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.

selective focus photography of person holding the adventure begins mug

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

 

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.

balancing rock formation

 

 

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.

Great Escape – we need a team! (#15: Go to an escape room)

escapologyA couple weeks ago, I went to Escapology, a wonderful escape room in London.  I went with my partner, in an attempt to try something we would have to do as a team.  Don’t get me wrong, we have to work as a team all the time.  Any relationship of 20 years, building a family and raising two kids who are awesome but who can, at times, make us question our sanity, requires teamwork.  But we have struggled a lot lately with communicating what we need and what we want.  I think most relationships go through that.

The escape room was really fun.  We opted for the “Budapest Express” room.  The premise is that someone has died on the train and our job was to determine who the murderer was while solving puzzles and collecting clues.  We had one hour to get the clues, solve the crime and get out of the room.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time.  We were so close, but could not get to that last clue which would lead us out of the room.

On reflection, however, I learned a lot from this experience, even if we didn’t escape.  There is no way I could have done this on my own.  We had to work together, using our strengths and relying on one another to fill in the gaps when our knowledge and understanding fell short.  I missed things she found, and she missed things I found.

Those who know me well know that I have a bad habit of not asking for help.  I want to do everything on my own.  Not only that, I believe I can do everything on my own.  And to make matters worse, I really hate failure.  Not in others.  I celebrate First Attempts In Learning in my students and my staff and in my family members and friends.  But for me, to even consider the emotional turmoil I know I will feel if I don’t do things perfectly is terrifying.  I am working on this. This kind of perfectionism has robbed me of joy, and has kept me from having some amazing experiences.  ask for helpA year ago I would never admit to anyone that I need help.  Today, however, because I have a team of wonderful people who love and respect me enough to call me on my BS, I am beginning to be brave enough to ask for help when I need it.  And once in a while, I can even ask for help, even when I don’t believe I need it.

The escape room is like our lives.  We are there.  We are in it.  We have a task, a purpose.  And we only have a limited amount of time to do what we are meant to do. To do it alone is not only hard, it isn’t possible. We can certainly try.  And we will fail.  We will fail and we will miss stuff, and we will lose the joy that comes from doing life together.  I have a friend who has encouraged me to build a team, a small group of trusted people with whom I can share my real self, failures and all, and who will continue to encourage me to show up, to try, to fail and then to pick myself up and try again.  These are the people who don’t let me give up.  These are the people who can see me – like REALLY see me – and who will not judge. These are the people who will tell me to check my black and white thinking, to stop trying to fix everything and instead to experience and feel.  These are the people who will call me out when I try to do life alone.

Who is on your team?  Who has given you the gift of being on their team? My team consists of my closest family, a few earnest friends, trusted colleagues, my wonderful therapist, my doctor and that’s about it.  Not too many.  But the ones who are there really matter.  They check in.  They let me fall on my face because they know I need to learn that I will be ok and I will get back up.  They don’t let me give up.  They don’t let me compare myself to others.  They do encourage me to see things differently.  Like in the escape room.  I can get stuck in one way of seeing something and occasionally need someone to challenge my way of thinking.

I am so grateful for having this team of trusted people who push me and support me, who hold space for me to work out my thinking and feeling and who, on occasion, just let me vent and process and reflect without any judgement.  We all need people like this in our lives.  We never have to walk through life alone.

Oil and Vinegar

The other day I was enjoying a salad at work (ok…I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was tolerating it) with a balsamic dressing. Admittedly I was annoyed because I would have preferred ranch, but I am trying to watch what I eat a little more.  As I shook the dressing and watched the olive oil mix with the balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices, I began to truly understand something about human nature, about my nature, and I have been thinking about this ever since. Ah, oil and vinegar – two wonderful and contrasting flavours that both work together and oppose one another. Related image There is the vinegar, in my mind it is a strong balsamic vinegar – acidic and sour and biting.  There is the oil, which I imagine is a golden and delicious extra-virgin olive oil – thick and rich and healing.  Both are needed, and without both, we do not get to experience the fullness of flavour.  I can’t help thinking about how much we require both, and how much these two elements correspond to something big in my life.

