Your Presence is a Gift

As a new school year begins, we may find our “to-do list” growing longer and longer.

If you are a parent or caregiver, yours may include buying new shoes and school supplies, planning for school lunches, navigating first day nerves (for you AND your kids), and getting the kids’ sleep schedules back to “normal.”

Teachers are busy preparing their classrooms, planning for how to meet students the first day and build relationships with students and create a community.

School administrators are making sure students and staff have all the tools they need to be successful. They are preparing for the first day PA day, ensuring timetables are balanced and that teachers have all the resources they need.

With all the things to do, we can sometimes forget to stop and be present.

As leaders, in our classrooms, our offices, our businesses, our families, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to those we serve is our presence. Being fully present lets others know we see them, value them and are invested in the relationship.

How can we show up and be fully present with our colleagues, our staff, our students, our families? We still have to work through the “to-do list” but we can do the things while connecting with others, being fully in the moment, without judgement.

Welcome September! This is a great time to be present.

Hello Passion? Where are you?

It’s funny how we can be so passionate about something we do, and then someone says something and we suddenly become so self-conscious about what we love doing that we stop doing it.

This happened to me. I loved writing so much. I still do. But I loved writing every single day, creating posts for this blog, sharing my thoughts and my heart. For a long time I did it every day without missing a single day.

And then…

Someone made a comment about me being self-indulgent. And I allowed it to fester in my brain. And suddenly, the thing I loved to do became something I felt I needed to edit so much that the passion slipped away.

Let’s be clear, it is not the person’s fault that I stopped, or that I felt I needed to edit to the point that I felt I could only write factually, without emotion, without sharing my personal story. I was the one who allowed that. I was the one who stopped sharing. Let me also be clear that I love the work I do. And the people I surround myself with. It is not that I don’t have any joy in my life. I just want to find and follow my passion again.

Nelson Mandela said “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less that the one you are capable of living.”

I don’t want to play small anymore. I am capable of living a big, bold, beautiful life, and I am not. And it starts with re-kindling the passion I had for writing every day.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been faced with the reality that life goes by quickly, and we are further along than we think. We lost our grandmother earlier this month and yesterday my father had major surgery. My grandmother was 93 and lived a life full of love and passion for the things that were meaningful to her. My father is, in my mind, still a young man with a lot of life left before him. I want to live my life, whether long or short, with passion and joy, doing the things I believe are life-affirming and meaningful.

As I look back over the past couple of years, I feel like the pandemic let me try some new things, but also kept me from really spreading my wings and flying. And as I look ahead to a world that is still cautious, I think of all the things we have learned about how we can live differently. This is an exciting opportunity, a time to dream and live out our dreams. A time to evaluate what should stay and what should be let go.

Am I alone in feeling like the passion I once had, left for a while. And now I want to re-explore it? What are you passionate about these days and how can we all find ways to live a life that is as big as we are capable of living?

Radical Acceptance

Recently I learned about Radical Acceptance, the process of fully accepting a situation just as it is, without judgement and without trying to change it. For me, this idea changes EVERYTHING.

Let me give you an example.

Say I am outside with my dogs (this is a real-life example for me) and it is cold outside. I don’t like the cold, but really, that doesn’t matter. Radical acceptance means I accept that it is cold outside. It isn’t good or bad, it just is. I don’t try to change the cold, because no matter how hard I try, I can’t change it. No matter how much I hope for warmer temperatures, I don’t have that kind of power and the cold is going to be exactly what it is. So instead, I just accept that it is cold. It just is.

I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to be okay with standing out in the cold. I just have to accept that this particular day is cold.

That may sound like just giving in to the thing you don’t like. But hear me out. Once I accept that it just is cold, without trying to change the cold or judging it for being what it is, I am free to make a choice about what I do next. I can get a coat so I am protected from the cold. I can leave the cold and go somewhere warmer. Whatever choice I make is made with a clear mind and is what I know is best for me. Someone else may love the cold, and that is okay. I am happy for them because today is the kind of day that makes them happy. For both of us, the day is cold. For me, I can now make a choice to do something that will make me happier.

Radical acceptance is a game changer in relationships. It allows us to accept that the person we are in relationship with just as they are, with their habits and traits, their ideas and faults. We don’t have to judge them or try to change them. They just are who they are. But once we do accept them exactly as they are, not as we wish them to be or hope them to be, we can decide what we want to do. Do we want to remain in relationship with them and learn to live with the traits we are not okay with? Do we want to walk away from the relationship knowing that somewhere in the world is someone who will love those traits? We are free to make a choice when we radically accept others as they are.

This is not to say we have to be okay with people treating us badly or with abuse. Quite the opposite. In fact, we often are reluctant to see abusive behaviour for what it is. When we can accept that we are not being treated right (and by accept, I do not mean we allow or are okay with it), and can see it for what it is, we can make decisions for ourselves and our children to keep us safe and provide protection. When we don’t accept what is truly happening, we make excuses and keep hoping things will be different next time.

But they aren’t.

Once we are able to practice radical acceptance (I am learning and practicing while getting a lot wrong in the process), we can show up with authenticity, speaking our truth, engaging with people in a way that enhances relationships and doesn’t hide or pretend the negative doesn’t exist. We are able to walk away from those situations that feel toxic or that force us to pretend and we can walk into those situations which liberate us, freeing us to show up exactly as we are and running toward our goals. Practicing radical acceptance, for me, will mean that no one ever has to wonder where they stand with me because I will never again pretend to be okay with things I am not, and I will feel free to express my feelings for another.

