hope is not for the kids I serve to make identical choices to mine, but rather to make choices on similar foundations when the see me making mine on the basis of healthy, meaningful stuff I learn.

I hope my modeling impacts the kids I serve in ways that influence them to take my intentional selection of stuff (along with the more innate combination of other stuff that makes me me) and incorporate it into their unique paradigms in new and evolved ways that influence positive progress for them, those around them, and even the world.  

A tall order, I know.  When I write it out like this it seems almost, if not actually, too lofty for me to reasonably entertain.  After all, I’m just me.  Oh well.  That’s where all the hoping comes in, I guess.

Yesterday morning my family spent a few hours packing bags of food for people in need.  We worked with an organization called Repair The World, who in league with an organization called The Noah Project and one called Gleaners.  Each of these organizations is set on a foundation of social justice, which seems healthy and meaningful to me.  

Repair The World focuses specifically on food justice and education justice.  Essentially making and acting on the argument that all people, regardless of our inherent and/or manufactured differences, have the right to good, healthy food and meaningful, enriching education.

Our kids are relatively young right now.  They each seemed to understand that every sandwich made and every snack bag packed was going to eventually reach the hands of a person, maybe even another kid, who was hungry and didn’t have another way to get food like this.  There are no doubt many complexities about poverty and hunger that our kids don’t understand, but they expressed joy at knowing they were helping people in need.

We drove separately because I had some work to do downtown after they left for home.  Lorelei (my wife) called my from the car shortly after we went our separate ways.  She was thrilled to report that as the navigation system announced a right turn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard our youngest young one shouted from the back, “Mommy, Mommy…King Jr.!”

She was so proud that the big guy was aware and excited to share his awareness of Dr. King.  I’m proud to.  A simple thing to be proud of.  A piece of a much larger puzzle.  A start at the start of a life journey. 

Who knows how deep the awareness runs.  It’s hard to say what connections he makes from himself to Dr. King, and to the potential of a non-violent, compassionate, character-laden, generous, mindful life peppered with efforts at increasing social justice.

Might our expressed pride and excitement alone be a driver of some Dr. King modeling seeping in to him, mixing with the rest of his unique stuff and possibly enhancing the way forward?  

How about the combination of packing a few sandwiches and snack bags for kids in need in combination with the mention of Dr. King’s work around social justice?  

How do we make sure that an exclamation of, “King Jr.!” at the mention of Dr. King’s name translates in to some actionable, healthy, meaningful, rich learning and growth for our youngest kid and his siblings?  Can we?  Maybe we can’t officially make sure of anything.  Maybe that’s where trying and progress come in.

Maybe we simply keep doing the best we can and continue to hope, and push for better around each corner.

I imagine Dr. King might have counseled us that every little piece of the compassion puzzle is critical and meaningful.  

I suspect he might have not asked us to strive for his exact likeness but rather for some of his likenesses that connect us and connect to us.  

My understanding is that Dr. King understood potential as reflective progress peppered with hope, with grit, and with faith.  I gather he hoped we might each become the truest versions of our unique selves on a foundation of healthy, meaningful choices in and among the many challenges he knew we would each face.  I believe he had faith in each of us to get it done, too…to each eventually fulfill our unique potential with compassion, kindness, and justice in mind.

I take joy a great deal of joy in seeing each of my kids’ character unfold.  

When a “King Jr. moment” comes along, that joy permeates my hope and I viscerally feel that, while challenging, complex, and often times confusing and worrisome, this world is holistically headed in the right direction.  Consistently two steps forward and one step back as it goes, a delicate and frustrating dance in many ways and much of the time, but in the right direction nonetheless. 

If the best I can do is keep trying I intend to.  If the most I can offer is the sensing of light around me and the choice to share my sense of it with others, that might have to be enough.  Maybe it actually is.  When I fail to do so I try to dust myself off and give it another go.  If nothing else, maybe I can count those try’s and the connect actions as my own “King Jr. moments” and possibly, in some small way, serve as a conduit from Dr. King to the kids I serve.

