When things feel off, it’s time for self-reflection

I have been unhappy lately and I don’t know why. I know I often discuss my depression and anxiety openly but this is not that. It is a general unhappiness, irritability… a constant uneasyness that is difficult to put into words. It’s entirely possible that it’s just getting to that time of the school year. We have spent so much time with our students and colleagues that like any family, we need a break from looking at each other’s faces, no matter how much we love each other. Regardless, whenever I begin to feel this way I know it’s time to take some time for deep reflection and set some personal goals for change. If I can feel that something is off, it’s my job to figure out what it is and change it.

I’m evaluating what I want for my legacy
I have had countless discussions with various friends about legacies and what they mean. I actually believe, especially in education, that we all leave profound legacies. We literally, deeply affect other humans’ lives. There are very few other adults in a child’s life outside their families that have the potential to mold their experience as much. As an administrator, my job is to support teachers so they can support students. But I’ve always believed that leaving a legacy doesn’t equate to people knowing who made the change, just that it was something that improved their experience. I don’t need you to know who I am, I just need you to feel my support. It’s why I have always made sure that credit is given where it’s due. The consulting work I do, one of my great loves because I am able to affect a wider population of teachers and students, is a direct contradiction to that idea. I need people to know my name in order to get hired and spread the support. Deep down, I don’t care if you know who I am as long as I’m impacting your life for the better. The disconnection between my belief that legacies don’t need to be connected to a name and my passion that requires me to sell myself with my name is causing an internal struggle.

I’m sick of complaining
Three times in the last day I have caught myself beginning a sentence with, “You know what really ticked me off today?” By the third time, I was tired of listening to myself say it. I am positive that my attitude affects the people around me and there are times when my energy can change a room (for better or worse). Even as a leader, it’s my job to set the tone, and I’m positive that the tone I want is not one of negativity. While we do need to show ourselves some grace when we need to vent to someone, the venting and griping on my end has been more than I care to admit. My new goal to control this is to determine how much the complaint bothers me and/or if the person I’m going to tell can help me to find a solution. If it doesn’t fit that criterion, I’m going to need to learn how to mentally let it go.  

I need to learn to let go of things I can’t control
This has been a tough one for me. I am not a control freak in the way that I feel like everything needs to be done my way or I need to do everything because nobody else can do it as well as I can. That’s not me. I do, however, have an issue when things happen that are against my core beliefs about education or the way I lead. It irritates me when I see clear violations of these beliefs and I can do nothing to control the situation that’s causing it. The practice of being reactive versus proactive, for example, nearly puts me over the edge. I’d rather go slow to go fast, and when I find myself in a situation where I’m playing cleanup to someone else’s plowing forward, I need to realize that it is a situation I can try to influence for the better the next time but at that exact moment, I can’t control. I can only control the way I react and influence the processes that get put in place for the future.

The greatest power I have is the ability to reflect and find what needs to be changed both for myself to be happier and to be a better educator, worker, and leader. I know that when things seem “off” it is the one part of myself that I can always go back to and find areas to change. It’s important to reflect on situations and the people around us, but the greatest change that we can initiate can actually be found by looking inside ourselves for better, healthier, and positive ways that we can create an impact.


The Things People Do When They Don’t Know You’re Watching

Since I’ve been in my current role, I have focused my efforts on what I have believed to be important supports for my department and the teachers believing that when I support my department they are better able to support teachers who then in turn are better equipped to support students. In the last couple of years we have clarified roles. We have worked on new policies and procedures. I’ve worked hard on creating trust and relationships and I believe that while we always have ways that we can grow, we have an amazing group of highly qualified, hardworking, tech people that do their jobs really, really well.

But that’s not even close to what I love best about them.

Our department is a little different than other departments in our district or even in other districts because the physical location of our office space is in the middle of the building between the middle and high schools. Unlike many other district level departments, we have students in our offices all the time. While sometimes they are in for actual technology assistance, many times they just come in to chat with my device manager and programmer.

