The Adventure Begins…

Yesterday was my birthday.  My 45th birthday.  While some may lament the loss of their youth with each passing year, I am celebrating turning 45.  And to celebrate, I created a list of 45 things I want to do this year.

Why?  That sounds a little “bucket-list”ish, right?  I suppose it does. But this is not about things to accomplish before I die.  This is about celebrating that I am alive! It is recognizing that I will never again have the opportunities I have today, right now. It is about embracing all the things, doing all the things, loving big, experiencing joy, and appreciating the people who have supported me getting here.

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44 was not such a great year for me.  I struggled with serious anxiety, stress and feelings of hopelessness.  Not too many people know the depth of struggle I faced over the year.  For months I fought daily with my brain just to survive.  I managed to keep most of my suffering to myself, but there are some with whom I was able to share that pain – the pain of feeling unworthy of love or of feeling not good enough.  It was a year of feeling surrounded by darkness, and believing the world would be better off without me. But thankfully, those who could see my struggle did not sweep it under the rug.  They called it out, shone light on it, and encouraged me to find support.

So now, after nearly a year, I can honestly say that all the therapy, the medication, doing the hard work every day, looking inward and learning how to express emotion instead of pushing it down, has been worth it.  I no longer feel hopeless.  I know I have a purpose, that I belong, that I am worthy of love and that I am enough.  My healing journey has often felt like one step forward and two back, and I know that I still have work to do.  And this is why Forty-Five things is so important to me.

So what is Forty-Five things?  Over the past few months I have put together a list of things I want to accomplish, experiences I want to have, moments I want to make into memories.  Some of these are simple.  Some are really scary.  And I believe all have something to teach me about life.  This blog (Item #7) is the place I will share what I have done and what I am learning through my experiences.

I hope that a year from now, I will look back and see how rich and beautiful this life is.  I hope I will see stronger relationships, a better understanding of who I am, and will be less concerned about how others see me.  This list is very personal.  I feel very vulnerable sharing it publicly. Some who read it will see me.  Some will not.  Some may laugh or mock this project.  Somehow, I will need to be ok with that.

Thanks for following me on this journey.  May it inspire you to ask how you want to spend your next journey around the sun.

Photo by Simon Migaj

 

45 Things to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving – A Post in Three Parts

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.  To be honest, I have been feeling a little down over the past few weeks.  One thing I find that helps me gain some perspective is gratitude.  No matter what may be happening around me, being mindful of the good keeps me focused on what truly matters in my life.  This Thanksgiving, I want to share some of the things I am thankful for.  And since this is a blog entitled Forty Five Things, it only makes sense that I should focus on 45 things. However, as I want to give this list the attention it deserves, I am going to divide it into three posts.  As I look over the past year, there is much to be thankful for.  And if you will indulge me, I am going to get a little vulnerable in this post.  It is my hope that this list may inspire you today, to take some time to focus on what you are thankful for.  Ready?  Here we go. 

Part 1 

 1.  Health 

Over the past nine months or so, I have been working through a series of health concerns.  Thankfully, we have wonderful doctors and a system that allows us to access the care we need.  I found a concerning lump in my right breast in February.  I was able to be quickly assessed and was referred to the Breast Care Centre at St. Joseph’s in London.  There, I was able to get a mammogram and ultrasound, and was seen by some wonderful doctors.  I am happy to report that while there is a series of “suspicious” islands of fibrous tissue and cysts, for now there is nothing to immediately be concerned about and my follow up images have shown no change.  I also had some abnormal liver enzyme levels and a slightly enlarged liver, but again, nothing that requires any intervention.

In April I went to my family doctor to discuss some joint pain I was experiencing in all of my left side joints.  X-rays showed a bone tumour in my left fibula.  This one, unfortunately, is not like the breast and liver concerns.  I have had x-rays, an MRI and a CT scan and they show that “Tina” (my tumour) is growing.  It is causing me a lot of pain each day, and keeps me up at night.  I will be having surgery to remove the tumour and a section of bone.  I will share more about my bone tumour experience as I get more information.  What I am very grateful for, however, is that I live in London, where we have a top-notch hospital and a wonderful Cancer-Care Program.  My family doctor referred me to the best Sarcoma specialist and orthopedic surgeon and I know I am in good hands. 