We can’t each be everything, but we can each be something, and if we can learn from legends like Dr. King, and in turn from one another, we can each be proud of the something we each are and the something we are each progressively becoming.  

Unique and similar, we are truly each something great when we stay strong in choosing to be something we understand as something good.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Thanks For “Nothing”

Something happened. 

“Nothing” happened.  

It was very interesting.  

After lots of testing the doctors hypothesized “Transient Global Amnesia.”  It happened on Sunday evening.  

On Monday morning I felt strangely rejuvenated.

“Strangely” because one might think that an evening in the hospital, being poked and prodded, CAT scanned and MRI’d, blood pressured and temperature checked, might have resulted in exhaustion instead.  Somehow it didn’t.  Somehow it was rejuvenating.

The doctors made clear that “Transient Global Amnesia” wasn’t their diagnosis but instead their hypothesis.  

They told me it’s the thing they hypothesize about people who “check out” for a bit and don’t show any signs of the really scary stuff that can sometimes be associated with “checking out” for a bit.  

They said I’m fine.  I was happy to hear it.  Lorelei (my wife) was really happy to hear it.

All told I asked some goofy questions, made some confusing statements, and didn’t remember a couple of hours of my evening…and then I felt rejuvenated.

I’m not a doctor, and even when I become one I won’t be that kind of doctor, but here again is my hypothesis: “nothing.”

Since no one’s sure what exactly happened to me I’m decidedly going with “nothing.”

It was unintentional this time, but given that I experienced what seemed to be some genuine and powerful healing outcomes as a result, I’m left wondering how I can reproduce it with intentionality. “Nothing,” that is.

Is it possibly for me to take time for “nothing” every now and again or do I have to have some hypothetical “Transient Global Amnesia” for that?

In reflection, I’m choosing to believe that the few hours I “lost” were actually spent in a deep state of forced mindfulness, ironically making that time a net gain. 

I’ve decided to believe that my mind wisely powered down. 

I’m feeling confident it was a good decision.  Imagine that, my mind might just be a better decision maker than I am.  Go figure.

I can learn, though.

What I’m learning from this experience is that “nothing” might actually be “something,” and “something” pretty special at that.

What if I could force myself into a state of  “nothing” every once in a while?

What if I could remove the questions, the worries, and the wonders, and simply clear the space out?

What if I could clean my mind up every so often?  

What if I could periodically take some time to not think?

What if I could spend some moments not planning, not organizing, and not designing?

What if I could intentionally engage in some mental Feng Shui as needed?  

You know how it feels really good to clean out and organize a physical space before moving on to the tasks of the time?  Why not apply that same principal to a mental space?

What if I could reproduce the rejuvenation I felt after “checking out” for a few hours earlier this week?

Could be healthy. Could be meaningful.

I understand that this is not an original thought.  It’s just that it’s making so much sense to me in the moment. 

I once read about a young monk and an old monk sitting next to one another meditating.  The young monk eventually began to get restless.  He looked at the old monk as if to ask, “Well?”

Without turning his head or opening his eyes the old monk said, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

As I move forward bent on working to enhance my mindfulness practice I’m filled with gratitude for the meaningful experience I had this week.  Strange and even scary in some ways, but meaningful to be sure.

So, thanks for “nothing” Transient Global Amnesia.  I’ll try real hard to not waste it.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead., Thanks. 

Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!

We were at my nephew’s 16th birthday party.  He’s a great kid and our kids love him to pieces.  Essentially, he becomes a jungle gym when we get them together.  This time, however, he was surrounded by his friends.  The party was teaming with enthusiastic 16-year-olds chattering away about whatever it is 16-year-olds chatter away about and patting my nephew on the back.  

My kids had trouble making their way into that mix, so they were eventually left to their own imaginations and resourcefulness.  They decided that chasing one another around, finding hiding places and testing the limits of mischievousness would be a perfect direction to in for the afternoon.

That’s when it happened.  The 3-year-old called a staff meeting.  He literally shouted, “Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!”  The others eventually gathered under the pergola-like structure on the side of the house and waited for further instructions.  I witnessed the phenomenon from a distance and smiled.  I didn’t get involved at first.

