Thanks Getting

It’s that time of year when we begin to shift our focus to the upcoming holidays. I imagine they will look different this year from the traditional holiday settings of which we are accustom. We are becoming experts at adjusting and modifying our “normal” way of life. (not to say we like it or aren’t feeling the fatigue of making those adjustments, I think we are just getting more used to it).

Arguably, not all of the shifts we’ve made in these last several months have been negative. Perhaps through this time we have found some “new and improved” ways of life. More time at home to engage with family or friends has been nice. I am definitely not traveling, or shopping or eating out like I used to, which is a cost-savings. Being able to focus on hobbies and health is a blessing as well.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we typically reflect on all we have to be grateful for, which may also look different this year. Perhaps our perspectives and priorities have changed in some ways. Maybe we are grateful we still have our health or a roof over our heads or jobs. In uncertain times, the things that matter most rise to the surface. If you follow my work or blogs you know I am a huge proponent of taking time to reflect, pay attention to and appreciate the good happening around you. That is one of the reasons I like Thanksgiving. It’s a reminder to SLOW down and give thanks.

However, since we are doing things a bit differently this year, I propose in addition to giving thanks, that we consider ways to get thanks. That may feel weird or awkward or even selfish to think about how to do something like that. But this is a weird and awkward year and I am here to tell you it is not selfish to prioritize your own needs. Just stick with me here…I don’t necessarily mean to look for others to acknowledge or appreciate you (although that is also a plus). What I intend here is for us to look for ways to acknowledge and appreciate ourselves. How can you pat yourself on the back? What are you thankful for in and of yourself? How can you give yourself gratitude? What are you doing well? What are your strengths? Think about your positive attributes and accept your greatness.

This idea became more crystalized for me through a recent dream. I dreamt that I was in a white bathrobe walking through “my” house, which happened to be a large house with many rooms (so clearly NOT my current place of residence). I was trying to get upstairs to the bathroom to take a shower and people kept following me around the house. Some people looked familiar, others did not. One group of about 3 or 4 people were even in a golf cart chasing me right up to the bathroom door. I was frantically running around the house (in my robe remember) shooing people as I closed and locked them out of windows and open doors. There were groups of people eating and listening to music on the back patio. (I shooed them away too although not sure why that mattered since they were outside?) I woke up taken aback and a little out of breath, but then realized I did a good job of setting boundaries and staying focused on my needs. I was proud of myself and grateful for the lessons I’m learning to take care of me. I didn’t let all the people (crawling through the windows and following me down long halls) with their demands stop me from doing what I needed to do. I was kind but assertive, “I can’t help you right now. I need a shower”.

It doesn’t take a dream interpreter to point out the meaning of that dream. How many of us feel that? We can feel like we are constantly being pulled on or interrupted by what seems like hundreds of people, when we need the space, time (and privacy?) to do the simplest task.

Those of us in the field of education, but really in any position of caregiving, are frequently pouring our energy, time, heart, and mind into others around us. That is the nature of our work, giving. But for this particular time of year (although it doesn’t have to just be relegated to Thanksgiving), how would it be if you also thought about getting. Can you get some time to read a book for fun or watch a movie or take a nap or a walk? Can you get away for some alone “me time” to recharge? Can you get together with people who restore your spirit? It’s not just about pouring out and giving to others, it’s also about bringing in and filling yourself up. Get those needs met and then give thanks!

Pace Yourself

In my opinion there is no better place than Michigan…in the summer! Well and actually spring is ALWAYS a welcomed season and fall is a beautiful one too. Since “perfect” weather days can be rare and don’t last long in this midwestern state, Michiganders are good at maximizing them when we get them. On those days it seems like everyone heads outdoors. They golf, spend time at one of the numerous lakes, tinker in their yard or on a car in the garage. People are out, running, biking, or walking their dogs, kids, or both. Summer in Michigan is my FAVORITE time of year! I love being outside. I love the fresh air, the sounds of nature, the colors around me and especially the warmth of the sun.