So, this sort of sounds like a run-down of all the things I am NOT thankful for, right?  And while it is true that I would prefer not to have had to deal with these things, I truly am thankful.  I am thankful for our health care system.  I am thankful for the doctors who are helping me.  And mostly, I am thankful for a body that has more right with it than wrong.  Whenever we have health related issues, it is easy to focus on the pain or the loss of ability.  Throughout this journey, I am trying to remember that my body is amazing.  It has the ability to heal, to adapt, and it truly is amazing.  My health is good, despite the recent challenges.  That is something to be thankful for. 

2. Home 

Today I am sitting on my very comfortable sofa, in my warm house.  Last night we welcomed my parents and my aunt and uncle into our home for dinner.  I am so very thankful for this house.  Nancee and I moved here ten years ago and it has been our place of comfort and safety, the place where our children became our children and the place I love to be more than anywhere else. 

For a few months, I left this home.  In the summer I was struggling to deal with some things and I just couldn’t deal with them here.

I moved out for three months and while I do not regret that move, for I grew more in that time than I ever thought possible, it was not my home.  I missed the love and laughter in my home.  I missed the energy of the space.  I even missed cleaning the house.  Now that I am back home, I can truly say that I am grateful for this house.  It is amazing how our spaces become so much a part of who we are.  If you have a safe place to call home, that is definitely something to be thankful for. 

3.  Partner 

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Having someone to share your life with is a blessing often taken for granted.  I know I took it for granted.  My wife and I have been together for twenty years and this past week we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our life together is not perfect.  We have had a year which pushed us to the point of separation. But I am so thankful that she and I did not give up.  We used the time and the space to figure some things out.  I am proud of how we handled it.  I am amazed at her strength and the grace she showed me.  I am thankful for the counselling we chose to do together.  And now that we are back together, happy, and far more willing and able to communicate our needs and feelings, I am thankful for her willingness to take the risk with me. Nancee, I am so thankful that you are my person, my partner in this messy and amazing life.  

4. Children 

Ah, my kiddos.  They make me laugh.  They drive me crazy.  They say things that make me think and show me how to live in the moment.  My son recently turned 13 and can be a defiant teenager one minute, and the next is lying next to me as I tuck him into bed, telling me all about his day, his fears and asking his big questions.  I love that he still wants to hold my hand, but finds my dancing “so embarrassing.”  I love seeing him act so grown up in his cadet uniform, and listening to him giggle while playing with Lego.  He is growing up so fast and I feel such pride in the young man he is becoming, while I am sad that the little boy I met in 2013 is slipping away. 

My wonderful daughter is 9 years old (though she reminds me that her birthday is the next one in our family and she will be 10) and in August of this year she got really sick. She contracted a virus that essentially shut down her bowels.  Nancee and I had her to the Emergency Department multiple times and each time were told she just had a virus.  Well, that virus attacked her colon and the final straw came one night when she was up vomiting, and was in and out of consciousness.  The paramedics who showed up at our home were amazing and comforted our poor girl.  We are so thankful to report that after a week in the hospital, she was released and now you would never know she was ever that sick. 

Be thankful for your kids, and all the kids who are in your life, even if they aren’t your own.  They have so much to teach us about resilience and strength and compassion and love.  My kids are healthy today, playing and laughing and growing up way too fast.  What an honour to be witness to that. 

5.  Pets 

No long story here.  Just an acknowledgement that I am thankful for the pets who have been in my life.  We currently have two basset/beagle mix dogs, and one very fluffy kitty.  We have loved and lost many four-legged family members over the years and it is never not painful.  So while they are with us, lets be thankful for their unconditional love, their silly antics and the comfort they bring just by being present. Walter and Winston, thank you for your goofiness and for your intuitive nature. And Pickles (the cat), even though you tend to be a loner, I am determined that this will be the year you become more social.  