Eventually, as the staff meetings increased in frequency the others lost interest.  Sure enough, the 3-three-year old found his calls futile. “Staff meeting! Staff Meeting!”  He continued.  His bothers and sister stopped attending or even responding. They moved on and back to the “limits of mischievousness” exploration.

I couldn’t leave the big guy thinking his staff meetings weren’t important.  He was working so hard to organize them and he seemed to enjoy the so much.  Besides, being someone who facilitates staff meetings myself I thought I might be able to learn a thing or two.  Couldn’t hurt.  She I answered the call.  He smiled and directed me to the spot under the pergola-like structure.  

Upon arrive he sat me down and with great vim inquired, “Ok, what type of ninja are you going to be?”

Before I could answer he listed the options, “You can be the ninja who runs around, the ninja who flies, or the ninja who annoys people.”  I decided to be the ninja who annoys people.  Why fight it.

He told me that he would continue to be, “The adorable ninja,” and off we went to skillfully annoy people and be adorable with stealth and cunning.  It was a blast!

As parents and educators we simply must take the time to engage in the strange, wonderful, creative, and unique imaginative play scenarios the kids we serve come up with.  

They need to know how important we find things that are important to them.  They need to know that we appreciate, cherish, and want to enthusiastically engage in the world as they see it.  

They want to see that pretending is a wonderful pathway to discovery and innovation. 

While we teach them the ins and outs of navigating real-world challenges, we’ve got to let ourselves holistically fall into the world of kid play that serves as such a wonderful foundation for their learning, growth, individualized development.  

Besides, it’s fun:).

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The End Of Beginnings

We visited lake Huron this past weekend.  It was a really cool place on Michigan’s east coast called Sturgeon Point.  There’s a one room school house, a lighthouse, and an awesome, rocky beach.  We’ve been all over the mitten this summer.  Sturgeon Point is quite different from the more tourist-populated, built-up destinations we spent most of our time at on the west side of the state.  That said it was among my favorites.  

The rocks were smooth and colorful.  Many fossils for the kids to discover and collect.  The wind was blowing perfectly. Not to hard but steady enough for each blade of dune grass to stand a bit slanted and wiggling in unison with each of the others.  The waves capped off in white foam as they crawled toward the shoreline.  

The kids’ kites lifted up out of their hands to dance above us with such little effort. On that day, and in those moments, they were all world class kite pilots; youngest to oldest.  The cheap wood and plastic apparatuses were dipping, weaving, diving and soaring at their will. Our three dollar kites would have thrilled even the Wright Brothers with their grace and utility.

I was in the waves.  It’s one of my favorite places to be.  A Michigan kid all the way.  The water was warm so a few of the others took the plunge with me, body surfing and horsing around a bit.  

When they finished I still wanted to play, so I jogged through the whitecaps to the shore where the nine-year-old was fastidiously selecting rocks for his bucket.  I asked if he wanted to take a break and splash around for a bit.  He replied, “Do I have to?”

“No,” I said, “not if you don’t want to.”

He smiled and said, “Maybe another time,” before dutifully returning to his task.

Ouch.  Maybe another time.  Ok.  I had no option but to grab the seven-year-old from a few yards away toss him back in the water.  Unlike his big brother, he had to.

I wondered about the line.  When does a kid change from someone who appreciates being forcibly (and lovingly) tossed into the lake to someone who doesn’t.  Different for each I suppose.  

Regardless, in that moment it struck me that this kid could be experiencing the end of a beginning.  He’s certainly not done being a kid.  He’s not at the end of the end of it.  I hope he’s not at the end of the middle of it, or even the middle of the middle.  Just maybe at the end of the beginning.

For a moment I had succumb to a whirlwind of reflective thinking about this seemingly horrible prospect.  If this ridiculous thing is happening to the nine-year-old what might be happening to his siblings?  