Like, the teenagers. Come in. Just to talk.

It began a couple years ago when we started our student led Genius Bar (tech support). The GB students would come in and eventually began opening up with us; sometimes joking, sometimes telling us serious news. Then they began bringing other students in to grab a piece of candy and “say ‘hi’ to the tech ladies.” Each and every time, no matter how busy they are, my device manager and programmer will drop what they’re doing and listen to the students. They often have to scramble at the end of the day to get their work done because they took time out for the students. I’ve heard them tell the students how smart they are. I’ve watched them cry with the students when something bad happens. They work with the guidance counselors to get extra help for the students when necessary. Sometimes they hug them and hand them tissues and other times they high-five over things that to anyone else would seem like an innocuous accomplishment. I have seen it countless times. And while many might say this is how it’s supposed to be, realistically, how often is it that it’s not?

While I believe that relationships are not going to “fix” every issue you have with students, they certainly are the foundation for anything else that’s going help move a student forward. It’s definitely where we need to start. Students, especially ones in crisis, need at least one caring adult to believe in them when they have difficulty believing in themselves. For goodness sakes, I would hope at any given time students have more than one person doing this for them.

I sit back and watch the interactions in my department with a huge amount of pride. Yep, that’s our tech department. I’m so proud that we have been able to build a place where students feel comfortable to come and share their stories. And I feel a bit like if those “tech ladies” can do it, then anyone can.

Self-Care That Goes Beyond Mindfulness

There is no doubt that I am terrible at taking care of my body physically, and lately I’ve been suffering the consequences of years of body-neglect. Usually, when we think of self-care in relation to our bodies we immediately go to yoga or exercise of some kind. While I am definitely not a natural runner, my body reacts favorably to the endorphins I get from running and I understand why exercise should be a part of our weekly routines. What I didn’t realize is how other aspects of what we do (or don’t do) that seem insignificant can affect us physically and even go as far as causing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Because I’m always trying to find strategies to deal with these two issues, I have found some ways to implement self-care that surprised me. This definitely doesn’t mean that all anxiety and depression are linked to these or that these are a cure-all. Goodness knows I’m neither a doctor nor a mental health professional, but because I learned about these in my own journey of healing and they’re somewhat easy ways to implement self-care, I felt it was worth mentioning.

Your body may be lacking essential vitamins
Several years ago I went through about a year where my depression was in full swing. My body hurt, my brain was foggy, and I felt out of sorts most of the time. When I couldn’t stand the pain in my legs anymore, I went to the doctor and found that I was severely deficient in Vitamin D (thank you, Wisconsin). At first I was actually angry at the doctor for “pretending” all my ailments could have been from something that seemed so innocuous, but I began to take Vitamin D and the anxiety, depression and pain started to feel better.

This Mayo Clinic article says, “The new findings appear in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The new findings “add depression to the spectrum of medical illnesses associated with low vitamin D, and people with depression probably should consider a blood test to see if their vitamin D is low and whether supplements may be needed,” says researcher E. Sherwood Brown, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.”

I have found this recently again when I was tested and found to be Vitamin C deficient (Psychology Today article on Vitamin C deficiency). Overall, when I am faithfully taking Vitamin C and D, the change I notice in my mental health is pretty significant. I’ve read that deficiencies in Iron, Magnesium, and B Vitamins can have similar affects. Either testing for vitamin deficiencies or taking a multivitamin may help.

Sleep: It’s more important than we think
I’ve been in a six week sleep challenge with my friend Sarah Thomas since January. The idea is that we would go six weeks straight with getting eight hours of sleep a night to see if it made a difference in how we feel. Neither of us have been successful for even a full week, which has done nothing but prove to me that we need to focus on sleeping more. I know many people that feel like sleep is nearly a luxury, and even more that don’t sleep well once they’ve gotten in bed. I know that for me, looking at my phone or the computer close to bedtime causes me to lay awake, so I’ve become accustomed to staying off from them prior to sleep. A lack of sleep, even the slightest dent in the number of hours you get, can cause everything from depression and anxiety to weight gain. Sleep is when our body recharges and it needs that time regardless if you’re referencing mental health issues or not.