6.  Work 

It is such a great privilege for me to get up every morning and do meaningful and fulfilling work.  Not only do I have the joy of watching young people grow from kids into young adults, but I also have the distinct pleasure of working with some of the most dedicated teachers and support staff anywhere.  I am so thankful that I do the work I do as a Principal. I am so thankful to work for the Thames Valley District School Board, to lead a team of educators, to be an integral part of the learning and growth for hundreds of students.  Whatever work you do, I hope you find meaning in it.  You make a difference.   

7.  Faith 

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In a world where connection is often seen as weakness and busyness is glorified, it is so refreshing to find a place where we can find rest and hope and where we can find community.  For me, this place is my faith community of Riverside United Church.  In times of chaos, my faith teaches me that God will show me purpose.  In times of suffering, my faith teaches me that pain and sorrow and struggle are part of the human experience and that while God does not create suffering, my faith gives me the tools and the love of others to get through it. I am thankful that every week I am able to gather with others who understand the value of community and connection, to worship together, to love one another, to care for our families and our kids together.  Riverside is a faith community where all people, no matter where their journey has taken them, can find a place of acceptance and love.   

8.  Parents 

As adults we sometimes forget to stop and be thankful for our parents.  Today, I am thankful for mine.  Not only did they give me life, my parents sacrificed and gave all they could to give me the life I enjoy today.  My parents were not, and are not, perfect.  Just as I am not a perfect parent.  But perfection is highly over rated and I am thankful that my parents continue to love me and support me and are proud of me.  I am grateful to be your daughter. 

9.  Love 

Do you have love in your life?  I do.  Sometimes I fail to see it or feel it, but I know I am loved.  And I love…I love deeply.  Whether you have love of a partner or children or family or friends, love is a gift.  Cherish it.  Let it strengthen you.  And to show love to another is such a privilege.  The media shows us that the world is filled with hate and fear.  And love is the perfect antidote for hate.  Imagine a world with more kindness and goodness.  Want to make that world a reality?  I do.  So I am going to add more love to the world.  And I am thankful to those in my life who give and receive love. 

10.  Weekends 

After a very challenging week, I feel so much gratitude for weekends.  How wonderful that there are two days in a row to rest, to complete projects, to sleep in (something I actually never do) and to hang out with my little family.  However you spend your weekends, I hope you take the time today to be thankful that they exist.  Weekends are a reminder to us that we need time and we need change in our routines.  For me, weekends mean hockey games, yard work or home projects, chilling on the couch, guests for dinner, naps and time for play.  I absolutely love the pace of the week, and I find my work to be very rewarding.  But weekends are my time to remember why I do the work I do.  It is time to put my family first and to enjoy the more relaxed pace.  How do you spend your weekends? 

11.  Books 

To me, there is nothing quite like getting lost in a book. 

Whether a personal development book, a book about leadership for work or a fascinating memoir or novel, reading has always been a love of mine.  Recently I have discovered the joy of audiobooks and I am almost always listening to one when I drive to or from work.  Having a 45 minute commute has to have some benefits, right?  This year I am determined to keep better track of the books I am reading, and to share more about what I am reading on the blog and with my friends.  I am thankful for the ability to read, for the time to read and to listen to books, and for the many amazing writers who share their thoughts and stories with the world. What are you reading right now?  I would love some suggestions. 

