Step By Step

Moving from one home to another can feel like a full-time job. Having moved over 20 times in my lifetime I pride myself that I now have it down to a science. I’ve learned moving hacks through the years that make the transition easier. I also find pleasure in purging unneeded items from the current home as I prepare to relocate to the next one. I love finding new places for my belongings, repurposing décor, and making new memories. My mom and another friend of mine each bought a new home in the last few weeks. Going through the settling in process with them (mom via Facetime) prompted an analogy for self-care.

Reflect on a time when you’ve moved. If you’re anything like me, when surveying all of the boxes and bins that contain your whole life, it can feel overwhelming, unsure where to even begin.  Unpacking one item leads to another task and more “to do’s”. It’s almost like dominoes or maybe even Jenga. I can feel like I’m walking in circles uncertain of how productive I am being.

In helping my friend last week, I was tasked with setting up the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite things to do when moving into a new place. I believe in many cases; the kitchen is the heart of the home. It tends to be where most people congregate. It can be fun for me to find the flow of the room. Figuring out where to put everything that makes the most sense. Determining where to put the plates, glasses, the cookware, utensils, and organizing the pantry. First, I survey the space and decide my plan of attack. How can I do this job systematically? Where do I start? What is my first step? And then the next step? Taking things step by step helps tremendously! Taking things in small incremental steps (aka bite size pieces) makes it more manageable. And playing upbeat music helps (along with the promise of pizza afterwards). I can really get in the zone. The bonus is the sense of accomplishment when something like that is done. In my experience, if the kitchen and a bathroom are unpacked and a bed is made with clean sheets, the rest can progress in time.

Just like when looking at all of your belongings laying in chaos in one location can feel overwhelming, so does nearing the end of a school year. Things seem to pile up as we survey all that needs to be done before the summer break. Assessing how to get through the rest of the content and curriculum while navigating spring testing, along with end of year celebrations, award ceremonies, and programming can be daunting. It becomes crunch time. All of that coupled with exhaustion from the pace of the school year can take its toll. (Unless of course you’ve been following your own self-care plan and adopting some of the strategies we share here each month).

What pressure are you under currently? What feels heavy? Burdensome? How can you take it step by step? Is there a way to chunk out the tasks that lay ahead? Can you start with something small and build momentum? Can you prioritize, what really needs to be done first? Are there other things that can wait or intentionally ignored or skipped? (not your self-care!) Can you opt to not attend every event or only stay for part? Remember you have a choice and are allowed to set boundaries and time limits to preserve your energy.

Let me reinforce the notion that not doing “all the things” and choosing how to expend your energy is part of self-care. Allowing yourself to only do what you can do and not feeling guilty about what is left undone contributes to your well-being. Alleviating the pressure to do it all preserves your mental and emotional health. Giving yourself permission to pace, slow down, go step by step is the goal. I’m confident that if you take a moment to think through what feels like an unsurmountable mountain of work, you will find some place to get your footing, take a breather before you continue to the summit. And once you get to the top, with your health in check, you will have the energy to be able to celebrate all you’ve accomplished.

(and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention I had the New Kids on the Block song, Step by Step playing in my mind while writing this blog)

See Your Good

One of my nieces plays volleyball at her high school as well as through a club team. She and her club team were in a regional tournament a couple of weeks ago in a location about four hours from where I live. I didn’t have plans for the weekend, so I decided to go and watch. I’d never seen her play (truth is I’d never seen anyone play in a high school volleyball game before). It was so exciting! The way the court was set up we were able to sit right there on the sidelines within feet of the court (which was sometimes dangerous if a loose ball came hurling towards you). I felt like a celebrity sitting courtside.

I loved watching her and her teammates as they worked together, communicating “mine”, “got it” and moving through their plays. It was like watching a choreographed dance. One steps up to the net to set the ball; the other comes in from the side to spike it. There was so much energy and enthusiasm. It was evident they loved the game. I was so proud of my niece; she played well but more importantly she was a positive supporter of her teammates. She would encourage them if they made a mistake and they all celebrated after a good play. It was infectious.