As for depression and anxiety, this is what the National Sleep Foundation says, “If you’re feeling low, you may not realize that lack of sleep is the culprit. But even small levels of sleep deprivation over time can chip away at your happiness. You might see that you’re less enthusiastic, more irritable, or even have some of the symptoms of clinical depression, such as feeling persistently sad or empty. All these alterations to your mood can affect not only your individual mental health, but your relationships and family dynamics as well.

The link between sleep and mood has been seen over and over by researchers and doctors. For example, people with insomnia have greater levels of depression and anxiety than those who sleep normally. They are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety. The more a person experiences insomnia and the more frequently they wake at night as a result, the higher the chances of developing depression.”

While it may seem like a pain or even impossible to make time to go to bed earlier, in the long run the rest allows our bodies and brains to run more efficiently and therefore healthier.

You may be dehydrated
A few months ago my doctor told me I was dehydrated. I didn’t feel thirsty. But I know it’s a struggle for me to drink water and it was entirely possible. She told me I had trained my body not to tell me when I’m thirsty because it’s forgotten how. Since then, I’ve been reading about the effects of being even slightly dehydrated and I was surprised by what I read.

Drinking water helps your brain function. In this UConn Today article they discuss studies that were conducted where participants experienced fatigue, adverse changes in mood, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating at even a mild level of dehydration.

In reading the book Micro-Resilience by Bonnie St. John she recommended drinking a glass of water prior to and after each meal in order to get in a minimum of six glasses a day, which I thought was a great tip.

There is so much about self-care and mental health that comes from an awareness of certain things, and what makes it difficult is not only the time it takes but also that every single person is different. Our likes and dislikes vary. Our individual habits are different. The way we take care of (or don’t take care of) our bodies, what they are missing, and how it impacts our mental health can be a mystery to some of us. Educating ourselves in some of these areas can bring understanding and change, especially when sometimes it feels like there is so much to learn. Little habits, like these, and finding what works for you can make a difference.



Musings on EDU Prompted by Disney

I have never been an inherently silly person. Am I friendly and do I love to laugh? Yes. Although sarcasm and irony have always been more my style, one of my deep, dark secrets is that I am intensely drawn to silliness, goofiness, and an unadulterated look of joy. I think because it’s so opposite of my personality I marvel at the people who successfully pull this off. It’s one of the reasons I got into teaching to begin with…that lightbulb moment of happiness when a new concept is understood or when kids get so lost in a story that makes them so happy that their voice squeaks and they unintentionally make flapping motions with their arms. Those are my little joyful moments. It’s also one of the reasons I love going to Disney.

Disney as the organization has always fascinated me. Their business and leadership model are clearly successful, and my friend Evan Abramson and I have presented several times on how these models can be successfully applied to education. The simple focus on customer service and high quality standards are why people are willing to pay thousands of dollars to wait in line hours for a two-minute ride.

I looked at Disney through a bit of a different lens when vacationing in Orlando this week. I crowd watched a bit. Paid attention to the little things. I thought about how the ecosystem of Disney related to the ecosystem of education and these random thoughts are what resonated:

If Mickey can’t keep them engaged 100% of the time, we need to give ourselves some grace
At any given point at Disney you can look around and see kids clapping and excited and engaged in the Disney experience. However, at any given time you can also see kids disengaged…everything from all out meltdowns to distractedly playing with the hems of their princess gowns. Overall, Disney for kids is very much like a classroom. There is most likely an adult driving what is happening around them. There have been adult Disney Cast Members whose sole purpose is to plan what they will do and the experience they will have in a day. The parents at Disney are desperate for the kids to be engaged because they have dreamt of the day they’d be able to bring their kids and the fun they’d have, like teachers desire to make a difference in kids’ lives and increase their love of learning. But, not even Disney can keep the smallest attendees engaged all the time. And if Disney can’t, a business designed to be a wonderland for children, then we need to understand that while we need to work toward empowerment of learning and engagement of students, it’s just not going to happen 100% of the time. They are going to have off moments. They’re going to need brain breaks and the introverts are going to need to retreat to recharge. They’re going to have different times where they are more engaged than other times and other students and that’s okay. While we can strive to make learning fun and engaging and empower our learners to want to know more, achieving that most of the time is an amazing feat. Just ask Disney.