Earlier in the day I told the three-year-old that we were going to go on a glass bottom boat, only to be confronted with, “Is it a secure glass bottom boat?”  Three-year-olds don’t ask that.  Is he at the end of the beginning of tiny tot-ness?  

The seven-year-old is stretching out.  There’s no more meat on his bones at all.  Where did it go?  All of his pajama bottoms are floods.  I could swear they fit him last weekend.  Is he at the end of the beginning of little kidish-ness.

The five-year-old doesn’t give me a hug and kiss anymore when I drop her off to play with friends.  Instead, she extends her tiny hand and insist, “Just go, Daddy!”  Doesn’t even look back.  I know because I do.  A lot. What beginning could she she be at the end of?

I don’t know what kind of fortitude I’m supposed to have, but thinking about all these ends of beginnings was really starting to get tough on me.  The previously enjoyable waves of Sturgeon Point, once calmly lapping at our beautiful rocky lighthouse shore had transformed into pulsating waves of mocking, taunting laughter that almost had me holding on for dear life.  “Time waits for no man!” They laughed.  “Your grip is slipping!” They provoked. 

Until it hit me.  Things came a into focus and I quickly settle back into the great joy of my lot.

I’m a husband, a parent, and an educator.  It’s not for me to want for stillness, but rather revel in the movement that drives all I’m supposed to be doing.  I’m supposed to appreciate growth.  I’m supposed to look on independence with gratitude and find the courage to step ever-back as they move ever-forward and even away.  I’m supposed to find the strength to continue showering those I love with that love while I loosen my grip on their hands.  

Sigh.  Joy.  Sigh.

There are ends to my beginnings too.  Good ones.  Headed into my fifth year as the principal of a warm and welcoming school community in a progressive, cohesive district I feel that a beginning may be at its end for me.  To be clear, I have light years to go in my capacity for service and in my leadership practice.  It’s just that I know a bit more than I did before.  I have a bit more skill on the foundation of a few more mistakes I’ve been gifted to make in the bit more time I’ve had to practice my job, craft, my art.

As we think about moving into another energized and exciting school year I say we consider intentionally relishing the end of beginnings as it comes to us, to each other, and to the kids we serve.

We’re built for growth.  We’re made for movement.  Even when it’s tough, which it is sometimes, we should find strength to celebrate the end of beginnings in the same fashion we would celebrate our most triumphant moments.  Then, we should breath deeply, reflect clearly, smile and move along.  

Cherished memories in our minds and our hearts and the conviction that our collective learning will guide us ever-closer to wherever it is we’re going…we should smile and move along.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The Good Push

Once, when I was upset, a calm, thoughtful person suggested that I imagine a pond.

I didn’t want to imagine a pond. I wanted to push.

I wanted to huff and puff. I wanted to whine and complain. I wanted to kick and shout.

I was upset. I was having trouble seeing past the upset.

I don’t remember if I did it then, but I have done it since, and here’s how it goes:

Imagine a pond.

Imagine that you’re sitting near the pond, possibly on a log or a bench. Maybe with your legs folded on a bed of soft grass.

Imagine that you’re looking across the pond from above.

Imagine the specks of light from a soft morning sun that are dancing playfully on its surface.

Imagine shifting a bit. Imagine leaning over and looking down from above.

Imagine that the surface of the pond is flawlessly still and that the crystal clear gaps between the dancing, playful specks of soft morning sunlight reveal a world of light and life when your eyes adjust away from the reflection of tree branches and cotton clouds above.

Imagine a few carp gliding along in synchronicity.

Imagine some slender, swaying, leafy plants.

Imagine a wise old turtle making his way across the sandy bottom.

Imagine rocks, smooth and jagged, dark and light, big and small.

Imagine a leaf, slowly descending, waterlogged and sinking past the calm action beneath. Let you mind’s eye follow its gentle path.

Now, imagine a raindrop. Imagine a single raindrop breaking the glassy surface of your pond. One at first followed by more.

Imagine the equal and opposite, perfectly symmetrical bowl of a fracture in your calm surface that each drop perpetuates. Imagine the rimmed spray that defines each fractured center and shape. Imagine the impact of each drop and how it alters the surface of the pond, the world beneath, and state of your mind.