Have you ever felt betrayed?  Have you ever been so hurt in a relationship that you can’t sleep properly, you don’t know how to forgive and move forward? Maybe you are angry with yourself, or God, or your spouse.  Maybe you are holding on to something that just happened, or to a harming that happened years ago.  This is the kind of hurt that crushes your soul, that makes you question your ability to make choices and feels like it will never stop.  I have been experiencing this kind of hurt lately, and while I may not like this truth, I am responsible – solely responsible – for the healing and forgiveness that must take place.  I want to experience the healing, but I am not too fond of having to feel all the hurt and pain and betrayal.  In other words, I want the oil without first pouring out all the vinegar.  Sure, I may let a little out here and there.  I may cry for a few minutes but how quickly I dry those tears and get back to the work of healing.  I don’t like the vinegar.  I don’t want to pour out all my pain.  I don’t want to burden anyone with it or hurt the one who hurt me.  I just want to move into the healing and richness of that beautiful oil.

But it doesn’t work like that.  Ever.  Real healing will never happen until we pour out all the acid, until we let go of all the emotion, until we allow ourselves to feel and taste the sting of betrayal.

broken heart love sad

It’s ok to do so. Not only ok – it’s absolutely necessary.  We need to open our heart wound, look inside, and let out all the emotion, all the words, all the primal screams, all the physical feelings that come with being hurt and sad – you know the ones…the lump in your throat, the tightness in your chest, the feeling like someone punched you in the gut.  Once we let it all out and we are sure there is no more, then, and only then, can we let that flavourful and rich healing ointment pour over us and begin that journey to forgiveness, trust and reconciliation and wholeness.

Being in the second half of my life means a lot of things, including eating more salads and recognizing that holding on to pain, and holding in my emotions does not serve me well.  This half of my life is all about keeping the tools that serve me, and letting go of all the things that don’t. It’s about both healing and feeling.

adult art artist artistic

Cozy, Comforting Spaces

When you consider your favourite place, how does it feel?  Is it comfortable?  Is it energizing?  Do you go there to recharge or to get introspective?  Is it a solitary place or is it filled with laughter and the love of others?  The spaces in which we live, work and play really can affect our mood, our outlook and even our physical and mental health.  How do we create an environment that nourishes our body and our mind?

Recently I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and its sequel Spark Joy.  Many of you will be familiar with these books as they are the inspiration for the Netflix series Tidying Up that everyone seems to be watching.

apartment architecture carpet chair

The premise is simple.  In tidying, one decides what items bring them joy, and anything else receives thanks for its usefulness but ultimately is moved along.  There is a very prescribed and precise method – the KonMari method, named after the author and series’ host Marie Kondo – for decluttering clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and even sentimental ones.

After reading the books, I was inspired to declutter and to arrange what remained in a way that brings me joy.  But there is something about this method of decluttering that feels a little cold and impersonal.  Maybe that is the point.  However, when I consider what I want my space to feel like, cold and impersonal do not accurately describe it.  Yes, I know, the point is to keep only the things that bring you joy. But sometimes it isn’t the things that bring the joy, but the feeling you get when you enter a space.

Enter the notion of hygge (pronounced Hoo-Gah), that beautiful Danish concept of cropped-food-tank-winter-book-list-1.jpgcomfort, coziness, connection and warmth which I long for in my home and in my life.  After reading Kondo’s books, I enjoyed The Book of Hygge in audio book form.  This is exactly what I was looking for!  Ideas for creating that feeling of comfort in my home and in my office. Cozy blankets, games and puzzles that bring people together, candles, netflix on the couch, a steaming cup of hot chocolate after playing with the kids outside in the snow.  All of these bring comfort, draw us together and create that cozy sense of safety many of us crave, particularly in our high stress jobs and in a society that praises working ourselves to death while criticizing rest and down-time.