Life in Social Media
We were standing in line for one of the Toy Story rides and the wait was an astounding two hours. Way too long for an adult to wait let alone the little ones who were already too tired to even know what they wanted. In front of us there was a family with two kids that were maybe 3 and 5. The boy was beside himself with sadness about the line and was acting out in every way possible including hiding behind statues behind the “do not cross” lines and pinching his dad’s nose with every ounce of strength he could muster. Now, I’m in no way negatively looking at what was happening in front of me. Goodness knows that I had four kids under the age of six by the time I was 27 years old, had really no idea what I was doing as a parent, and I definitely had these moments as well so absolutely no judgement. It just was the way it was. The boy was super active the whole time in line. His parents were frazzled and embarrassed…and then we got to the talking, life-sized Mr. Potato Head. The parents grabbed the kids and for one minute their family all came together with smiles and hugs for the camera only for them to put the kids down into chaos again.

I noticed the mom post the picture instantly to Facebook and thought about being the reader of that post and the impression it would leave of the perfect vacation. It reminded me how much goes on in our lives that we never post to social media. I look at my various social media platforms and often think about everything I’m not doing and how others seem to be doing it all. All the podcasts and blogs I’m not reading. The new literature that I know would push my thinking and I feel less than adequate to even be writing a blog myself. I see my presenter friends presenting and my teacher friends doing these amazing lessons that I never did. I need to remind myself that not everyone is doing all those things all the time and that if they post the latest podcast they just listened to, it may have been one of twenty things they had to do on their to-do list that they didn’t get done…just like me. Many of us deal with manageable chaos from day to day but only the good stuff gets posted. Being aware of that and knowing that we can’t compare our paths to others is important for understanding how we can better feel about ourselves.

Aim Higher to Launch Farther
In many Disney movies and in the parks you can see evidence of high expectations. It’s also evidenced in the business model and the ongoing support and professional development that Disney Cast Members receive in order to do their jobs well, along with the expectation that they are always in character. Always. You’ll never see Cinderella hiding in a corner taking a break and finishing a cigarette. She is always Cinderella until she takes off her costume. These high expectations and attention to detail is what makes Disney magical…and successful.

I’ve always believed that with the right support, relationship, encouragement, and learning opportunities people (students and adults) will rise to high expectations. They must be given what they need to be successful, but when given the chance and when they understand that someone believes in them, they will work that much harder to become the expectation. I’ve found this to be true in both my classroom when I taught, with teachers when I coached, and in my current department. The feeling of internal triumph when you’ve met a high expectation can’t be replicated. It makes a person feel good about themselves and want to do it again. And again. 

There are so many facets of the Disney success that we can apply to education. The business model is clearly one to follow. Their customer service and high expectations for guest satisfaction is an organizational focus. The logistics and timing of everything from shows to rides is well planned and thought through prior to implementation. While all of these things are examples we could follow in education, what I’ll remember most from this trip is the people watching and being privy to witness the moments of sheer joy…the same ones that I became a teacher for.

My Measure of Success Makes Me a Failure

I really believe that in education one of the most fundamental feelings we need to have is efficacy; the need to feel like we make a difference. The need to feel like what we say and do matters. We get into education for this moral obligation to make the world a better place. This is so incredibly important to what we do that when it’s challenged it can throw us off our hinges. No matter the role you’re in, the need for impact is nearly visceral.