12.  Therapy 

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This may seem like a strange thing to be thankful for today, but I really am thankful for therapy and for the people who hold space in a therapy room for others to share and process their thoughts and feelings.  It is no secret that I see a therapist regularly.  Therapy gives me the opportunity to speak about strong feelings, to share my truth, to work through thoughts that keep me up at night.  Often, just talking about big emotions or about things that feel overwhelming, takes away some of the power of those feelings and thoughts.  Other times, talking allows me to work through different scenarios for how I might proceed in a certain situation.  And sometimes it is just a safe place to express myself – to cry, to joke about things that scare me and then to really talk about the fear, to get angry, to reflect on how I have wronged someone.  Just as my physical health is something I am thankful for, even as I work through some struggles, my mental health is something I am thankful for, even as I have had some big challenges in this arena.  My therapist has challenged my black and white thinking and reminds me that on the other side of struggle lies the solution, lies peace, lies whatever we are searching for.  There are some inspiring therapists with an online presence, but there is nothing like meeting with someone face to face.  I am thankful today for Ashley at Soulful Wellness Counselling.  Check out her Facebook page where she often shares thoughtful videos, challenges us to see ourselves in a new light, motivates all the mamas out there and reminds us to seek out support when we need it.  You can also follow her on Instagram at @ashley.the.therapist 

13.  Holidays 

Just as weekends are an opportunity to change our pace, holidays give us a scheduled time to remember that our lives are more than just the Monday to Friday grind.  Today being Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the opportunity to remember what I am thankful for, and while I know I should be more mindful of these things every day, I am not always so mindful.  So I am thankful for an extra reminder.  Also, holidays give us the chance to gather with people who matter to us, to practice our values, to slow down and to see the world through the eyes of others.  I am going to be way more aware this year of how others see the various holidays.  How do my children experience the same holidays I have been experiencing for 46 years?  What can I learn from them? 

14.  Life 

This is a tough one to write about.  I have a beautiful life.  I have a wonderful family, a job I love, friends, community, money in the bank.  I have enough of everything I need.  And yet, I have not always been thankful for my life.  There have been dark moments when I have questioned whether I should keep living this life.  And there have been amazing people who have stepped in and pulled me out of that dark hole so I could see the light of life again.  I am thankful for my life.  I am thankful for those who remind me that life is a gift.  I am thankful to be re-learning that my life has meaning and that my life makes a difference.  If you are struggling to know that your life matters, that you make a difference or if you question whether you can hold on another day, know that you are not alone.  Reach out.  Find someone who will walk with you, who will help you find your light again.  Find someone who can hold on for you when you don’t think you can anymore.  Your life is a gift – not just to you, but to those who love you, and to many who don’t even know you yet.  I am thankful for my life, and I am thankful for yours. 

15.  Aging 

Really?  Thankful for aging?  Yes.  I am forty-six now and I am thankful for each birthday that passes.  Why?  Well, it isn’t that I am thankful for more grey hair or aching joints.  I am thankful for the wisdom that comes with every year.  I am thankful for the people I have met and loved and who love me back.  I am thankful for the experiences of joy, the pain of loss, the growth of my family.  I am grateful for friends who have become family over a lifetime.  As I grow older, I appreciate more.  I value different things.  I wouldn’t change the aging experience for anything.  Although, if I could have my 26 year old body back with my 46 year old mind, soul and heart, I wouldn’t complain.  

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And there you have it.  The first installment of 45 Things to be Thankful for.  This week I will share two more installments.  I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving Weekend.  May we all be just a little more grateful.  Gratitude changes us.  It makes us more aware of goodness.  And I believe that will make us all just a little kinder. 

A New Year, A New Focus

I can hardly believe it has been over a year since I began my journey of Forty Five Things.  It has been a great year of learning, of exploring and of becoming more of the person I want to be.  It has also been the most challenging year of my life.  I have faced family illness, a concussion, the pain of a marriage falling to pieces and the joy that comes from taking those broken pieces and rebuilding the relationship – stronger and more beautiful than before.  I have worked through mental anguish, physical pain, extreme loneliness, and loss.  But through all of it, I have learned that I am stronger, more compassionate and more fierce than I ever thought I was.

