Fighting for Peace

In addition to yet another horrific tragedy in Texas, the month of May also brought two personal losses in my family. Each one unique, but significant in their impact. As with any substantial loss, there is a wave of emotions. The experiences of grief are well documented and researched. There are different philosophies on how many stages there are and the process in which people cycle through and eventually come to a place of acceptance. My experience this month took me through several of those expressions, primarily denial/disbelief, bargaining, and anger. I camped out with the last two for an extended period of time (and still find myself there in various moments. Probably prompted by the ongoing mass shootings occurring in our country.)

If you follow my blogs regularly, you know I am a reflective person. I try to pay attention to ways the universe is working to help me evolve into a better version of myself. This past month, I’ve noticed the reoccurring theme of “acceptance”. It makes me think of the Serenity Prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change”. UGH! That’s so hard! It is our human nature to want to ensure our safety, well-being, security, and happiness. Not unlike others, I really like to be able to control things that I want changed. I don’t want innocent lives to be taken via gun violence (or any violence). I don’t want to lose a friend unexpectedly (or even expectedly for that matter). I don’t want to feel responsible for hurting any living being. I don’t want to have unmet expectations. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want things to be harder than they need to be. Yet all of those things happened in May, and I couldn’t control them. It’s been emotionally taxing as I wrestle with each event and fight to get to a place of acceptance. I know things happen that we don’t want to happen. They can be painful things, and perhaps it’s pain we caused or pain we incurred. As a friend’s father would say “That’s life.” However, it’s hard to not be able to just wish it away but to have to sit in it. Face it, own it and accept it.

This past school year has been touted as “the most difficult one yet”. Educators I interact with frequently say how challenging it was and feel completely exhausted. Again, it’s hard to feel like things are happening to you and around you and you have no control. Staffing shortages, learning loss catch-up expectations, sporadic ongoing quarantining episodes along with increased student behavior concerns. It is draining! Yet so many educators inspired me with their resilience and their ability to surrender to what is, accept it, adjust, and proceed.

As May came to a close, I was afforded an opportunity to spend two days with cherished colleagues visiting schools who are “doing it right”. The staff established an environment that elevates positive school culture and climate and are reaping the fruit of their labor, including a decrease in behavior referrals and an increase in student engagement and achievement. Among numerous strategies they’ve implemented, I was thrilled to see the ways each administrator prioritized the well-being of their staff. I’m convinced that contributes to the success they are enjoying in those buildings. It helps to soften the blow when the hits keep coming, especially these last couple of years. To be enveloped in an atmosphere of intentional support, love, and admiration can only bring about positive outcomes.

As difficult as this month as been for me personally, it helped having the support of friends and family. Being able to share honestly and vulnerably with those whom I trust brought solace and reassurance. I also cherished quiet time alone to process, cry, fuss, be angry, journal, pray/meditate, walk, and feel all my feelings. I’ve realized that I will cycle through the feelings as I process them, they come and go. As my mom says, “Feelings can come in waves. Let them wash over you.” So, I allow myself to have moments of peace and then times of discord and angst without judgment knowing it’s all part of getting to acceptance or serenity. As with any difficult time, we can come out of those experiences stronger, more resilient, learning, and growing if we pay attention and permit that development to occur. I’m confident these experiences happened for a reason, to help me to continue in my self-exploration and evolution. That is my hope for any of you reading this, if there are things happening that make you feel helpless, hopeless, and/or out of control, join me in the commitment to sit with it, wrestle with it, but fight to get to acceptance. We will find serenity there.

Mother May I?

The weather is FINALLY breaking here in the Midwest, which brings all of us out of our hibernation. Adults are seen working in their yards while kids play nearby. During one of the sunny days, I overheard neighbor children playing “Mr. Fox” and “Mother May I?”. It was fun to hear them laughing and enjoying the outdoors. It brought back childhood memories of days when my sisters, friends, and I played the same games. It’s no surprise that I LOVED being “the Mother” and getting to control the other players actions in the game. “Yes, you may take 2 giant steps forward.” Or “No, you cannot.”  It also made me chuckle to myself as I thought, “if only motherhood were that easy”.