One of the young ladies on the team was also a very good player. Her strong suit was powering the ball over the net once it was set up for her. I loved watching her rev up and slam it down many times for a game point. As in any situation, even when we are really good at something there are occasions when mistakes are made. That was the case with my niece and her teammates. They did not play perfectly in each match, there were miscalculations or missteps. All of that is to be expected. However, this particular teammate was so hard on herself. The rare occasion when she did miss the ball or didn’t get it over the net or inadvertently overpowered it to out of bounds, she was visibly angry and denigrating to herself. Because we were sitting courtside, I could hear her negative self-talk (cussing at herself) and see her expression and reaction (anger, stomping her feet, pounding her fists). It made me sad to witness. She didn’t deserve to feel so bad, it’s only a game. She just made a mistake. Of course, her teammates and the rest of us spectators would offer her reassurance. That seemed to help externally but I could tell she had internal dialogue underway.

I can totally relate. Maybe you can too. I know several of my inner circle friends and I have had these same conversations recently. We set expectations for how we should handle a professional or personal situation. We have it scripted intellectually, rehearsed it mentally and envisioned the outcome; however, if it doesn’t necessarily play out that way, we start the self-disrespect tapes. Or perhaps there’s a vulnerability or discord in a relationship and the insecurities mount. Maybe there was a task to perform, and you are late on the deadline, so self-loathing ensues. We can think of all the shoulda, coulda, wouldas in hindsight. It’s easy to perseverate on the “what-if’s” instead of celebrating the “what dids”. We seemed to be wired as a species to look for the shortcomings, the risks, the faults versus the wins, the advances, the successes. Even when I conduct self-care presentations and ask attendees to consider one thing they love about themselves, I’m consistently met with groans. It can be challenging to embrace and elevate our goodness. But it is there. It is evident to others!

My goal for the future is to treat myself the way I would treat someone else. Just as I would quickly support a loved one (or a young female on a volleyball court) to reframe and see the good in any situation, while still learning whatever life lesson is to be gained, I need to do that for myself. It’s ok (albeit beneficial) to acknowledge areas for growth but not dwell on them. Let’s make a pact to be gracious with ourselves, just like we would with someone else. Let’s keep practicing ways to love ourselves, see our worth for just being, and not just because we powerfully spike the winning point.

Now More Than Ever Before

Well, here we are again. As I write this, we are just days from heartbreak and reeling after yet another tragic school shooting in Michigan. It has been just over a year since our last one (November 2021). I’m at a loss for words about where we go from here and honestly, I’m not even sure any words really matter at this point, it’s more about action and healing. The number of people impacted is hard to measure and the depths of the trauma experienced will be felt for some time (forever?). I especially think about the families who lost a loved one so tragically, unexpectedly, and at such a young age. I am also aware of a particular student who attended Oxford high school during that shooting and now attends Michigan State University during this one. I can only imagine the feelings they are experiencing.

Because of my professional involvement with numerous entities that support young people across the education lifespan, I am in conversations consistently with others who work with students in K-12 and university settings. These last few days have once again been focused on how to support those affected by this tragedy. If/while things are underway legislatively and within public safety circles, there is also simultaneously work to be done on an emotional and mental health level. Not only do we need to attend to those directly impacted but also consider the professionals on the frontlines as well. It is natural to immediately think about those who experienced trauma firsthand and support them. However, too often we neglect the needs of those helping professionals or presume they are strong enough to shoulder the burden alone. This last week, the focus of the conversations has been about both, caring for the hurting and also for those helping the hurting.

There are some special people working to support those touched by the loss of lives as well as the feeling of loss of their safety and security. Meanwhile, my attention and those of a few colleagues has turned to those on the frontline of the healing process. We have circled up to pool our resources and devise a plan to help the helpers.

Historically, as a society, in my opinion, we have not done enough to consider and support the needs of those in caregiving professions. We ignore the working conditions some find themselves in day in and day out and how those circumstances can deplete their internal reserves. Assumptions are made that people can (and should?) sustain themselves, surely if they can help others, they can help themselves. This goes for educators, health, and mental health care professionals to name a few (truthfully everyone can benefit from a focus on their own wellness). If this was the case previously, now, especially these last few years it’s more pertinent than ever before.