This year, my year of being 46, I want to intentionally see the goodness, the kindness, the light and the love in the world.  While Forty Five Things began as a personal challenge, to push myself out of my comfort zone and to learn more about who I am, I am taking a new road.  kindThe blog will remain Forty Five Things and in it, this year, I will highlight the moments of kindness I see and the people who are changing the world through tiny acts of good in the world.  If we want to be the change we wish to see, and if we want to build the world as we want it to be, we must must look for the people who are doing exactly that.

On my birthday, I asked people to do some small act of kindness, and, if they were brave enough, to tell me about it.  I would like to continue hearing about every day acts of kindness.  Some of the things people shared with me were: checking in daily on single moms, leaving extra quarters in the camp shower that required them, buying coffee for the next person in line at Tim Horton’s, gathering friends to celebrate a 100th birthday.  There are many more, and I will highlight more each week.

The world can seem pretty scary sometimes.  We can find ourselves in a dark place, certain that there is nothing good around us.  But there is.  There is always good if we open our eyes to it.  Mr. Rogers tells a story of how he used to get scared by events he would see on TV and in the streets.  He says he went to his mother and told her, and she told him that whenever something scary was happening, he could look for the people who are helping.  There is always someone, often many people, doing good.  We can all contribute to the good work, the helping, being the change and building the world we know we want.

How will you show some kindness this week?

What Makes You Brave?

I have never been particularly at ease with stepping out of my comfort zone.  At least not personally.  Professionally I think outside the box, question the status quo, press for change when change is needed.  But in my personal life, making big changes, asking for help and showing vulnerability make me so uncomfortable that I have often avoided them, usually to my detriment.

Recently, however, I had to be very brave and do all three of these very uncomfortable things.  I was in a situation that was not only keeping me from living as fully as I want to, but it was also leading me to unhealthy places.  I am remaining intentionally vague here as my decision, no matter how brave I believe it to be, has impacted the lives of others and I want to respect their privacy.

The change was a big one.  I stepped out and did something I have never done before.  It has impacted every aspect of my life as I have known it for the past twenty years.  Why?  Perhaps I just came to a place where I recognized that if I didn’t do the hard thing, I would never be who I want to be.  Perhaps I am at that point in mid-life where the Universe gives a nudge and reminds us that we have this beautiful life and we have to choose how we want to live it.  If our actions are not consistent with our values, how can we honour the life we have?  So I made some changes.  They are hard to deal with some days, but others are empowering and I feel great peace.

In making these changes, I had to ask for help. I have no choice but to acknowledge and accept that I can not do it all alone.  People have been decidedly kind, offering support where I need it, offering their time, supporting me by listening or sharing their advice. I used to believe that to ask for help was to show weakness.  Maybe you have felt this way?  Nothing could be more untrue.  To ask for help is to take a risk.  Taking a risk is both brave and strong.

In order to ask for help (and to accept it) I have been vulnerable.  I have shared my struggles, both here and in person with those I trust.  I have shared my failures and my fears.  I have done so with the knowledge that sharing this vulnerable side may lead others to see me differently – to see me as incapable or less competent.  By allowing myself to be vulnerable, by sharing my story of struggle and how I am learning to overcome, I have received such a gift.  I have received the gift of common humanity.  People have been brave enough to share with me the ways in which they too have faced and overcome challenges.  I am so grateful for their trust in me, and their willingness to be vulnerable.

Ashley Hurst is a counsellor in London with Soulful Wellness Counselling.  Each week on the Soulful Wellness Facebook page, Ashley posts a five minute video (Five-Minute Friday) in which she shares her thoughts and wisdom on the topics we need to hear about.  This week, Ashley shared a video about bravery, specifically about how we create safety in order to be brave.  You can check out her video here, and while you’re there, take a look at her other videos.  I am confident you will find nuggets of wisdom and a-ha moments in every one.  Ashley ended her video this week with a simple, yet profound statement.

“What’s more brave than being human?”

I love this.  We don’t have to do wondrous feats, run into burning buildings or change the world to be brave.  Although I do appreciate those who do those things.  The bravest thing we can do is to embrace our humanity and show up, flaws and all, to be seen and to see others.