May is the time of year that we celebrate moms. The way they nurture, love, care, and sacrifice for us is like no other. There is no one on earth like moms. They want the best for us and regularly put our needs above their own. They motivate and push us to try again or attempt something new. They give us permission to be ourselves and believe in us when it seems no one else does, including ourselves. They are often our greatest source of support and biggest cheerleader. The truth is we would not be here without them.

Think of all the blessings you’ve received from your mother. And then, if you are a parent, think of all the ways you’ve given to your children. It is easy to care for and protect those we love, especially our offspring. Why is it then so difficult to do that for ourselves? (Maybe because we’ve expended all of our energy ON our children?!) Wouldn’t it be great if we could love ourselves the way we love our children and or other loved ones? It can be so natural to take care of other people. Often, it’s even our default mode. We automatically respond without even thinking. Being like that can be a wonderful attribute. Thinking of others and their needs is a blessing. However, if we aren’t careful, it can become all consuming and we end up inadvertently neglecting ourselves. Learning to find that balance is key. There will definitely be occasions that we have to take care of others, especially our dependent children (or as we get older sometimes a dependent parent). But my word of caution is that we also find ways to insert our own wellness efforts.

I was with a group of educators recently conducting a workshop on self-care. As usual, we were talking about prioritizing ourselves. We discussed how it can feel selfish to put our needs over others. As the dialogue continued, I gave them permission to love themselves first (the “L” in S.L.O.W.). It doesn’t come easy and absolutely requires practice. During the break one of the participants came up to me and shared how reassuring and helpful it was for her to get permission to take care of her own needs. We talked about the freedom we have to make choices for ourselves. AND that if or when those choices don’t necessarily pan out the way we would need them to we also have permission to make another choice for ourselves, until we are satisfied. We are allowed to change our minds or to adjust a previous decision. It is ok to fine-tune and revise until we connect with what will work best for us. Be patient with yourself as you evolve and learn to identify and meet your own needs (or communicate effectively with others who can help meet your needs too). Think of all the times your mother was patient with you, while you learned to tie your shoes or clean your room or make a sandwich or do your homework (the list is endless, isn’t it?).

As we head into the final stretch of this school year, think about choices you can make about ways to take care of you. Are there new boundaries you can establish? Are there things you can do to nurture your mind, body, spirit, soul? Can you say no to something? Can you say yes to something else? Can you be more gracious with yourself? It’s ok to start small, take those baby steps towards a healthier, happier you. One your mother would be proud of. Can you take 2 steps forward? Mother, May I? Yes, you can!

(And Happy Mother’s Day, mom! Thanks for being you and helping me to be me. Love you!)

It’s Worth It

A lot has happened in the last 30 days, which is why this blog is posted later than my usual “first of the month”. I bought a new home, sold an old home, and moved. (Each of those things is like a full-time job?!) Additionally, I continue to support my daughter through an ongoing personal challenge as we marked its year anniversary. And said good-bye to three people, whose departure impacted those close to me in varying degrees. Each of those situations offers an opportunity to reflect.

Going through all of my belongings to either purge or pack provided a chance to look back and reminisce on personal and professional happenings. It can be mind-blowing to realize how quickly time passes and the way that some things change, and some stay the same. It’s also enlightening to see the things that hold value. There are things we have kept because they possess special meaning or memories, even if it has been years since we’ve seen those items. Even if we have to dust them off, they still are treasured.

There was a similar sentiment at the service I attended for a close friend’s family member who passed away, as we looked at family pictures, old and new, denoting all the good times life offers. There were various awards and recognitions this person received over their lifetime.  They represent highlights all of the things that really matter in life, family, friends, and your impact on the world. Listening to people share about this person and the good they did for others was moving. Heartbreakingly, within the following 24 hours I got word that a friend from years ago, had also passed on. The comments about her were similar. Consistently everyone said the same thing about her, how kind, calm, and gracious she was in her spirit. She had had health issues for decades, as long as I had known her, and yet she was steady in her joy and peace. Her passing brought people together from across the country who hadn’t been together in years. Her life impacted so many other lives. Old friendships reconnected in her honor.