Imagine that the soft drops become a spattering.

Imagine that the sky goes dark.

Imagine that the spattering becomes a shower and that the shower becomes a storm.

Imagine that you can no longer see beneath.

Imaging that the surface of your pond is no longer translucent but wild, dark, disturbed, harsh and opaque.

Imagine that the world beneath is no longer available to you.

Imagine that you’ve forgotten all about the synchronicity of the carp, the wisdom of the turtle, the complexity and beauty of the rocks, and the soft, organically purposeful pathway of the descending leaf.

Imagine that you are now only encased in the wild pounding of the dark cold rain, and watching it also pound on the now rough surface of your once calm pond.

Now, do you remember wishing for telekinetic powers as a child? Did you ever sit at a table, staring at a pencil or a playing card, waiting for in to move in response to the incredible powers of your mind? Do you remember believing that it would?

Good news. You have such powers.

When our minds are cloudy, when we’re inside the storm that come with stress, anxiety, anger, and fear, when we can’t see past the hard, cold, pounding rain and dark clouds, we tend to want to push.

We tend to need to.

We tend to push with, and even against our own will.

We tend to push at others.

We tend to communicate less effectively than we otherwise would.

We tend to push our priorities and our best selves aside.

We tend to see increasingly less clearly with each push.

We tend to need to actively release the negative. Ironically, we tend to exacerbate it with our efforts, and we tend to diminish relations with others and with ourselves in the process.

We need to push and we should.

A calm, thoughtful person, by way of suggesting that I imagine a pond, guided me to thinking about the good push and away from the bad, harmful, counterproductive pushing of a clouded mind.

Here you sit, in your imagined storm, over your disrupted pond, under your dark, invented, limiting sky. It’s time for the good push. It’s time to enlist the telekinetic powers you’ve always known you have. It’s time to build the muscle that harnesses your strength and taps your courage and enlists your calm and expands your vision and steadies you mind.

Now head back to the stormy pond-scape you were imagining and try this:

Imagine that the pure power of your will slowly wipes the dark away from the sky.

Imagine that the cotton clouds move in as the dark sky moves out, and that the soft morning sun peeks through once again and scattered, glistening rays along with it.

Imagine the storm slows to a shower, and that the shower slows to sprinkle, and that the sprinkle slows to a misty dew floating above the now calm-again surface of your pond, before it lifts in smooth synchronicity into the sky and dissolves before your eyes.

Take in the feel and the smell of an imagined world renewed, refreshed, and calm.

Imagine bending your head and reconnecting with the surface and the specks of light from a soft morning sun that were once and are now once again dancing playfully upon it.

Imagine shifting again. Imagine leaning over once more and looking down from above.

Imagine, like you did before, that the surface of the pond is flawlessly still and that the crystal clear gaps between the dancing, playful specks of soft morning sunlight reveal the same world of light and life when your eyes again adjust away from the reflection of tree branches and cotton clouds above as it previously had.

Imagine the carp gliding along in synchronicity.

Imagine the slender, swaying, leafy plants.

Imagine the wise old turtle making his was across the sandy bottom.

Imagine the rocks, smooth and jagged, dark and light, big and small.

Imagine the leaf, still slowly descending, waterlogged and sinking past the calm action beneath. Once again, let you mind’s eye follow its gentle path.

We tend to hold true a misnomer that in order to be productive we must think of the myriad things on our proverbial plates, to organize and attend to them, to focus hard on the clutter rather than the calm.

A calm mind is not an inactive mind. A calm mind is simply one that can see and be seen clearly.

A mind is like a pond in that there is world of light and life inside of it that is difficult to engage with during the storm.

It’s not enough to wait for the calm. It’s not enough know that the storm will eventually pass. We still need to push; it’s a part of who we are. If we simply wait, we tend to push in wounding ways. Hurt people hurt people, right?

We must embrace the storms as they hit. However, we must enlist the good push, even by manufacturing the need and applying it repeatedly.