Forty-Five Things is more than just a checklist of things I want to accomplish.  I may or may not complete them all before my 46th birthday.  Ultimately, it has been about stepping out, showing up, getting uncomfortable and being brave.  I am grateful for that and for all who have been following this journey with me.

One of my other favourite people, Brene Brown reminds us that “Owning our story, and loving ourselves through that process, is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

Brene

How will you be brave today?  How can you own your story in a way that feels both safe and loving?  How will you embrace your humanity this week?

Feeding the Wolf

I’ve been thinking a lot about a story I heard years ago.  It seems to be reappearing in my life right now and I think I need to listen…

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An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

About three weeks ago I wrote a post and accidentally published it.  I deleted it but not before one of my dearest friends read it and was very concerned.  I also learned later that quite a few others read it and I thank them for expressing their concern also.  That post was born out of fear, desperation, anxiety and overwhelm.  It was dark.  I am grateful for my friend who stepped in and helped me seek the help I really needed in that moment.

Since then, this story has shown up in my life in movies I am watching, in books I am reading, in social media posts.  Sometimes the Universe has a way of gently nudging, and other times She slaps us in the face.

Forty-Five Things was originally about me accomplishing some things I wanted to do in a year.  It has become more of a place for me to express what I am learning, to be vulnerable and to show who I am.  I have been so touched by the response I have received, to know that just by showing up I am helping others to see that they are not alone.  It has been a place to help feed the wolf of compassion, truth, empathy and faith.  In the days leading up to that dark day, I had been working through the effects of a concussion, dealing with some scary health issues and struggling through relationship challenges.  In those days, I could not see light.  I could only see anger, sorrow, self-pity and fear.  I was feeding the dark wolf.

We all find ourselves feeding each of the wolves at different times.  For me, I had to make a choice: do I continue to feed the dark wolf?  What will I choose to believe about myself?  What will I do to start feeding the good wolf?  It wasn’t easy.  I had become accustomed to only seeing the darkness.  But, thanks to some people who love me enough to be brutally honest with me, I was able to make some changes.  I have taken a leave of absence from work to allow my body and mind to heal from the concussion, to make some changes to the way I handle stress and anxiety.  I have reconnected with my Mom in a very healthy and supportive way (not that she wasn’t helpful and supportive before, but I wouldn’t allow myself to believe I needed anyone else) and I have made some other changes which will be difficult but will ultimately allow relationships to heal and transform.  In short, I am learning to feed the good wolf.  This is a practice I know I will need to nurture, and it is one that only I can do for myself.  No one can do it for me.

I am totally up for the task.

How are you feeding the wolf in your life?  Which wolf gets your attention?

Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones

Two or three years ago I started a blog to talk about educational topics. While I did not keep that blog going, I wrote this piece about turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones for some of our most vulnerable students. I have edited this piece, and refocused it a little. Forty-Five Things has really been about taking those things that hold me back, the obstacles that I have experienced as stumbling blocks and turning them into my own stepping stones to the life I want to lead. I hope as you read it, or if you have already, that as you re-read it, you will ask yourself what is holding you back? What obstacles are your stumbling blocks? How can you turn those into stepping stones, for yourself, for your children, for the people you lead? Enjoy.

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I do not generally watch award shows but at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, Meryl Streep gave a moving speech when accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award. She spoke eloquently, using her moment in the spotlight to draw attention to her concerns for the political climate in the United States, and in particular, a certain world leader and his style of leadership.

 

If you want to watch her message, please go to https://youtu.be/EV8tsnRFUZw

I don’t want to get into the political piece that was cleverly embedded in her message. Though I think everyone should be politically informed, what was more interesting to me as a parent and school Principal was her message on Empathy. In her speech, Streep referenced that the job of the actor is to “enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like.”