In both of those situations I thought that is how I want to live my life; leaving here knowing I left a mark on this world for good and while doing so, I was kind, calm, and gracious. I want to have the kind of impact that draws people together to celebrate my life and reconnect with one another at a heart-level.

Throughout my homebase transition this past month, I was determined to emulate that demeanor. I didn’t always feel kind, calm, and/or gracious. There were many times I was anxious, stressed and/or irritated but I really fought to be at peace, to keep perspective about what really matters. And those I talk to the most (which this past month was my realtor and loan officer HA!) confirmed I did ok. For the most part, I kept perspective and my composure. I’ll take that as a win.

So, what does this have to do with you? Are there things you can take away from this experience for your own self-care practice? There is no question that things are challenging right now for those in the field of education. Some of you may also feel like you have several full-time jobs (like I felt this past month). There are so many things to juggle, remember, deadlines and demands to meet. It can feel overwhelming. It IS overwhelming! But what really matters? What do you value most? Metaphorically, consider are there things you can pack or purge? As you make decisions about how to use your precious time, think about what will have the greatest impact for good and align with what you value. Are there things that can wait? Matter less? Someone else could do? You don’t have to do everything, and you absolutely don’t have to do it all right away. (That is something I keep telling myself as I put self-inflicted pressure to have my new place all put together “today”)

And then as you do those things consider the way in which you do them. Would people say you are kind, calm, and gracious? It can be difficult to maintain that persona especially when things are harried and hard. But in the end, a life well lived is worth it!

Bucket Brigade

It’s that time of year when many people head south (or west) for warmer climates. Father Winter has worn out his welcome and many of us are counting down to Spring! It’s also that highly anticipated time in the school year, Spring Break! I have friends who are either currently in Florida or who have just been there or are heading there soon. Others are on their way to Mexico or somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s a gift to be able to travel again and to be someplace warm and by the water. If you are anything like me, those elements, sun and water, can be so rejuvenating and healing. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt to unplug either).

I love being near water! It does something to my soul. Sitting beside the ocean as the waves come crashing in, seeing the sun glistening, and reflecting off of it and onto the sand. There is nothing like it in my book. But I’m also just as happy being near a lake, which is one of the many things I love about Michigan in the summer is having access to so many of them. The calm stillness of those bodies of water also brings joy and peace. (I have seen waves at some of our lakes here too).

There is something healing about water. Just google “healing power of water” and you will see over 226,000 results. There are numerous books about the subject. It seems so simple and obvious, doesn’t it? I think about how often I may have a headache because I haven’t had enough water. Or I’ll offer that as a remedy to my children if they are complaining of an ailment “You probably need some water”. And often times, that is the solution. I don’t even want to think about all of the plastic bottles we go through drinking water. (I did just purchase a Brita pitcher so we can do our part by not buying any more water bottles).

I was in a meeting last week when an evaluator used an analogy around professional development and administrators imparting knowledge to their staff who then in turn impart it to their students. She said that administrators are the well of water, teachers then fill their pitchers to then fill the students’ cups. People on the call liked that image. Although one administrator said, “where does our source of water come from? Where is our ground source?” I thought it was a great question! And it made me think about self-care, as I frequently say during my workshops, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. We all know that administrators can make or break the environment in a school. They are important in filling others pitchers or cups or whatever receptacle you’re holding. But who is providing for their reservoir? Everyone needs their reserves replenished.

It conjures up the memory of Mickey Mouse in Fantasia with the broom bucket brigade. There were so many brooms carrying buckets of water that it overflowed. We don’t necessarily need flooding (or out of control brooms?) but how can we all carry water for each other. Or think about the images of women in various cultures that carry water for their community in buckets on their heads. Can we do that for one another? Can we form our own bucket brigade, so we have enough water to go around? Especially because there are so many fires to put out, as we’ve discussed in a previous blog.