As resilient as we are as a species, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its toll. Now more than ever before, the commitment to take care of ourselves and encourage others to do the same is essential. I am aware that no one has extra time, however I am convinced that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to focus on our own needs. My experience as I continue to practice what I preach is that it can be easily embedded in our daily activities. As I’ve shared in previous blogs, there are many strategies we can adopt to ensure we are prioritizing our own needs, while also fulfilling other commitments to family, friends, employers and/or others in need. It doesn’t have to hard, but it does have to be intentional. Pay attention to warning signs that you are running low on your energy reserves. How can you tell? What are give aways that signal a need to slow down and adjust your focus? When you notice those signals, take advantage of an opportunity to close your eyes for a few minutes, take a couple deep breaths, do some stretching, take a quick walk, watch a funny video, or text a friend as some suggestions. I’ve been touched by the outpouring of love and support happening on MSUs campus. It helps to know we are not along in our time of need. It’s inspiring how the community has rallied to bolster those impacted. That’s the silver lining is the goodness of people prevails. So, let’s continue to commit to loving ourselves and one another, it is needed now more than ever before.

Have You Lost Your Marbles?

When I am stressed or overwhelmed, I can become forgetful or miss things that I would normally pick up on or catch. It can feel like I’m losing my mind or as some would say my marbles.

Several months ago, someone shared an analogy with me where they equated their energy with marbles. In doing some brief research (meaning a google search) I found that others also use a jar of marbles as measurement but for other conditions. Brene Brown used it when talking about trust in relationships. I saw another organization uses this same metaphor in its work with clients who experience chronic pain. In each instance, the image of marbles is used to gauge the amount of something you have (trust, pain, or energy). What was shared with me went something like this “You own a jar full of marbles and carry it with you everywhere you go. However, each time you interact with someone throughout your day, you give them a marble (or maybe if it’s someone special they get more than one). By the end of the day, depending on how many people you interacted with, you will either be running low on marbles or may not have any left. It can be the same with energy. Each person you encounter can take energy from you and leave you on low or empty”.

Now to be fair, there are some people in the world, who get more energy from interactions with people (I have a close friend like this). She does not do well on her own for extended periods of time. She needs to be with others. That’s how she rejuvenates. I’m not like that. I have learned for myself, I can maintain energy around people during shorter intervals and then I need some alone, quiet time to refuel and regroup. From my vantage point that approach seems to be more common. I truly enjoy people but can only “people” for so long, especially if the interactions are superficial. I know I do better when conversations are personal, deep, rich, and thought-provoking.

Using this marble analogy has proven useful to me on several occasions as of late.

Tapping into my self-awareness while knowing my limitations has helped me manage my self-care in social and professional settings. I try to pay attention to my energy levels and parcel out what I can afford to expend. Some of this also depends on the setting. In certain situations, I have to be energized and highly engaged, so in those circumstances I think about ways to reserve my marbles or store up extra ones, knowing I will have to give more. Looking ahead helps to make those determinations. It’s not fool-proof as we can’t always control or anticipate what awaits us in the future but attempting to prepare is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is also helpful when I communicate with those around me about how many marbles I have left to give. It serves as a heads up to them and a reminder to me to pace myself and establish expectations and boundaries for that setting. For example, I went to dinner one night after work with my “antsy pants” friend, (the one I alluded to above…she knows I call her that) as we were walking back to her place after dinner, she invited me in to listen to music and hang out. It was late (to me), and I said “No, I already gave you all my marbles for the day.” She laughed, knowing who I am and what I meant, and bounced into her house, as I made my way home to bed.

Similarly, I used this strategy during a two-day in person work retreat. The days were full and extended, trying to cram in all the topics that needed to be discussed while the group was together. It was necessary but exhausting. The end of the first night I shared the marble analogy with the group, and it stuck. The rest of our time together we would check in with each other on their “stash of marbles”. “How are you? Running low on marbles?” It was helpful to have a mutually understood/common language way to gauge how we were doing. One of my colleagues really adopted this metaphor so she received a new bag of marbles on her doorstep when she returned home from the retreat. She was grateful and tickled!

I want to encourage you to consider checking in with yourself. How are you doing on expending your marbles and then what can you do to build back up your supply? Have you lost your marbles? Do you need to be with other people? Or do you need some quiet alone time? Does exercise help or binge watching a show or reading a book? Find ways to recoup and refill your stock and try to parse them out sparingly.