 

Working in education, this message of empathy reminds me of why I chose to teach, and later, to work in school administration. Streep’s message makes me wonder if the job of the educator, the parent, the leader, is to, above all, enter the lives of those we lead, those who have experiences that may be different from our own, and to strive to feel what they feel. Yes, our job is to deliver curriculum, to lead, to raise responsible children and to model successful behavior. But there is so much more to being an educator, a parent, and a leader.

 

Every young person who steps into my school comes with a unique experience. For some, the path to learning is easy. It makes sense to them. They have learned how to make the system work for them. They coast along, rarely encountering a problem. Some have tremendous support at home with supports already in place to help them to navigate the obstacles they may face.

 

Then other students who come to my school have experienced unthinkable trauma, with roadblocks and obstacles that seem so overwhelming I wonder how they manage to come to school each day. Poverty, addiction, mental illness, learning challenges, and instability in the home are only some challenges they may face. Still, other students have obstacles they themselves put in their paths. Let’s face it, kids and teenagers (and adults too) sometimes make choices that have serious consequences to their learning, their work, and their lives.

 

I was a good student. I found school easy. Doing well in school gave me a sense of accomplishment I rarely felt elsewhere. But I also faced serious challenges in my life, some of which were out of my control and a number that were the direct result of the poor choices I made. My educational (and career) path could have taken a different turn. Fortunately, I had a mother and teachers who took the time to enter my life, to learn about who I was and what mattered to me. I had teachers who respected me, even when I couldn’t respect myself, and cared enough to tell me the difficult things, to hold a mirror up for me, so I could see where I needed to change.

active activity adventure backpackI had friends parents, a mom, teachers, counselors and administrators who understood that the obstacles in my path could either be stumbling blocks or stepping stones and that their job was to help me to navigate my way over or around those obstacles. In my professional life I have had supervisors and colleagues who supported me as I navigated through the various stages of my career. In my personal life, I rely on a team of friends, family and professionals to keep me focused on what matters most to me. I so value those who have both courage and love for me, who will call out my poor choices and negative attitudes. They keep me focused on what is truly important.

 

Are we showing such empathy to those in our lives? I know I have days when a student is in my office, yet again, with behaviors that frustrate and confuse me. If you are a classroom teacher, a parent or anyone who works with young people, you know that sometimes humans, particularly those who are still developing, need to learn lessons many times before the lesson sticks. My therapist recently told me that the common belief that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit, may be a myth, and that, in fact, it takes anywhere from 18-300 days.

It can be draining, and it can be tempting to wonder why a person still doesn’t “get it” and to want to give up. Even more frustrating is when we are the person not “getting it.” When that happens, we need to step back, and instead of focusing on the behavior to ask ourselves how we can show kindness and compassion. Are they trying to give me a hard time? Or are they having a hard time? In those moments, we need to have empathy, to be slower to hand down consequences and quicker to offer support and guidance.

I need to help my students understand that the choices they make do have consequences but that those consequences don’t define who they are. I need to remind myself that I am human, and that failure and falling short are good learning opportunities. One of my amazing teachers told me, during my most difficult year, that we are not required to be the same person we were a year ago, a month ago, yesterday or even fifteen minutes ago. We are always free to change our minds, to be more of who we want to be. That is turning an obstacle, a stumbling block, into a stepping stone.

 

Beyond showing empathy, I believe we have an obligation, a moral mandate to teach empathy. It begins with modeling. It moves into creating an environment where every person from parents and children in our homes, from the Principal to the teachers to the support staff and the students in schools, feels seen, valued and understood. We must make our homes and our schools and our workplaces safe, to disagree without disrespecting and to invite different points of view. We must welcome the opportunities to hear differing opinions and to understand that I do not need to tear apart your opinion to defend my right to have my opinion. We must encourage the telling of stories, for in the telling of stories we learn to feel the emotions and understand the experiences of others. We must name those values we share, for when we see we have more in common than not, we are more likely to value, celebrate and defend the differences we hold. The differences make our shared experience much more interesting and colorful.

And we must learn how to communicate. We need to learn how to say what we feel and believe without disrespecting others, without vilifying, without making another feel wrong, and without shutting down when sharing our feelings feels uncomfortable.