This week as I continue my consultation with administrators in a local county, that will be my focus. During our fireside chat we will talk about ways to ensure they have their ground source first, so their supply is replenished. Then we can turn to help fill other’s pitchers to then turn to fill other’s cups. While also realizing that it is ok to take a break and/or tag team in the relay. Collectively, we can carry water for each other. Doesn’t that sound powerful and healing?

Also, enjoy your Spring Break! Use that time whether you are close to water or not to rest, relax and refresh. You’ve earned it!

Wait! What? Why?

If you follow my blogs or have ever heard me present, you know I am committed to living life slowly (thus my “living S.L.O.W.” business) and encouraging others to do the same. Essentially, that means prioritizing your own wellness. That can be done in a myriad of ways. Setting boundaries, being more self-aware, having courage to know your needs and communicate them are just some of the tenets I tout. I also talk about pacing yourself. This is something that I’ve brought back into focus in light of a new year.

Over the winter break, I deliberately did not work. That is the first time in years that I didn’t work over break. Initially it was hard to not check email (& true confessions, I did log in a couple times until I realized no one else was, so I stopped). As I weaned myself away from that habitual self-imposed expectation, it got easier and easier to unplug. I spent time reading, exercising, streaming, writing, and yogaing, (I decided to keep with the “ing” theme). It was heavenly. I loved the slower pace and needed it! I think all of us did!! Because of all of that, as much as I love the work I do, I was crabby on the first day back. From that point, I determined I was going to avoid getting sucked into the rat race (as much as possible).

Even though we are only a few weeks in to 2022, I’m happy to report that overall, I’m doing pretty well pacing myself. Here are some things that are helping me.

  1. I’m being more self-aware. I am paying attention to what I’m feeling. If I start to feel stressed, rushed, panicked, irritated, impatient, etc. I stop what I’m doing and check in with myself. What am I feeling and why? What is my energy level? How much can/should I take on? Where do I set the boundary? (Notice I didn’t say “should I set a boundary”) I know that is a lot of questions. Which leads me to my second tip.
  2. I’m asking more questions. Is this task urgent? If so, why? How urgent? Is this meeting necessary? Do all these people need to be in the meeting? Is there a more efficient way to address the topic at hand? Is this something that I can handle for someone else? Is this something someone else can handle instead of me? Can we divide and conquer? Can we consolidate?
  3. I’m communicating the above two tips with others. I’m being more open and honest about where I am and what I’m doing. I’ve told colleagues that I’m intentionally working on pacing myself. Not only does this hold me accountable but hopefully it encourages others to do the same. It makes it easier if we are working towards the same goal (to not be frazzled).

I’ve often said I’m not sure WHY things HAVE to move so fast. Take a moment to consider that. Think about a task you are currently working on and the deadlines for that project. What happens if you don’t make the deadline? What are the repercussions? Keep playing it out. Then what? And then what? Would you or someone else get hurt? Are there negative implications? Is it something that can be resolved?

I know I’ve been guilty more often than not of making mountains out of molehills. Things become so urgent or daunting because I make them that way. There may be some exceptions, but I truly believe not everything has to be as harried as we make it. I’m going to keep trying to go slow. I hope you will too. Perhaps if we pay more attention, ask the questions, and work at this together we can collectively slow our pace. Wouldn’t that be heavenly?

Go SLOW to Go Fast

I was making myself an egg for breakfast the last week before the winter break. I, like everyone else, was running from zoom meeting to zoom meeting, trying to wrap things up, squeezing in quick bathroom breaks or a bite to eat. I had 10 mins before the next meeting and needed food. I was also processing the last meeting and mentally preparing for the next, as I cracked open the egg…right into the trash can. “Lauren, what are you doing?! Click in here, girl” I said to myself. I told my colleagues during the next call what I’d done, we all chuckled because everyone could relate. A couple others shared similar stories. We were all in “zombie mode” or automatic pilot… just going through the motions, not present, not aware, and completely sapped.