Hopeful New Year

I have a real love/hate relationship with Michigan. I absolutely adore Michigan from May through September. Subsequently, I absolutely abhor it December through February/March. (The other months I tolerate.) I have to really keep my crabbiness in check during the winter because I truly dislike being cold and all the implications that come with it. If I’m not on guard, I could become very whiney. No one wants that, including me?! Thus imagine my potential demeanor when for most of us across the continental United States, there was a winter storm for days right at the beginning of the holiday break. It would be realistic to think that after having lived in a mid-west state for over 30 years that I would be used to wintry conditions. And the truth is I am. I know the preparations that are required to ensure a successful hunkering down commences. And I’ve become very good at it. I learned through COVID that I’m actually very happy being forced to stay home. In fact, I don’t mind the bad weather as long as I don’t have to be out in it.  A realization I’ve recently come to as well, is that one of my issues with winter is contending with the driving conditions. I can drive on snow covered, icy roads, I just don’t like to. I believe that is a common feeling, but I know people who don’t seem to mind it. Bad roads don’t deter them from carrying on with their day-to-day activities. They are still fine to run errands or go to the gym and to be out and about. For some reason I’m missing that gene.

There have been a couple of occasions in the last several weeks that forced me to be on the roads in those wintry conditions. I was not happy. I have enough self-awareness (which is good since I train on that competency frequently) to know how I was feeling. I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics to get myself to a place of acceptance and peace. “It’s ok to go slow, you will be fine”. “All will be well”. Ultimately, what I experience in those moments is fear. I’m afraid of getting hit, hurt, and/or stuck, in that order. I don’t like to be or feel out of control. I hate when other drivers fly past me as I’m inching my way forward ever so slowly, splashing slush on top of me. I get irritated when I’m tailgated by people who want me to go faster, or impatient when stuck behind someone who’s maybe going slower than necessary (except for to them, so I try not to judge). I worry about loved ones when they are on the road in those instances too. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. It may not necessarily be on the road in the snow and ice, perhaps it shows itself in other situations for you.

I saw my fearfulness rear its ugly head in another situation. There was some transition happening in a work scenario in which I’m involved. Things felt unsettled and fluid. It was unclear how I could contribute meaningfully in the new set-up. I got negative, insecure, and reserved. That’s my defense mechanism when I don’t feel safe or protected. I become self-shielding and insular. I don’t like being like that. It doesn’t feel authentic to who I really am or aspire to be. Fortunately, I was able to candidly process my actions with a trusted colleague and do some more self-reflection to get to the heart of the matter. Fear. 

I am the kind of person that wants to make a difference. I want to impact the world for good. I want to leave things better than how I found them. I’m confident that many (all) of you reading this feel the same way. That is typically the type of person that chooses a career in a field such as we did. I can imagine that there are times when you may feel out of control. That you are forced to go slower (or faster) than you’d prefer. When it feels as someone may “crash” into you, take over your lane or throw something into your line of sight. You may be in a time of transition as well, feeling unsettled or uncertain about the future. The unknown can be scary.

What helped me through my own little personal winter storm, was to name it, to get humble, vulnerable and call it was it is, fear. It felt freeing to say, “I’ve been afraid.” Or “I am afraid.” Just like I have to do while driving in inclement weather, I have to slow down, get self-aware and come to a place of peace and acceptance. “All will be well”. The universe underlined this for me when the very next day after my fearful wrestling I saw a quote that said, “Hope is stronger than fear”. My friends as we start a new year, let’s hold onto hope as it is stronger than fear. That is my hope for you (& me). Happy New Year!

Leave It!

Growing up, my family had cats as pets. We weren’t really dog people. But as we got older, my dad decided he preferred dogs. And so, for a while my parents had both. I surprised myself when I later allowed my children (which meant me I eventually realized) to get a dog. I have many friends who have dogs (and cats for that matter). Most of my friends and family have at least one or the other. Regardless, I have always been impressed by people who have well-trained pets (and when I say pets, I mean dogs because we know most often cats do what they want, but I don’t want to disparage those who have well-trained cats. Especially since that is quite a feat).