We each have the power. We must practice. We must forgive ourselves when we fail, which we will, and we must press on with the notion that a foundation of optimism, a commitment to positive tones in thought, voice, and action, and a dedication to calm minds can enhance this world for us, for those we serve, and for those we serve with.

Parents and educators, we must model strength, courage, and calm in this way for our children.

We simply must.

In short, I urge you to take a moment when you can (even if you think you can’t), and imagine a pond.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Love

We were in the car the other night on the way home from a dinner out. We brought two cars because I came straight from work.

The big three decided to ride home with mommy. I was with the little guy (who’s actually not so little – our three-year-old outweighs his four-year-old sister by a few more than a couple pounds at this point).

Just into the drive I heard a sleepy voice from the back seat asking, “Daddy, are we on a height?”

“On a height?” I clarified.

“Yes,” he told me, and then he went on to request and inform, “Please tell me when we’re on a height because I’m afraid of heights.”

I assured him that we were not on a height and that I would let him know if we happened upon one. He thanked me.

Then I asked him if he knew about the thing inside of him, and inside of all of us that can help us when we’re afraid. I was fishing for “courage.”

With great confidence this old-souled munchkin chinned-up, perpetrated a wide smile and a raised eyebrow, and he told me in no uncertain terms, “I do know about the thing inside that can help us when we’re afraid!”

I peeked in the rear view mirror, suggesting, “Go on, “ to which he enlightened me (as kids so frequently do).

“Love.”

Of course! Love!

Love’s the thing we can use when we’re afraid. We can use it when we’re sad, when we’re frustrated, when we’re angry, when we’re confused, when we’re down on ourselves, when we feel hurt by others, when we’re not sure where to go next, when we slip and fall off course, and any time we need a boost or a reminder that things are going to be alright.

The Beatles told us, and I almost forgot, “All we need is love…love is all we need.”

For us parents and educators we’re headed into the tail end of the school year. There’s so much to do and so much to think about right now.

If you’re feeling like me you’re not sure how it’s going to get done. You’re not sure that it is.

The challenging news is that it’s not. It never does.

The exciting news is that you’re going to prioritize and make sure the stuff that needs doing does get done. You always do.

Three-year-old wisdom reminded me that I can trust love to help me navigate the challenges and the triumphs of the next couple of months.

If you’re interested, take a moment to make a shortlist of what love does for you.

Here’s my go at it:

Love reminds me that I’m connected to those around me.

Love helps others know that I care about them and that they care about me.

Love puts things in perspective.

Love frames even the most challenging challenges in bright, colorful ways.

Love draws out possibilities.

Love inspires hope.

Love scaffolds optimism.

Love drives confidence.

Love makes it ok to be wrong and to genuinely listen for rightness from others.

Love reminds me that there are perspectives outside of my own, and that even when I struggle to understand them they’re real and critically important.

Love provides opportunities.

Love smashes stubborn pride and supplants it with healing humility.

Love brings me peace.

Love grounds me.

Love makes me know that anything is possible.

Love shows me that light shines even in the darkest corners.

Love feels good.

Love simply feel good, and if the past forty-forty years is a sampling of how fast this life moves, I’d like to feel good as much as possible.

There’s my one-minute shortlist on what love does for me. Writing it was a worthwhile exercise. I recommend it.

Parents and educators, when you’re feeling like it can all get done, when you’re worried about how the next moment, the next day, the next week, or the next month can possibly unfold in right ways, when there’s too much to do and not nearly enough time, when you’re worried, flustered, and super-stressed, try to remember about love.

If you can do nothing else in any given moment, try to shower yourself and those around you with love.

You might not be able to teach them everything you wanted to, you might not be able to see each of them mastering every standard by June 15th, you might not have unfolded every plan or fulfilled your vision of how this school year would unfold, you might be light years off, but you do have the power to shower those kids with love.

Start with yourself, be ok with it being ok, and then no matter where you are along the journey, no matter what you’ve accomplished or not, you can make love the priority from this point forward.