Subsequently, I was driving to an appointment a couple days later. I plugged in the address and my arrival time was exactly 2 minutes before my appointment time. “Perfect!”, I thought. However, the roads were icy, so we all needed to slow down. I thought, “I should have left earlier, now I’ll be late.” (Which for a Type A person like myself is a “sin”) Ironically, as I slowed down to a safe speed, my arrival time did not change. Not only was I safe I was also on time. It was another good reinforcement for me.

The holidays couldn’t have come at a better time. Although, I can’t think of anyone who is feeling very festive this year. But EVERYONE definitely needed a break! How many times have I said in the last couple of weeks, “Everyone is hanging on by a thread and now that thread is fraying.” or “Who knew it could get even more exhausting?” And yet, here we are still hanging on, still persisting, still putting one foot in front of the other. We are a resilient bunch, and we will make it through. We may have bumps and bruises, but I also anticipate that we will be stronger and better than before. We are learning important life lessons if we allow ourselves to pay attention. (Like don’t open an egg over the trash can)

One lesson I hope we learn is that we don’t HAVE to move at the speed of sound. That there is value in slowing down. Being more intentional, thoughtful, present. Our society has conditioned us to take pride in being busy. Wearing “exhaustion” like a badge of honor. Bragging about how many meetings we’ve had or all there is on our “to do” list. I am definitely guilty of this. I love the sense of accomplishment, checking things off that list. However, I don’t like the feeling of anxiety or angst or not being able to fully attend to whatever task is in front of me. That isn’t fair to me or to those with whom I work.

One of the benefits of heading into a break is things quiet down. I relish opportunities to shut out distractions, to be thoughtful, contemplative with myself or a small group of colleagues to plan “next steps”. To me, this is when the real work happens. We can be creative, think outside of the box, explore new ideas instead of just reacting and going with the norm. It makes me think about what someone shared with me regarding the definition of insanity, “continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. We can’t keep going like this, somethings gotta give and it can’t be our health and well-being (anymore).

Those slow moments don’t just happen. They have to be forced. It is hard to push back against the tide (or tidal wave). But it is essential, if we are going to protect ourselves, one another, the young ones who look to us so we can create new, safer spaces for our school communities. These last couple of years, and even especially here in Michigan the last few weeks have raised our consciousness to do better. We must!

As we head into a New Year, my hope is that we can collectively commit to deliberately avoiding the rat race and being intentional about going SLOW. It is not easy; it is hard but not impossible (see Oct 2022 blog). We do have a choice. Whatever and wherever our finish line may be, even if we go slow, we will get there, and right on time! Here’s to a new (& better) 2022! HNY!

Back to Basics

**I wrote this before the Oxford tragedy occurred**

As I type this I’m sitting on a plane. I’ll be gone for 3 days. Typically, I over pack, “a girl’s gotta have options” is what I say. So, I almost ALWAYS check a bag. Plus, I hate schlepping a bunch a stuff through the airport and then fighting for overhead space. However, a friend challenged me to attempt to pack light and carry on. “You’re only going for 3 days! How much do you need?” (Coming from someone who is traveling for 8 days overseas and carried on their luggage?!) SO, I took the challenge and only brought the basics.  (And found overhead space in the row behind me, BAM!)

It’s no secret that those who work in schools are struggling right now. (Let’s be clear, they were struggling before the pandemic). Word on the street is things are harder this year than they were last year. As I work with educators around the state (and even through national calls/meetings) everyone confirms this to be the case. Citing shortage of staff (teachers, substitutes, bus drivers), exhaustion over “all the things”, pressure to make up for learning loss, addressing social emotional needs of students (and themselves), all while trying to be as “normal as possible”. It’s impossible. I have a lot of thoughts, feelings, and wonderings about why it has to be like this? And honestly, I don’t think it does. I’m sure there must be some way to relieve the pressure educators are under. It is definitely bigger than me, it’s systemic. I know my commitment to, and message about, educator self-care isn’t going to change the system as a whole, but I’m determined to try to help as much as I possibly can, even in my small sphere.