I know people whose dogs not only obey simple rules, like “come”, “sit”, “stay”, but who can also do tricks, “shake”, “roll over”, “drop it”, etc. I never had a dog that could do that, I was just happy for them to do the basics, and even then, that was a challenge depending on the dog. One of the most impressive accomplishments I’ve witnessed is when the owner puts some type of treat on the ground and has the dog wait patiently to retrieve it, using the command “leave it”. Not only am I’m floored that the animal displays such self-control, but I also feel squeamish and impatient for the dog, thinking “come on, let them have it”.

At the risk of sounding dehumanizing, I’ve found myself using that same technique internally over worries I’ve carried. Many times, in the last couple of weeks, I have said to myself, “Lauren, leave it!” This approach not only makes me chuckle a little, but it’s become a good simple reminder to stop, or let something go, or to just move on.  I have a habit of perseverating on things.  Maybe you do too. Some things are more important and potentially worthy of “perseveration” or at least contemplation. Others not so much. Yet I find that a lot of brain power and energy can be consumed by over-ruminating. I’m in no way advocating that we don’t take time to process or consider important decisions, I am however encouraging us to determine what areas deserve that much headspace.

Maybe it would be easier if we had a delicious treat waiting to reward us for our determination, patience and/or self-control. I would argue that there is a reward to learning to “leave it”. It may not be Milkbone (ha! No thanks) but it could be a sense of freedom, relief, resolve, peace and/or extra time and space to do something else more enjoyable. That has been my experience with this practice. I’ve sensed many of those listed above, feeling lighter, less anxious. And just like with our four-legged friends, who need to practice the skill to perfect it, I have to do that too. It’s like a muscle I must regularly work, to remind myself to “leave it”. There have been plenty of opportunities to practice and build that muscle this month. Insecurities and my ego have shown up in ways I haven’t felt for some time. Those insecurities were ugly and unwanted, but they were persistent. I had to pay attention and intentionally choose to stop, sit, shake, and drop it. If our furry friends can do it, then I can too!

Some things were easier to release than others. Some days I didn’t need constant reminders and could “let go” on the first command. Other days I had to repeat the words to myself over and over until I could move on. It’s all part of the evolution process as we work to grow in our graciousness with ourselves, just like we would do with our pet. Celebrate the progress and overlook any missteps, trying again with full confidence the next time and the next time.

I hope as we end this year, reflecting on all the ups and downs, that we can celebrate our growth, the steps forward we made in our journey towards our personal well-being. And that we can acknowledge areas for improvement with grace, courage and resolve to keep at it, practicing the skills we’ve developed this year to be better for ourselves and those around us. Just like our love for our non-human family members is unconditional, give that to yourself as well. Take the good forward with you into the new year. As far as any of those pesky heavy energy sucking detractors, just leave it and savor the treat that awaits you.

Keep it Simple

One of my favorite pastimes at the end of a long workday is to watch “fun” TV. I’ll surf around and find video clips on YouTube, or I’ll indulge in a Rom Com movie (that’s all this social worker can handle these days= Fluff). However, unlike me, I got sucked into the Welcome to Wrexham series, about the football (soccer) club that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny purchased recently. It was heartwarming and funny and inspirational. I loved it and looked forward to the next episodes once they were available. Therefore, imagine my dismay when I log into the streaming service on my TV one October evening to get this notification “This service is no longer accessible on this device.” What?! Wait?! I haven’t finished the series!! So, after making several calls, first to my internet customer service then to the actual streaming service customer care, I learn that due to the age of my TV I could no longer stream that particular service. After all the back and forth, the bottom line was, I needed a new TV. And the truth is it was definitely time. My current TV worked fine but it was not a smart TV and therefore had its limitations. It was easy to get a new one, I picked it out quickly at the store, after doing some research, purchased it and was on my way! Easy! Simple! But then came the complication of getting it mounted. Would the bracket fit? Who could lift it up for me and secure it? After more calls and asks around a friend graciously assisted, and I was back in action after a couple of days. Not too difficult a task overall but also not as simple as I had hoped.