During this pandemic, walks outside have been a lifesaver for me. Depending on my mood, I have a regular route I take and other times, I’ve enjoyed exploring new neighborhoods. I’m usually on my own, quietly collecting my thoughts or just zoning out. Often, I’ll take my headphones and lose myself in the memories the songs conjure up for me. And on occasion I’ve gone with a friend, or one of my children may join me. There are days I am on a good clip, making my way up and down side streets, while avoiding other people whose paths I may cross. Then there are days my pace is slower, more of a stroll. Sometimes I go 2 miles and some days I may go 5. It differs based on my energy level and what I feel like I need that day. I tune into my body and allow it to guide my steps. Earlier on this season, I was tempted to feel guilty if I “only” walked 2 miles. But now, regardless of how far or fast I walk, I acknowledge that I was taking care of myself that day. It has been a balm for my soul.

Not to state the obvious, but our world is in an upheaval right now, including (and especially?!?) in the field of education. Everyone is aware of the current dilemma surrounding “school”. How will students be educated right now? How can we keep everyone in the building safe? Do we even go into the building? How can we support students who are anxious, traumatized or need additional learning supports? What about all the teachers who are also needing extra support? So many questions, so few answers (and truthfully there seem to be no right answers). We are all in such a difficult time.

I talk to educators every day. The person on the other end of the phone line (or zoom camera) may be different but the conversations are the same. Educators are worried, stressed, exasperated, exhausted, and yet determined to do the right thing for their students. They are diligently making lemonade out of lemons. Working hard to adjust and be responsive. Looking for help and inundated with resources and emails but have no time to sift through them for answers. This pace is not sustainable. The pace BEFORE the pandemic was not sustainable.

What is the answer? How can those of us in this arena pace ourselves? I believe it’s possible, albeit not easy. There has to be a shift in priorities. Ideally, our education system as a whole would make this priority adjustment, but realistically even a commitment to shift at an individual level can be an effective place to start. Recognizing your worth and establishing boundaries that are feasible to maintain is a step in the right direction. Your mental health and wellness are essential to your ability to meet your students’ needs. They need you to be at peace, happy and whole. They look to you as a touch point and a role model. Ensuring you have what you need to be able to show up for them is important.

Think ahead about the coming week or month. Is there a way you can pace yourself? Educators are good at helping students’ scaffold and chunk out their work.  Can you do that for yourself? What are viable expectations? What do you have the energy to do, today? Is this a “short route” day or do you have a little more to give? Do you need to go SLOW and quiet or can you juice it up some and push a little harder? Regardless, just know that whatever you have to give is sufficient. That fact that you continue to show up is significant. Listen to your body, let it inform and guide you. All you can do is what you can do. This is your journey; you get to determine your steps. Go at your pace.

You Might as Well

From my experience, having reached a certain age, my body allowing me to sleep through the night uninterrupted is a rarity. Either my bladder needs attention, or my temperature can’t regulate, or my arm, neck, or leg gets stiff, tingles, cramps or I can’t shut off my mind.  Sometimes it can be all of the above!  Maybe some of you can relate? After nights like that I don’t typically feel very rested and ready to face the day ahead. Subsequently on the nights that I do get full rest, the next day I feel like a new woman!

As I write this blog, I am coming off one of those nights. I slept 8.5 hours straight through. I’m not even sure I moved at all. That’s when you know you are tired.  In talking with educators and colleagues who work with educators, that is the reoccurring theme. Everyone is tired! (truth is it isn’t just people in the education field, almost everyone I talk to, regardless of their profession, is exhausted). I keep thinking “why?”  How is it that the majority of us now stuck at home, not running around from meeting to meeting or managing 30+ students in a classroom, or traveling from conference to conference, are still dragging? How can things feel busier now when we were at the breaking point before? Why is it so draining to sit in front of a computer on zoom?