I read a blog this past week from Sean Slade. In it they wrote about many of these same things. That just telling a teacher to take care of themselves isn’t going to cut it. It used the metaphor of a burning building. Pulling someone from the fire and then throwing them back in. That image has stuck with me. I shared it during several meetings and professional development sessions I conducted over the last week, as self-care is always a focus of the conversation. Its challenging to want to support teachers, promote their wellness, while knowing self-care alone isn’t the answer. I liken it to passing out ice packs while sending teachers back into the burning building, to keep with the analogy.

Even though I know it isn’t enough, I still am convinced it’s necessary. Self-care is an act of survival. It may not fix everything, but we have to fight for our own well-being, even amid (or especially in) chaos.

How do we do that? I believe we get back to the basics.

  • Have the courage to say no. You don’t have to be everything to everyone and be everywhere. That’s hard to do this time of year, but it is ok to say no.
  • Trim down the to do list. What can wait? What MUST be done? I didn’t dust or vacuum my house for WEEKS while I was traveling this fall. No one suffered.
  • Find something for which to be grateful. Hold on to that. Look for silver linings, it makes a difference. There is always something good around you. Avoid the negative rabbit hole.
  • Live in the land of good enough. Good enough is good enough. Things don’t have to be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of good. Give it your best, then keep on moving. It’ll be ok.
  • Remember you are not alone. Tag team, divide and conquer, ask for help. Share your feelings, talk about your experiences, it can validate and bring comfort and support.

I hope you can reflect on these things. What can you let go of? Do you really need 5 pairs of shoes for a 3-day trip? (I only brought 2?! Plus, the ones I’m wearing ha!) Let’s only schlep the essentials with us through life right now. Things are hard enough; we definitely don’t need more or extra. Leave some of those heavier items behind. Let’s try to travel as light as possible on this part of our journey. And I’m here to help you put things in the overhead compartment. Sending you love and light!

Building Bridges

This past week I helped to host Michigan’s inaugural statewide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) conference, titled Building Bridges-Breaking Silos. There were over 250 in person and virtual participants. It was a time of sharing, connecting, learning, laughing and even shedding a few tears. Overall, it was a huge success. People left feeling loved, taken care of, and inspired to continue this great work. All the things I’d hoped people would experience at the event and then some.

I’ve been on numerous conference planning committees before but never as the chair. I compared it to planning a wedding. So many details to work out. However, all along I was determined to not allow any of that to stress me out or overwhelm me. Throughout the process of pulling this conference together I was also in the throes of “back to school” season which brings with it a whirlwind of travel and professional development opportunities (this year there were 30 to be exact in about an 8-week period). And being the “self-proclaimed self-care” promoter, I knew I needed to practice what I preach and try to model what I hope others will do for themselves. I was committed to going SLOW and building in self-care. I delegated various sessions and responsibilities to other team members and then stepped back and trusted them to man their part of the show. I did my part and let them do theirs. We would check in and support one another as needed but it didn’t all fall on me. And it didn’t need to, we were all in it together. That was a good lesson for me a “control freak” in recovery to stay in my lane, not micro-manage and let things work themselves out. In general, I think I did pretty well and so do the plan. I tried to stay self-aware and mindful of my warning signs (when I get prickly) and also intentionally attempted to communicate my needs and establish boundaries. The more I practice and verbalize my intentions the easier it gets. And we had a successful event.An hour before it started, I found myself sitting quietly with my colleague, reflecting, and preparing for a great day ahead. We weren’t running around frazzled and harried. We were at peace and brimming with anticipation of a great day ahead.  Now are there things to improve upon for next time? Yes, of course. There always is something that could be done differently. But working collectively with others helps to share the load.