However, it was not lost on me that one simple thing, like wanting to finish a show, morphed into a week-long series of events; have an issue, figure out the issue, talk about the issue, explore resolutions to the issue, and finally resolve the issue (and then get it hung up and set up). I lamented to my sister, “why can’t things just be simple?” It can feel like one simple thing pops up but as it unfolds it can lead to other issues that make things not so simple. Sometimes each step can be easy to traverse but not always. Now granted this is a “first world” issue and there are much more difficult things happening in the world (& even in my own world), but you get the point. Because not only does that domino effect happen with home ownership, but I notice it professionally as well. One meeting or one conversation can trigger something else, which ends up opening Pandora’s box. Sometimes, that happens organically (and is necessary) and other times we can manufacture complications (that maybe aren’t so necessary). Those are the moments of which I’m becoming more aware.

Are we making things harder on ourselves thanthey need to be? And if, so why? I’m all for going above and beyond when it makes sense and is reasonable and feasible. But there are occasions when the basics are sufficient. Please don’t infer I’m promoting “quiet quitting” because, I’m not. I think we need to be forthcoming and intentional about where we draw lines and establish boundaries. Are there tasks we don’t need to do when work life is so harried? Are there deadlines that can wait? Are all the things we think are so urgent really that urgent? What happens if we don’t get it all done? Is that, ok?

It seems like we get so caught up in the rat race that we lose sight of what we are really doing. Things can be so busy that it’s sometimes easier to just keep going with the flow than taking the time to stop the flow and examine it. Why is it flowing so fast? Is there a way to slow the flow? (See what I did there with “slow”).

I noticed with a colleague this week that she did just that. There was a problem heating up to a boiling point. An emergency meeting was called. In those situations, my tendency is to want to run fast to the problem and turn down the heat. HURRY before it gets worse! Yet there she was, calmly stating that “Yes, we will resolve the issue but with a thoughtful and intentional strategic approach”. She is committed to still addressing it but not reacting to it. I was impressed! She and I had a good conversation the next day about that whole meeting and the way in which she responded, what I took away from it and then our commitment to “slow the flow”. We determined moving at an ongoing breakneck pace is not sustainable. It’s not healthy and quite honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary. Perhaps there are some occasions that call for speed and quickness in responding but I don’t think that is always the case. I am going to really work to monitor myself and help others to do the same. No need to over complicate or add extra. Pace yourself, be intentional, thoughtful, and protective of your own health and well-being. Others are watching and can be inspired by your example.

 Keep it simple, sweetheart! 

Dream Job

Anyone who knows me, even remotely, knows I love a good Target run! And anecdotally I know I am not the only one. In fact, I think I vaguely remember seeing someone wearing a t-shirt that said something to that effect recently. There is something about pushing that big red cart around the various sections of the store, scouring through the clearance, and checking each of the end caps looking for deals that brings peace, and maybe even a sense of victory or accomplishment. (“Look! I got this for $xx on clearance”). I even recall years ago (nearly 20 years now) when my youngest was merely months old, I escaped to Target, leaving her and her toddler brother in their father’s care. I’m confident I looked like some wayward woman as I slowly sauntered through each aisle unshowered, with a glossed over stare and in my sweatpants and slippers (I didn’t even have the wherewithal to put on shoes!). Regardless of how untethered I appeared (was) I remember the feeling of freedom and renewal I felt being ALONE in that store. It was (is) a safe haven. It’s a go-to when I need a get-away. (Each trip costs about the same as a vacation…not really, but I typically don’t leave there for less than $75. So, I have to be planful and careful.)

Thus, it came as no surprise to many when I recently began joking that I was going to leave my current employment and begin anew at Target. I had just come off the typical flurry of back-to-school professional development events and travel. Things settled down during the first week of school which provides me and my colleagues time to catch up on actual work before things get rolling again. And boy did they get rolling again. That next week it was off to the races. I believe this is due in part to the large amount of funding being offered to schools to support the mental health needs of staff and students. The need is great and the desire to meet that need is equally great. I’m delighted and impressed by the commitment of so many school leaders to prioritize this important (essential) contributor to school success. Considering all the learning loss that has occurred over the last couple of years, it would be easy to solely focus on academics and pushing to make up for lost time. However, embracing the whole child and remembering the humanity of each person in the building will only ensure greater achievements.