To increase the chance that I’ll make an impact, I have developed my core beliefs. This is something that has taken me time, effort, and deep reflection. In short, I have worked REALLY hard on it. My core beliefs are everything I value about education. I also have beliefs that stem off from those core beliefs. Things like “change agents aren’t just the person who does something different…it’s the person who keeps on moving forward when something gets hard.” I have so far been measuring success by my impact, and I’ve been defining impact as moving people forward, making them think new thoughts, and changing their minds when they’re decisions are questionable for teacher support and student learning. The issue is that ultimately, these things require people to take action and change their ways which is something they only have control over.

I’ve discovered there are some semantics at play when you begin to use “success” and “control” and “influence” and you judge yourself by things. What happens when your beliefs aren’t someone else’s, yet you’re measuring your success on their changed mind or actions?

I feel like there are situations where I have been banging my head against the wall. I have employed every tactic I know to try to get through. I have adjusted my communication style. I have taken time to reflect instead of react when I’ve seen red. I have stood by my beliefs but have worked hard to find the things I can do instead of can’t. I have had the courage to advocate for the people who need advocating for. I’ve had difficult conversations. I’ve had to deafeningly accept that my very best effort wasn’t good enough to make an impact. And with that difficult realization, I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve questioned whether I’m a change agent if I can’t make it through the hard parts when that’s what I claim they need to do. Which in turn, makes me feel like a fraud. It’s a complete downward spiral into have I ever made any difference at all?

Then anger. Tears. Anger again. Indifference and acceptance.

The path to disengagement.

What I realized today in a conversation with a supportive friend was that I am measuring my success not by my impact or influence but instead by things I can’t control. I can’t control other people. I can try to influence them, but if I’m measuring my success by someone else’s reactions and actions then I’m going to come up short because I will fail nearly every time. There is a difference between control and influence. I’ve always known this in leadership but I’ve never thought of it in terms of success. To be more realistic, I’ve had to reflect on what I consider success because the feeling of being unsuccessful and a lack of efficacy is unhealthy for my own mental health and my ties to education.

What I can measure my success by is living my core beliefs. I have always worked diligently to uphold them in every way I possibly can because they are what make me up as an educator. They are literally the EDU version of me. Without my belief system, I am not the person I want to be in education. By measuring my success by my influence and the impact that living my core beliefs has, I am measuring myself against something I have control over; myself. I can continue to influence by modeling. My ability to move past my frustration into a healthy space – or just walk away from the situation entirely if my beliefs don’t align – is a form of success. And when I’m beginning to feel like I have no control in a situation, I always know that I have control over exercising the beliefs I hold dearly, and therefore finding a measure of success that makes me feel like I’m making a difference.

The Importance of Communication in Climate and Culture

When I work with districts on the ideas in #DivergentEDU, communication is one of the most common areas recited as either supporting the positive climate and culture or being the hole in the climate and culture foundational level. Communication is so much more than telling people stuff or giving them information.

Divergent EDU is based on the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking. Climate and culture is the bottom foundational level of the hierarchy.

Effective communication:

  • Includes a variety of ways to articulate thoughts
  • Practices effective listening strategies
  • Adapts to a variety of situations and purposes
  • Uses media/technology to effectively send messages
  • Comes from a place of empathy
  • Includes an awareness of non-verbals and their impact

Then there are the things that communication does. While the list above includes ways to be an effective communicator, the act of communicating (or a lack thereof) sends a message to anyone involved in the situation. Sometimes the message is an unintended perception and sometimes it’s intentional, but the impact is unmistakable. Communication can determine everything from the lens in which we look at a situation or the feelings we have toward a person or role.