I’ve been asking those questions in the last few weeks and many of us just speculate. But what keeps coming up in those discussions is the emotional toll this time in our lives is taking on us. It’s the calibration of a new way of working; the shift from our typical routine to a new approach. That is compounded by the strain of an ongoing (no clear end in sight) pandemic, and social unrest coupled with political and economic tensions, and oh yeah let’s not forget, Mother Nature is having her say too. It’s a lot to shoulder. For any of us just one of those issues would be a lot to manage.

This past week I co-presented with a professor from Louisiana State University (fortunately Hurricane Laura didn’t impede his ability to join in) to a group of school and district administrators on the need to prioritize their own self-care. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people attended and by the level of engagement (which is much more challenging via zoom). But to me, it just re-emphasized how much people need these reminders. It was great to process with them, validate the things they are already doing to take care of themselves. We brainstormed new ideas of ways to integrate self-care into their busy days. We gave them permission and support to recommit to their own well-being. I think all of us were re-energized after that session.

What’s become clearer to me during these various conversations about self-care is that it takes energy. I’ve noticed that as I purposefully establish boundaries, either in relationships or work expectations, it can feel tiring. Trying to protect myself, my own well-being can be hard sometimes. I worry about letting others down, hurting or burdening someone else. I fret about making sure I’m saying just the right thing or sometimes I may simply have the fear of missing out, although as I get older, I feel that less and less. It takes deliberate intention, consciousness, and awareness to prioritize your own needs, and that takes energy.  I have to be courageous, stand my ground with strength and determination. It can feel awkward and weird but in the end it feels right.

How I see it is, if we are going to spend our energy regardless, we might as well spend it on ourselves. When we put our needs first, we are then healthy and whole enough to in turn help support those around us. We cannot pour from an empty cup. It’s simply not possible. But when we fill our cup, we are then able to share with others from our supply. The end result has been worth it, every time. Staying true to my needs, regardless how hard it may have been to get to that point, has been worth it. There is freedom on the other side (and perhaps a full night of uninterrupted sleep as well, doesn’t THAT sound good?!)

SLOW and Steady Wins the Race

I’ve really wrestled with what to blog about this month. There is so much consternation around “returning to learn” and how things will be for schools in the fall. The race is on and planning is underway. Concern for students’ and educators’ health and well-being is paramount. Can everyone adhere to safety measures if in person instruction occurs? Conversely, there is worry about academic progress (or lack thereof) and other implications for families with remote learning. There are valid points to each perspective, pros and cons galore. Everyone has an opinion and often those are made public (as is the way of our world these days). It can become all-consuming and is easy to get caught up in the swirl of the conversation and is equally easy to be drained by it. It feels like this is no win situation.

At times, I’ve had to step away from social media and the ongoing dialogue. (or even while writing this blog and reflecting on this topic, I had to step away for a piece of chocolate rum cake my sister made me…see how I practice self-care?!) It can become anxiety producing to play through all of the various scenarios. I asked my 10-year-old niece what she hoped would happen in the fall and she was divided. She said, “I want to be at school with my friends and teachers, but I don’t want to have a wear a mask all day.” Then she added, “I don’t think I could sit in front of a computer for 5 hours every day and I don’t really want to.” Additionally, I’ve asked teachers I interact with how they are feeling about the fall and their perspective about the different options. So many of them also see both sides. They love being with the students (their reason for going into this profession in the first place). But also realize the difficulty of ensuring everyone’s safety in the building.

Regardless of how things play out, and it seems like it will be different depending on location, now more than ever the need to attend to self-care is essential.  It can seem impossible to prioritize self-care during “crunch time” but that’s when it’s needed most. It is easy to get caught up in all of the noise and stress of the to do’s and neglect ourselves. I know I’ve been guilty of that many times (and shared about those times via previous blogs). But my encouragement to you is to find those moments to go SLOW and steady.