Because of that realigned commitment, things are busy for this school mental health consultant and her small but mighty group of colleagues. There were meetings on top of meetings, often overlapping one another. There were days we were left with our heads spinning and our to do list growing. You could feel things getting heavier as the week progressed. In times like that, when it feels like there is a fine line between laughter and tears, I attempt to find the laughter. It’s a coping strategy for me, to lighten the mood with humor. So, I started sharing my fantasy about working in the stockroom at Target. I imagine the quiet bliss of counting inventory alone in the back. “We have 57 pairs of black flats, 63 pairs of taupe ones.” Putting clearance stickers on out of season clothing, to bring others joy when they find the deal of the day, sounds heavenly. (Please note, my daughter works in retail, so I am very clear it is not all sunshine and rainbows). But the idea of hiding in the backroom with merchandise sounds good to me on days like that. We all got a chuckle out of that image and others shared what their dream escape job would be. Some agreed about Target or other retailers, others said working in a flower shop or a library. As committed as we are to the work we do, it was fun to step away for a moment and imagine a different type of living.

What I loved the most was when someone from a regional district, who I don’t work with daily, texted me after work one night and said “Today was definitely a day that I thought about hanging it up and going to work at Target. Thank you for the reminder that it’s OK to have these thoughts and then start over the next day. It’s an important message in this dysfunctional education machine, we just have to keep trying.” Friends, the work we do is hard. It’s invaluable but also draining and exhausting. It’s ok to call that out. To be honest and vulnerable. Look for the humor, find your people to cry and/or laugh with and then keep on trying. We have a dream job, helping each other stay strong while molding the next generation to become all they are meant to be. And when you need a break, know it’s OK, and I’ll be happy to meet you at Target!

Teacher Talk

I have just returned from three weeks on the road, traveling to various communities to participate in their “Back to School” professional development kickoff events. I keynoted at a few district-level sessions and then had some more intimate school-level opportunities as well. Overall, I think I got to interact with at least 1000 educators, mostly teachers but also other classroom and building support professionals. By the end, I was physically drained, ready to be home and to sit quietly. However, I was also internally energized and encouraged by the spirit of the people with whom I’d been in contact. It’s obvious how difficult these last few years have been on everyone, but there is no debating that educators (and students) are some who have had it hardest. And yet, while we’ve lost some good ones (our national teacher shortage is dire) there are many who are continuing to stay in the game. I was honored to spend time with them, shower them with love, acknowledgement, validation, and hopefully some optimism. It’s hard to be resilient and stay hopeful, yet I sense we are starting to see the human side of everyone in the school. It’s not a fast change, things usually aren’t, but I believe that we can get bit by bit, step by step. Here are some of the observations that filled my spirit and gave me courage during my travels.

You can immediately feel the energy of a building when you first enter it. Right away, one notices the aesthetic, what messages are posted, what and how many colors are used, these can all set a scene. Most of the buildings I was in were sparkling clean (or still in the process). You could tell people had been working hard (or some I saw still working hard) during the hot summer months to get ready, putting their best foot forward to welcome in the students and their families. It makes a difference. The quality of the physical environment demonstrates the value placed on those in its space. Next is how you are greeted, not only by the front office staff but by anyone with whom you come in contact. I can instantly think of vibe of each event I attended. One in particular where the music, laughter, cheering was so loud I could hear it from outside the building. That staff was having a blast! (I also thought, how am I going to top this?! But I just joined in the fun!) Another building I was greeted at the front door by the high school administrator who was dressed head to toe in mix matched Hawaiian print as part of their “Back to School” luau. The warm, fun, and friendly vibes matter. It sets the tone and it’s contagious. Remember the energy we extend is the energy that comes back.

Another take away was the humility of the school leaders. They are tired too! And all of those with whom I interacted are concerned about the well-being of their staff. One Superintendent, during the lunch break vulnerably shared his story and asked what he could do to support his team. It was a heartsy, rich conversation that inspired me. Another building leader sat tearfully during the session reflecting on how hard things have been and the desire to protect her team, wrapping her arms around each of them. Which leads to my final observation.