 

In your life, in your home, in your workplace, in your school, how are you turning potential stumbling blocks into stepping stones?

Saying YES!

For much of my life, I feared saying yes. To say yes might mean I have to follow through on doing something I don’t want to do. To say yes might mean having to face my fear. To say yes might mean I experience feelings I am not comfortable with. There have been times when I have heard the word “yes” escape my lips, while everything in my body screamed “NO!” And not saying yes has consistently kept me safe. Image result for year of yesThis year of forty-five things has been about looking at my life, identifying what keeps me safe and in my box of comfort, and pushing those things aside to create and hold space for those things that make me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Last month I read a book that I resonated with (one of my 45 things is to read a book each month, for no reason other than for pleasure) called Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes.

In case you are not familiar with Shonda, she owns Thursday night television. She has created such incredible shows like Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder, Station 19 and Scandal.

Shonda, like so many driven women, found work to be easy and down-time to be difficult. And one day, while making the Thanksgiving dinner with her sister, Shonda was talking about an event she had the opportunity to attend. One she planned on not attending, as was her usual practice. A flippant comment, “You never say yes to anything,” led Shonda on a journey of saying yes to every opportunity that came her way.

 

What Shonda learned through that journey was that even when she feared or overthought a situation, there was always something positive to gain from it. In the same way, I am learning to embrace life, to say my own enthusiastic YES to every opportunity…even those that may not be on my list of things.

Six months into my adventure I have taken risks I would have never taken before – I have put myself out there in the form of this blog. I have learned to knit, and through knitting I have reflected on how every one of us are connected, and how quickly our relationships can unravel if we are not careful. I have taken a spontaneous trip, spent an incredible three days away from home when the “pre-Forty-Five-Things” Christine would have said no, and hibernated at home. I have learned to love puzzles, to be open to inviting new love into our home. I listen more. I talk less. I feel all the emotions, without judgment.

As we move into the next half of Forty-Five Things,

assorted hot air balloons photo during sunset

I will continue to be daring. I am committed to being in the arena, to engaging in life. In the coming days I will share some news and make some requests. Until then, be brave, my friends. Know that living is all about what we say YES to. Our fear and comfort can keep us from experiencing the greatest adventures of our lives.

 

I highly recommend Shonda’s book to anyone who wants to say YES to life. Stay tuned… some exciting “yes” moments coming in the months ahead.

Learning to Ride the Waves (#37: Take a Spontaneous Trip)

I am not known for being comfortable with spontaneity. Quite the opposite. I have a need to know that everything is taken care of. I am very responsible. If I am going to do something spontaneous, I need to first put a plan in place…which really is not very spontaneous, is it?

Last week my wife took the kids to Myrtle Beach for a week. Being a Principal meant that I would not be able to join them as they left the week before March Break. Much to my surprise, however, my wife bought me a plane ticket so I could join the family on Friday after work, as March Break began.

I wish I could tell you that my first response to this gift was to thank my wife and start packing. But it wasn’t. My first response was to worry…what about the dogs? How will I get to the airport? I don’t have a plan!

The real gift in this was that Nancee had already taken care of all the details I worried about. She arranged a house and pet sitter. She booked a flight late enough that I had plenty of time to get to the airport after work. She allowed me to dip my toe in the pool of spontaneity. She gave me the gift of surprising our children, of enjoying a few days of sun, of ocean sounds and most importantly, of time together as a family.

I am learning to let go a little at a time. This spontaneous trip has taught me that I can let go a little. There are joys to be found in not having to have all the details worked out, and to simply seeing what happens.

Life is like that too. Sometimes we can’t plan and predict what is going to happen. We lose jobs, relationships fail, parents get sick, we find ourselves in a crisis. We can’t plan for everything, and maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. When we find ourselves in the ocean of life, surrounded by waves of uncertainty, we can feel like we are going to drown. I am learning, instead, to ride the waves.