Impacts of Communication

Transparency, Trust and Communication
I’ve written about the correlation between transparency, trust, and communication before in The Art of Transparency. Effective communicators understand the balance between what people need and want to know and what is too much information, but still open the door for discussion about anything that may be in question. However, when there is a lack of trust more transparency and communication is needed as one of the ways to rebuild trust. When I do what I say I’m going to do or situations turn out positively based on information I’ve given that increases trust. In the same vein, if there is a high level of trust, there is less information needed. Think of a person you trust and a person you don’t. Who are you going to need more information from in order to believe what they’re telling you? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the untrusted person has outright lied to you. It could mean that they broke your trust in other ways, but transparency and communication still needs to be there in order to rebuild the relationship.

Allowing People the Right to a Decision
Communication and providing people information and answers allows them to have what they need in order to make decisions that make sense for their situation. I’ve been in situations where a lack of communication has been the catalyst for decisions being made that didn’t make sense for my role/department and left me scrambling to fix the issue which could have been avoided if I would have been a part of the conversation. A lack of communication in these circumstances leaves people no choice but to be reactive instead of proactive, and when the lack of communication continues, can result in a climate with anxiety (what’s coming around the corner next?) and a culture of playing “clean-up” to avoidable messes. Clear communication with the right people ensures a proactive approach with the decision-makers that make sense for the circumstances.

Valuing the Opinions/Decisions of Others
Communicating with others also ensures that the people who should be in on a conversation or decision have a seat at that table and their opinions are valued. Not only are we all #bettertogether and have a variety of experiences that we bring to any issue but showing someone that their opinion is valued builds and strengthens relationships. By intentionally or unintentionally (doesn’t matter which) not communicating, the message being sent is that the opinions or decisions of that person are not valued because they were not taken into account.

We should always be working to be more effective communicators, but sometimes we forget that even the act of communicating has an impact on the people around us. Communication can have a direct and deep effect on trust and relationships, therefore affecting the climate and culture of a school or district as so much of climate and culture rests on the relationships we have and our ability to problem solve as a team.

Change Agents and Adversity

I am trying something new with Synth. If you experience adversity in viewing the player below, please click on this link. 🙂

https://gosynth.com/p/e/gubzns

Judge Me By My Worst Day, Do You?

My friend, Jaime Donally, and I were out to lunch one day at a nicer restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses wear matching black uniforms and they give you fancy water in stemmed glasses. Our waitresses came up and took our drink order and when we asked for a few minutes she said, “I can give that to you but see that large group over there? If I don’t take it now you’ll have to wait.” I was a little surprised at her bluntness but considering Jaime and I were pressed for time, grateful that she warned us. We ordered our food, but we were slow and unsure, and she was clearly trying to hurry us along. I nearly told her what beautiful blue eyes she had (striking really) but she grabbed our menus away and sped off before I could. For the rest of the meal, we had to grab an alternative waiter to get the drinks she never brought and when we asked her to take the bills, she looked at them and walked away. Not knowing how to get our bills paid for, we ended up charging everything to our rooms. We never saw her again.

I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t turned off by the service and her attitude. It was a really nice restaurant. We were expecting extraordinary service.

We could assume that she was the worst waitress ever. It would have been easy to assume that she was not a very nice person. Or, we could assume that it was a couple hours out of her really bad day. It would be two very different ways to view the same situation which results in very different empathetic reactions.

What happened with the waitress isn’t much different than when we go into any other educational setting. Whether it’s us as teachers going to a professional learning opportunity, our students coming into our classroom, our parents sending their children to spend copious amounts of time with another adult (us), we all expect outstanding service. Yet, we sometimes judge people by their bad days. It’s so easy sometimes to focus on the negative, especially when what they do hurts us and we feel like we need to protect ourselves.

For example, how about that parent whose alarm didn’t go off and they run their child to school in their pajamas. Do we see the situation without knowing and think, “Yikes, wake up a little earlier and get your stuff together” or do we think, “Oh my gosh, I wonder if the alarm didn’t go off. That is the worst! Wonder if I can help get their child going?”