Today, as I move through the world, I am going to practice noticing the way things are, without story, without excuse, without pretending things are different. I will practice accepting how they are without any judgement and without trying to change them. And whether I am okay with it or not, whether I like it or not, I will find the freedom to decide what I will do about it. I will decided what is best for me, without changing the situation or the other person. I will embrace or let go.

I think there is a lot of freedom in doing so.

Stop Apologizing for Who You Are

Apologies are so important. When we hurt someone, we need to take the time to acknowledge the hurt we have caused, to name it and to commit to making it right and not doing it again. When we do, we are able to rebuild trust, to move the relationship forward and to begin to mend feelings of hurt in the other person.

Apologies are for when we have done something (intentionally or unintentionally) to cause harm to another person. When I step on someone’s toes walking by them, I apologize. When I say something hurtful to someone (even if I didn’t intend for it to hurt them, but later become aware that it did), I apologize.

Lately, I hear more and more people apologizing for things they have not done, but for who they are. They apologize for simply being themselves. They apologize when they have not hurt someone.

“I’m sorry for being late. I know that held you all up and I will be more careful to leave my home earlier next time.” is a good reason for an apology.

“I’m sorry for being so sensitive. I know I shouldn’t let your words get to me the way they did.” is NOT a good reason for an apology. Why are you apologizing for being sensitive? You haven’t done anything to hurt anyone else. Also, we need more sensitive people in the world. People who are sensitive to their own pain, are often also sensitive to the pain of others. We need more of you to bring hope and healing to a hardened and hurting world.

“I’m sorry for cutting you off. You were saying something really important and I shouldn’t have jumped in before you were done. Please go ahead and finish.” is a good reason for an apology.

“I’m sorry for saying anything.” when the receiver of your message doesn’t like what they hear, is NOT a good reason for an apology, provided you didn’t say anything to hurt them. Perhaps you are just expressing your feelings about a topic and they disagree. Don’t apologize for having an opinion. You are not only allowed to have your own opinion, your opinion MATTERS. So share it. Even if others don’t agree with it. Especially if others don’t agree with it.

Please, by all means, apologize when you have hurt someone, when you have lashed out with a tone that is biting, when you have forgotten to pick up the milk on the way home, or you borrowed your spouse’s keys and now can’t find them. Yes, apologize. For the small things and big things too.

Please stop apologizing for just being yourself, for having ideas that are different from others, for feeling things, for being joyful, for feeling angry at injustice. Please stop apologizing for mistakes that come from taking a risk and failing. Stop apologizing for the way you laugh, or your sarcastic sense of humour. Stop apologizing for the way you speak, for being awkward in social situations. Stop apologizing when you interrupt a racist or homophobic or misogynistic joke or story to tell them it isn’t funny and asking them to do better. Stop apologizing for being weird, for liking your hair or clothes a certain way, for insisting on others using your pronouns or your name. Stop apologizing for being you just because being you makes someone else feel uncomfortable.

The world will tell you to stop being a certain way. People will tell you you need to believe this or that. You can choose who you want to be in the world and how you want to show up. And sometimes, yes, we will hurt people. But we should be quick to apologize for those things. As for you and your wonderful, quirky self? Never apologize for being you again. Celebrate instead.

Progress Over Perfection

I have struggled all my life with perfectionism. Sometimes, I read those words and I wonder if that is someone’s “humble brag”. For me, the struggle with perfectionism does not mean I struggle because I am perfect. I do believe in having high standards and if I am going to do something, I want to do it right. My struggle is believing that my lack of perfection means I am lacking. To not be perfect is to feel like I am not worthy or enough. Because deep down, I struggle with believing that I am enough, just as I am and that my worth lies in who I am not how well I perform.

That’s not working for me. I’m working on that.

The thing that has helped me is learning to value Progress over Perfection.

What is great about valuing progress is that there is not a set destination or amount of progress one has to make before recognizing progress. One step. One day. One moment. One choice takes us in a direction we want to go. Perfection requires an end, a standard. Progress requires me to show up and try…and fail…and learn…and keep going.

I have always loved to create. I love words and how they can create an image or an emotion. I love how words can connect with people and bring people together. And I haven’t really written much of anything in months, partly because I was struggling with whether my writing was “good enough.” But then I remembered that I never began writing for an audience. And I still don’t. Yes, I hope what I write somehow leaves you feeling like you know me better, or knowing that you are not alone. I also love creating art – painting, drawing, working with clay. I am not good at it. My art is not something I would want to share. My grandmother was a painter. Her works are in my home and they are beautiful. My brother is a very talented artist too. And so, I often hesitate to share because I compare myself to those talents in my family.

That’s not working for me. I’m working on that.

As a parent, I struggle so much with this. On one hand, I judge my parenting hard. I feel, most days, like I am stringing together a whole series of mistakes. I wish there were do-overs. But then they do something so kind or say something so wise and I realize that my job is not to be a perfect parent. It is to model progress. It is to model growing, gracefully making mistakes and correcting them. It is to model being the kind of human I want to show up as. Because at the end of the day, that is exactly what I want them to do. I want them to make progress, to grow, to make mistakes and learn from them, to apologize when the hurt someone and then do better. I want them to stay those kind and wise souls because the world needs more of them, not more “perfection”.

Today I welcome back the kind and wise staff with whom I work. They are some of the best models of progress over perfection.

I am going to keep learning, to keep progressing. It won’t always look graceful or pretty. It won’t always be big or noticeable. But progress is messy. And even a single step in the right direction is progress.

I wish you all a wonderful day.

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