Educators need one another. There’s a unique bond that happens between people who have been through traumatic experiences together. Think of people like the first responders to 9-11 or veterans. There’s a unique camaraderie, a familiarity, and a recognition. I noticed that with this group of professionals too in each location. They ensured everyone was included or acknowledged. There were fun playful jabs at one another during our activities. There was a sense of community and support. I have always believed we need each other, but I’m more convinced than ever before that it’s essential. For us to continue to forge ahead in the pursuit of educating our next generation while contending with all the chaos that ensues around us, we need to lean on one another.

To that end, along with my colleague and friend, Living S.L.O.W. is launching Teacher Talk virtual support groups. They will take place, for an hour, every other week. You pick either a Tuesday or Thursday session to attend. It will be a safe space for educators to share their experiences, emotions, successes, or even opportunities for growth in a supportive environment. We hope you’ll join us so you can feel loved, supported, and inspired to carry that into your building and into the new school year. Take care of you! You deserve it!

Euro Worth It!

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Greece in June. I went with my mom for a 10-day Greek Island Hopper adventure. When asked, I say, “It was the trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to go back.” In truth, I contemplated how I could stay there and work remotely. I loved the energy and the vibe of the people. Someone coined it “the good will of the people”. That describes it perfectly. They were people of good-will for sure. Besides the lovely locals, the views were spectacular. At every turn we would ooh and ahh at the crispness of the white buildings among the backdrop of the mountain or volcano upon which they were built. (We also oohed and ahhed at all the yachts in the harbors too!) Exploring the history of ancient ruins and realizing the ingenuity of people all those MANY years ago. It was amazing! Again, the trip of a lifetime.

Besides the highlights mentioned above; breathtaking scenery and the positive energy of the Greeks, it was also a gift to unplug, totally and completely for nearly 2 weeks. I can not remember the last time I’ve done that. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely unplugged for a few days here and there, but not for ten!?! There is something to be said for stepping away from work to that extent. To be honest, I definitely had pangs of guilt or curiosity about what I was missing back home and if I was “needed” or “neglecting” responsibilities therefore burdening others who were left to pick up the slack. But overall, I chose to enjoy the moments, relish in the freedom, and trust that everything was and would be just fine. And you know what, I came back refreshed (and infected with COVID) and everything was just fine. I was able to reacclimate and jump right back into the fray (albeit a bit slower no thanks to “the Vid”) but life cycles on, just like getting back on the bike.

Furthermore, we went with a tour group and subsequently made many new friends while we all experienced life in a different country together. There were a couple of families in our group, celebrating graduations. And then several pairs of ladies who were there with their sister or childhood best friend. We ended up becoming our own little clique the 8 of us, not to the exclusion of others. We would all mix and mingle but more often than not we found ourselves sitting together for meals. We enjoyed our new experiences together, learning, laughing, sight-seeing, eating, photographing, and shopping. In each city there were opportunities to spend our euros on souvenirs and other trinkets to commemorate our time there. What struck me as I observed my new compatriots milling around the little shops, was how eager they were to buy for others but hesitant to get anything for themselves. That is common, especially for women who are often socialized to put others above themselves. I know I’ve been (am) guilty of that too at times. I found myself encouraging several of my new friends to also treat themselves. They would say, “I love this ring, but I really shouldn’t get it.” Mind you these items were not very expensive. You could see the internal struggle taking place. In all honesty, I can also be frugal (which at times is a blessing) and I can see the point of debate “Well I got to take this trip so that’s my gift”. Which is a legitimate argument. However, if this purchase is going to bring you joy (and not harm) then why not?! Spend those euros! You (Euro) worth it! After much deliberation all of them got something special to bring home as a reminder of a place we left part of our hearts. And none of them regretted it and in fact were beaming to show off their purchases.

What does all of this vacation recapping have to do with self-care? Glad you asked. I share all of this to first encourage (nay, implore) you to visit Greece sometime in your lifetime. You must go! (I’ll go with you!) Secondly, to remind you the value of stepping away. Typically, educators get the summer months off (some more than others), but it is vital that you allow yourself to completely unplug. Give yourself permission to ignore those pangs to pull you back in. You owe it to yourself and those you work with to get refreshed. And then finally, spend the money! Be responsible but find something that makes you happy and get it. It’s ok to spoil yourself from time to time! Spending money doesn’t HAVE to be part of self-care but finding things that make you happy definitely does. You (Euro) are worth it!