How about the co-worker that gets furious in a faculty meeting about a suggestion you make that seems relatively insignificant and you allow your irritation with the outburst to continue beyond the meeting, yet you didn’t know that she stubbed her toe trying to get to her two-year-old daughter that started throwing up that morning and she’s pretty sure it’s broken but didn’t have time to go to the doctor before work and she didn’t want to leave her students with a sub so she’s been hobbling around with the pain all day. Do you hold onto the irritation or go to her and ask if there is something up?

When I look at how I am perceived, I know that I wouldn’t want to be judged by my worst day. I think of days that I’ve flipped my lid when most days I’m fairly calm and even-keel. Or days that I’ve made poor choices due to other things that had happened earlier that day or being overcome with a stressful situation that had really nothing to do with what was happening in front of me when on any other typical day I have my head on relatively straight. What if the only encounter someone had with me was on one of these days? What if someone I know saw that side of me and determined that I was a fraud because they assumed that was my normal? I can’t imagine being judged on my worst day.

While we can’t control how someone perceives us and the judgment they cast, we can control how we internalize someone else’s behaviors and be that model for others. When our students have a bad day, whether it’s individually or collectively, we can wipe the slate for the next day. Because everyone has the right to having a bad day, and we have the power to give them that grace and assume positive intent.

Quote attributed to Mother Teresa

The Self-Care Dilemma

As we begin to focus more on mental health, the advice to practice self-care is popping up more often. Articles and other resources give advice of practicing relaxing, yoga, and mindfulness or meditation. But the first step we miss is to find the thing that works for that individual person. It may or may not be meditation or yoga, but it should be the thing that makes a person feel like themselves and calms their soul. But what happens if you don’t know what that is?

Many educators I know have molded their entire identity around education. I know this because I have, too. I take care of my own kids and go to their activities and I work and that’s it. For years that’s what I’ve done. The most dreaded question that I get asked in a podcast interview is “What do you do for fun?” I have no idea. One time a podcaster asked me how I relax. I told them I take my work outside.

I. Take. My. Work. Outside. “In the sun,” I said. Like somehow that made the answer more viable.

Um, yeah.

While I do seriously enjoy working in education, I’ve also come to realize that just because you love what you’re doing doesn’t mean it won’t burn you out. Balance is key. Too much of a good thing is still too much. But even knowing this doesn’t mean that I know what to do to relax. By spending so much of my life going and moving and working I have trained my body to be unaccustomed to focusing on things that help me unwind. I have also forgotten what makes me feel like myself outside of education. I can tell you my core beliefs and what my passions are inside of education. Outside (beyond caring for my own kids)…no idea. I’d try to watch TV and quickly get bored and my mind would float back to all the things I had to do for work. I’d make it ten minutes before picking my computer up. I felt agitated and out of sorts when I tried to do anything else because I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing more than working. Then the cycle would continue.

So this idea of self-care for me has not been fixed by learning yoga or practicing meditation. I don’t like yoga. My body doesn’t want to contort that way. And meditation is a work in progress. I’m still at the point where being completely inside my own head makes me uncomfortable, but because I believe it’s important, I’m trying to see if it’s for me. Discovery of who I am outside of education has been a journey of trying to remember who I was before I was a teacher and activities I would try that could be considered self-care. I first reflected on the things I used to do that I enjoyed when I had more balance in my life. Everything either didn’t fit into my current lifestyle (horseback riding, for example) or I didn’t enjoy it any longer (watching movies). I realized through this journey that I had lost what made my soul happy and needed to find it again. The question became: how do you practice self-care when you’ve forgotten what makes you feel like you?

While we quickly try to solve the self-care dilemma by telling people common areas to focus on…exercise or meditation being the most common, this is not the first step to self-care. If we believe that yoga and meditating are the only ways to practice self-care and that’s not what makes us happy, then we are less likely to take care of ourselves like we need to. These things may work for some people and that is awesome. But in order to enjoy them, it needs to be a part of that person and what they enjoy. The first part of the journey in developing self-care is rediscovering who you are and what you like which can require so much more reflection than it seems like it would. It can feel like a dark place when you realize that you may need to find yourself again. Giving yourself permission to recognize that what works for you may not be the same as what works for someone else and giving yourself grace as you search, fail, and search again will help you find the self-care activity that keeps you engaged, impassioned, and whole.