Ironically, the other take away for me from this experience is the importance of building bridges. I’ve always been a relationship person. I love people (well most people if I’m going to be completely honest). I know that in the field of education and mental health we cannot go it alone. We all need each other. We are much more effective when we collaborate and support one another. I think this has become even more essential in the last 18+months. The level of exhaustion with educators (and others in care-giving professional roles) is at an all-time high and morale at an all-time low. Between COVID fatigue, unmet/unrealistic expectations for this school year, the political discord in our nation and other challenges we face, it is an unprecedented time. All the more reason for us to build bridges. If we all help carry the load it doesn’t feel as heavy, which hopefully allows for self-pacing and thus self-care.

It was amazing to see the way people came together, united in purpose to help support each other, students and their development of life skills that will enable them to be the best version of themselves. The energy and passion in the room as people swapped stories and experiences was dynamic. There was a buzz that was palatable. Building bridges between early childhood educators to those in k-12 arena to after-school settings through higher education and coming together to collaborate and exchange ideas was such a timely theme.

Even though the sessions were beneficial, thought-provoking, and engaging, I believe the greatest success of the conference was that we were all together. Developing new connections, rekindling old ones, forging paths, going forward together in a united effort, that’s what truly makes a difference. Let’s commit to building bridges with one another, and amazingly, self-care and wellness will become easier.

Hard But Not Impossible

I’ve spent the last several weeks conducting professional development sessions with educators (and even front-line workers at a local health department) on self-care and social, emotional and mental health. Some sessions have been in person and others virtual.   Regardless, the level of stress and exhaustion people are feeling now is palatable. (I’ve felt it myself as my travel schedule has been unrelenting recently-I definitely lost my “travel sea legs” during the last year and a half). Things can feel overwhelming and suffocating for those working in this field. “There is never enough time” is a consistent message I hear (and again, feel myself at various times). Time to focus on self is easily deferred for later. There are numerous other tasks that can seem to take priority over any wellness activity (including just saying “no”). It can be hard to stop the fast pace, concentrate on yourself and what you need, vs what everyone else needs. It is hard but not impossible.

I’m convinced that opportunities to SLOW down and attend to yourself exist. It may not be an extended vacation to the Bahamas or whatever your idea of a “break” looks like (some of you may be saying, “gosh just a day not crammed with back-to-back meetings would be delightful” I hear ya!). But during my own person whirlwind of travel, I have been intentional about watching for and capitalizing on any opportunity that presents itself to me to just go SLOW. Sometimes it may just be a couple of minutes before a presentation to sit quietly, connect with myself and breathe. Or maybe a meeting ends early and I can get outside for a quick break and some fresh air. I have to be mindful to look for those chances to take a brief self-care moment. I’ve also learned recently that how I decide to interpret or perceive the moment can make a difference in my self-care. What story am I telling myself about the current situation?

To elaborate on that, take this example. On one of my recent trips, a colleague and I had a 3.5-hour drive to a conference. I was scheduled to give a presentation immediately upon our arrival. We planned our departure based on those factors. However, she had a meeting run late so therefore was late to meet me, at our departure location. As I sat quietly waiting for her, determined I was not going to freak out. It was all going to be just fine. We finally got underway and had JUST enough time to make it there with very little wiggle room. Yet, within our first few minutes on the road, we were caught in traffic. There was an accident. We were stopped, not moving for about 15 minutes. Historically, I would be a nervous wreck. However, this time, (and probably for one of the first times in my LIFE), I was at peace. I was grateful we were healthy and safe. I sent up prayers for those in the accident and re-determined I was going to stay at peace regardless. There was nothing I could do about it. So, I surrendered, told myself the story that all would be well. That is a much better place to be than one of panic. I reserved my energy for my session. And as is usually the case, the universe worked it out and I walked in with time to spare (20 mins!). How validating!

This year I celebrated a milestone birthday. Therefore, several of my childhood friends are also celebrating with a planned weekend event. Unfortunately, I live two plane rides away from the festivities. The travel schedule plus my work commitments would only permit me to attend the weekend for about 36 hours. I wrestled for weeks, trying to decide what to do. Push through and attend? Stay home and rest? Miss out on a time of love, laughter and memories or take a much-needed reprieve and regroup? It weighed heavy. But again, I had to choose the story I was going to tell myself. Instead of all I may miss out on, I am prioritizing my wellness. And as many of us have done over the last 18 months, I will zoom or FaceTime in for some of the frivolity without adding wear and tear to myself. Like I said, self-care can be hard but not impossible.