For me, the answer lies in a combination of both of these books’ ideas.  How do I create a comforting and restful home, complete with the things that bring warmth and togetherness into the space, while ridding myself of all that does not bring the joy and the feeling I am looking for in my space?  I am not entirely sure but I am working on it.  My spaces will, I hope, be a reflection of the peace, the warmth, the comfort and safety I long for in my life.  They will help me to nourish my body, my mind and my soul, so when the world around me turns chaotic – and it will – I can come home, wrapped in the feeling of safety and warmth I desperately need.

What do you want your living and working spaces to feel like?  Do you want them to inspire focus and accomplishments?  To reflect your sense of fun and whimsy?  Do you want a place to decompress or a space to get energized?  Whatever you are hoping to do, I would love to hear how you create the feeling you desire in your home, your office or anywhere you spend your time.

Sunrise, Sunset – Finding the Rhythms of Life (#41 and #42)

leafless tree on grass field

Every morning I drive the 45 minutes east from my home to the school where I am a Principal.  It is a beautiful drive along a quiet country road.  As the sun rises, the silhouette of the forest becomes darker, the pastures where cows lazily graze become brighter and the fields, white with snow or green with crops are illuminated once again.  It is the best part of having such a commute.  I love having the time to reflect, to consider how I want my day to go, and to mentally prepare for whatever is going to happen…after all, I am a high school principal – we need to be ready for anything.

I love sunrises, but I also am in awe of the beauty of a sunset.  I don’t know what it is about dusk that I find both beautiful and sad, but seeing the world glowing in the various colours of the sky and then going dark reminds me of the shortness of each day, and the relative short span of our lives.

Items #41 and #42 are to watch a sunrise and a sunset.  Specifically it was to do so with my spouse, which is easy to say, but not so easy to do when your spouse is NOT an early riser.  So, I did watch both the sunrise and the sunset in the same day, and at some point will do so with Nancee.  As I watched the sunrise, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of newness, of promise.  The world wakes up, and anything is possible.  The promise of a new day is that no matter what yesterday brought, today is a fresh start.  Maybe that is why I love the sunrise so much.  However, watching the sunset, that time I have often felt sad about the end of the day, I was hit with a huge feeling of hope.  The sunset marks the end of day.  It marks the letting go of whatever happened in that day.  How amazing is that?!  The world lets go of the events of the day.  And so can I.  No matter what has happened, I can set it down, let it go, and hold to the promise of new opportunities tomorrow.

Thinking about this rhythm of sunrise and sunset has led me to think about other rhythms of life.  Seasons change, and nature adapts.

snow covered pine trees

Animals and plants rest in winter, when they need to rest.  They awaken in spring and thrive in summer, having found a renewed energy.  We, too, frequently feel like we need to rest in winter.  Yet often we ignore the signals our bodies, we who are part of the natural world, are sending us.  We push through the times we should rest.  We don’t play when we need to play.  We work too hard.  We don’t feed ourselves lovingly.  Ignoring these patterns of life keeps us holding on to feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection.  It keeps us tied to relationships that do not serve us well, and in some cases, relationships that actually harm us.  It keeps us doing work we do not love, instead of seeking work that is our calling, that gives us a sense of purpose in the world.

Instead, let’s consider how our lives might work if we were willing to let go – of the day’s events, of the expectations we have for ourselves and others, of the relationships we desperately keep trying to fix, of the job that drains us and does not feed us.  What would happen if we cared for our bodies the way the trees and animals do?  What if we rested when we were tired?  What if we fed ourselves to nourish ourselves?  What if we flourished and fought when we were ready and filled with the energy we needed?  And what if we stopped beating ourselves up for being human?

I have been reading a few books that appear contrary but I believe work well together.  The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and The Book of Hygge are both about how we create the kind of home and environment we want to live in.  In my next post, I will share how I believe we need to create the kind of environment that allows us to live, rest, nourish ourselves, connect with others and find peace within ourselves.  I look forward to sharing that with you.