When You Feel You’ve Lost Your Voice

I am a firm believer in blogging to organize my thoughts and create brainspace when I have 1000 ideas and a million thoughts all crowded in that tiny space. It helps me reflect and makes me a better person both professionally and personally as it provides me with some sanity and mental relief.

Recently, in a bout of what I have decided may be the beginning of a little burnout, I’ve found my voice a little harder to find. I sit in front of my computer with my hands on the keys and try to find two coherent thoughts to put together and repeatedly fail. I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be burnout as one of the symptoms of this affliction is disengaging from the things you love most and I love to practice deep reflection. Right now, it’s completely eluding me. I desperately want to. It’s just not there.

I’m struggling with several situations that have created a feeling where I’m not sure my voice matters. I believe that when we know better we should do better…but what happens when people’s versions of “doing better” don’t align? If I preach moving forward and being a change agent and feel that I’m not creating change myself, does that make me a fraud? If I believe that being a change agent isn’t only about doing something different but about continuing to doing better even when things get really hard and then I quit when it seems impossible, am I a hypocrite? And when I can’t find answers to these reflective questions, is it better for me to just not say anything at all?

Sometimes as a consultant and speaker people say to me that one of the surprising realizations about me is that when they read The Fire Within or listen to my The Show Must Go On (mental health) presentations that I seem to have it all together and they wouldn’t have guessed that I was dealing with mental health issues myself. Well, even the people who seem to have it all together have struggles that may not be obvious. Sometimes I feel demoralized. I do stupid things. Two weeks ago I dropped my phone in a public toilet and hurt my foot in the rush to fish it out. A few days ago I made a terrible snap judgment about an Uber driver that turned out to be completely wrong and I felt like a terrible person. Today I struggled for a full three minutes to open the twist cap to a bottle of water only to figure out it pulled off. I don’t always reach my goals and sometimes I cry when I don’t. Apparently, I also get burnt out and question my efficacy. I’m human like everyone else.

The best way I know to deal with bouts of any kind is to develop strategies to help me get through. I’m a concrete thinker and because I’m not naturally organized (a terrible combination), strategies give me the guidance to break out of situations.

My Strategy #1: Find what’s reasonable

When I begin to believe that nothing I do matters, it’s important for me to stop and think about what is reasonable and what is not, and attempt to take the drama out of my thinking. I need to remind myself that I’m not a fraud I’m just struggling. I’m not perfect but that’s being human. For me, this helps convince my brain to just calm down and quit blowing things out of proportion.

My Strategy #2: Write down what I know to be true

For whatever reason, this strategy seems simple but really works for me. It helps me calm my overactive, overthinking brain. I know, for example, that I have worked really hard professionally to get where I am. I know that I am dedicated. I also know that sometimes I equate success with “getting my own way” which isn’t always right. Remembering that part of my personality helps me to see successes beyond any kind of short-sided scope I may have employed.

My Strategy #3: Allowing for grace and forgiveness

My desire to create change and do better/be better for others can cause me to internalize failures that happen in rapid-fire succession where I don’t have time to build myself back up and create a sharp downhill spiral into am I able to do anything right? Allowing for grace and forgiveness for both myself and the people around me (even when they don’t ask or seem to want it) helps me to get out of the funk. It’s not easy to forgive people who don’t seem to “do anything” to deserve it, but the internal fortitude it takes and subsequent success of the forgiveness and moving forward is worth it.

I think strategies for moving forward in any situation are always very personal. Just the act of finding what works can feel like an upward battle. The fact that we are all human and are subjected to negative thoughts, incorrect assumptions, and dropping our phones in the toilet makes it necessary to find ways to be proactive in dealing with times we struggle. It’s important to remember we all bring something to the table and our imperfections make us stronger and better.