What difficult situations are you facing? As I’ve spent time with hundreds of professionals over the last several weeks, the stories and experiences recounted to me feel heavy and difficult. There is so much hurt, concern and discomfort occurring in the lives of students and those who work with them or on their behalf. Times are hard, but they are not impossible. Self-care is possible. Look for ways to take care of you. They are there if you look for them!

Ignorance is Bliss

I just returned from a week away, in the Upper Peninsula (aka UP) of Michigan, where I was able to spend time discussing self-care practices with teachers and administrators from various districts as they prepare for back to school. I also had the opportunity to expand my circle and share some self-care tips with employees of a county health department down state in Michigan. Even though the job responsibilities of those professionals differ, the level of stress experienced is quite similar. Anyone who is in a field where caretaking of others is involved, knows it can be draining. Then you add in a pandemic and things are magnified. It’s obvious how much everyone is carrying. People are tired and tense but are also resilient and seem to be fighting for hope.

Even though I had an amazing time running from small town to small town in the UP and then with my new friends down state, it is hard to be away from the “office”. Work life doesn’t stop just because you are out in the field. It is unbelievable how quickly emails pile up isn’t it? Additionally, I was responsible for a training kick-off that took place the first day I was traveling. Fortunately, I had a couple colleagues graciously agree to stand in the gap for that event and also while I was unable to attend to email requests and meetings. I tried to check in as often as time and inconsistent Wi-Fi would allow but knew I would not be “on top of it” as usual. Being a “control freak” in recovery, I frequently have a difficult time, letting things go. It is hard to me to be ok with not being in the fray and allowing others to take over. This week was a good opportunity for me to practice. Some days I did better than others.

I could either choose to buy into the lies of “you are burdening someone else by not being available” or “you should handle your own responsibilities” or “no one can do this as good as you” or “it’s the end of the world if a ball gets dropped”. Anyone else out there relate to those myths? I had to realize it was my ego talking, none of those things are based in reality, especially in this particular situation. Yes, I do need to own my responsibilities, but I was responsible in asking someone else who is fully capable to pitch-hit. Why second guess or criticize my own selection (or their proven professionalism)?

Instead, I can choose to trust and to let things work themselves out. On good days, I had to intentionally decide that it was ok to just focus on what I had on tap for the day and not think about the rest. There is something to be said for staying out of the know, sometimes. In some cases, the less I know the better. I’ve often said that to and about my adult children. There are some things I’d rather not know about, at least until after the fact (especially once I know they are safe).

Now, granted I am a social worker, so I definitely care about people and their well-being. However, I also often joke that I became a social worker so I could be in everyone’s business and get paid for it. Historically, I’ve been very nosey and didn’t want to miss out on anything. However, I’m learning as I get older that I don’t necessarily need to always be in the mix (minimal case of FOMO here?!) I’ve determined it’s ok for me to not know all the scoop with so and so, or to be concerned with whoever’s drama, or to hear the latest on such and such (although I do still LOVE my weekend People Magazine reads, in all fairness). There can be a benefit to limiting my intake of information. Being selective about what I pay or give my attention to, can have its advantages. I can choose to reserve my energy and brain capacity for things that are important, that actually need my focus. Do I really need to be involved in this situation? Am I a decision-maker here? Is someone else better suited for this circumstance? Is there a legitimate reason I need to insert myself?  In many of these cases the answer is no, I don’t need to be included or involved. In those situations (& arguably others) my ignorance is bliss.

As I spent HOURS with educators and other health care professionals over the last week, I know there is a tendency to want to know everything especially about particular students or families with whom we work. My encouragement is to go slow…check in with yourself. Do you really need to know? Will it help you help them, or will it cause you to expend energy you could be using elsewhere, like on your own well-being? Sometimes the world does need you to be in it ALL and other times all will be well if you are away.