We all need it. We need it from ourselves and from each other.

Easier said than done? Maybe.

Possible? I think so.

You?

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The Doing…Possibly Even Better Than The Done!

People periodically ask me when I’ll be done with my PhD. I suppose it’s a reasonable question. Even so, I have no answer.

I’m relatively confident that there’s a chance I might defend my dissertation sometime in the vicinity of between two and twenty two years from now. It’s a really difficult thing to pin down at this point.

Are you ready for a bit of what might seem like complaining?

I wake up really early in the morning. I’m no spring chicken, so I have to swim for a bit before I go to work. It get’s my blood flowing and makes me able to move in the ways I think I was intended to be able to move. Specifically in the ways I’m not able to do when I roll out of bed. Ever pull a muscle adjusting a pillow? No spring chicken.          After swimming I head to work.

I have a wonderful job. I really can’t imagine a more joyful way to spend my workdays than doing the things I’m charged with doing as an elementary school principal. Sure, some of it’s more fun and some of it’s less fun, but whose job doesn’t have ups and downs, challenges and triumphs?

Actually, some of the more challenging moments end up being some of the ones that offer some of the best growth opportunities.

Regardless, there’s lot’s going on. Occasionally, even the most well-planned days slip away without the well-planned plans unfolding, and when I say occasionally what I mean is frequently. Lots of meaningful and productive things typically happen, just sometime not the things I intended.

After work I either continue to work until I no longer can, or I do something like take my kids to swim lessons, piano, soccer, pillow polo, etc. To be clear, my wife is usually in on the taking of kids to places. Sometimes, if my wife has a meeting or some other commitment in the evening I head home to play with, feed, bath, read to, and put the kids to bed. Our kids are 8, 6, 4, and 3 years old. Evening routines are wonderfully loud and energized with lots of wonderful noise and remarkable motion. Tiring. Did I mention I’m no spring chicken?

Weekends are half work and half play unless certain ones require more of either.

Again, I know the previous couple of paragraphs might sound like a complaining rant. Thank you for your tolerance. The truth is I have no complaints. I sincerely enjoy all of that stuff. I’m a very lucky guy, blessed in so many ways. The point is not that I have too much to do. Don’t we all? The point is that I very infrequently find myself done with much of anything.

I am a bit of a Self Determination Theory wonk, and I lean toward believing that the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are a relatively important foundation of well-being. All of the stuff listed above sometimes leaves me feeling behind, and if I let it, that feeling can dig into the competence part of my basic psychological needs. It sometimes feels like a whole lot of “doing” and not a whole lot of “done.”

I imagine it’s that way for many of us.

Parents and educators are constantly running, pouring everything we have into every moment, getting it “right” occasionally and getting it “wrong” a good bit too, feeling exhausted much of the time, pushing through, caring deeply, moving quickly, and regularly being told (by others and by ourselves) that we’re off the mark in one way or another.

Good news, I found a solution! It’s not an easy one to implement, but those often turn out to be the best ones, with the most meaningful outcomes.

Here it is: appreciate, celebrate, and focus on the doing rather than the done. After all, are we really ever “done” with anything? Should we be? Done is darn final.

Done is dull.

Done is uninteresting.

Done is kind of bleak.

Doing is exciting!

Doing is mysterious!

Doing is electrifying!

I officially have no clue about when I’ll be done with my PhD. No clue. Officially. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. However, I’m quite certain that when I am done I won’t be doing it anymore, and doing it is really meaningful. Maybe I should intentionally never be done (my dissertation chair probably got heart burn just as I wrote that. Sorry).

Friends, I assure you, I’m doing the best I can, which includes learning and doing better each day, and I still simply ain’t getting it all done.

So, in an effort to honor my well-being I’m going all in on this “doing” thing. I’m going to appreciate and celebrate “the doing” and see how that goes.

Actually, I’m doing it right this moment and it feels good, which is good. When we feel food we’re better for ourselves and for those we serve. The doing. It’s good, and it’s a really easy thing to focus on. After all, you’re doing it anyway.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.