It can be difficult to do that, while racing (or zooming) through the day. There are requests and deadlines and emails in addition to our own personal anxiety about the unknown future. However, I’m learning new ways to ensure that I go SLOW and steady myself while the world spins around me. I have recently started to set boundaries with my schedule. I am intentional about how many meetings I will schedule in one day or if I have an unusually full day, I lighten the load for the next day. I look ahead and think about how much I can handle depending on the intensity of the meetings at hand. Do I have time built in for a bathroom break, to walk the dog at lunch, to even eat lunch? (sometimes I take a 10-15 power nap during my lunch break if I have a full afternoon of meetings). I have also begun to ascertain my level of involvement in certain meetings. I’ve begun asking if or how much I’m needed for certain meetings? Or maybe I am not needed for the whole meeting? Perhaps I stay for the first 30-45 mins to contribute and then bow out. (But note, IF I do that then I am truly present and participate during that set time). I have also established “hard stops” at the end of the day especially on those days I’ve gone back to back.

Lastly, I’m continuing to work on staying in my lane. I am realizing I don’t always have to “fix” everything (which is completely unrealistic anyway). I’m practicing staying quiet and letting others do some problem solving. I’m finding that I don’t always have to insert myself and not everyone needs to know my opinion and sometimes my opinion really doesn’t matter. It’s good to stay quiet and listen and learn. These strategies have helped me reserve energy and are allowing others to grow and develop as they take on leadership roles.

Last week a colleague said “Lauren, I’m impressed because I’ve noticed you actually do make sure you build in small self-care activities for yourself”. That was one of the best compliments. I hope the same can be said of you by your co-workers. Let them take notice of the ways you ensure you go SLOW and steady, so just like in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, you win your race, whatever the course.

Speak Your Truth

These last several weeks with the protests and the commitment to change racial inequality, social injustice, and police brutality have moved me. It has been heartbreaking to see the loss of life, to hear the stories and experiences of so many and it’s been humbling to do my own reading, soul-searching and reflection on ways I have contributed to this societal norm, even if inadvertently. I have spent my career advocating and fighting for students who attend schools in under-resourced communities but that doesn’t mean I am not culpable or don’t have more to learn or change as we work to establish more equitable practices. Aside from those emotions, I have also been inspired and impressed with the courage and honesty expressed through the peaceful protests. I love seeing the diversity of them, people from so many walks of life joining together as a unified front demanding change. It gives me hope for a better tomorrow for humankind.
In addition to this larger scale reckoning with reality, personally I’ve had my own opportunities recently to speak my truth. I’ve had a few experiences or conversations that didn’t sit well with me. I’ve gone on my own “protest”, (which means walking around my neighborhood to sort out my feelings). I’ve had to wrestle with my truth and find the courage to speak it out loud to others, to honor myself. I’ve had to communicate what I am ok with and what I’m not. Being vulnerable is hard. Being honest about my thoughts and feelings in personal and professional settings can feel awkward. Putting my needs first at times can feel selfish. It isn’t always easy, but it is freeing.
For years, my goal in life (among many others) was to be “Happy and Free”. Generally, I feel like I’m there. But when I’m not “happy and free”, I feel that too. It’s not a good place to be, my stomach hurts, I don’t sleep well, I can’t focus on other things. I don’t like it there and feel unsettled until I return to that space. I think many people share that same experience. They aren’t happy and free. Unfortunately, it is easy to become used to that sense and eventually become immune, unaware and feel stuck. However, you/we, have the power to ensure our happiness and freedom. We become empowered when we say what we need or want. It’s ok, speak your truth. Be honest about what you are feeling. Share your perspective. Have those crucial conversations. What works for you? What aligns to your values, your desires, your plan for yourself? I’m giving you permission to voice those things to others. You have equal value and importance.
Because I’m still learning how to speak my truth, depending on the intensity of the situation I sometimes have to practice. My family laughs at me, but I have even been known to use note cards. I jot down my thoughts/feelings on an index card or in my journal to ensure that I say everything I need to say. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget important points I want to ensure are communicated. This technique gives me strength and courage to use my voice. If it was significant enough to write down it also needs to be said. I don’t always need that assistance, especially as I continue to practice and build my truth-speaking muscle, but when I do need it and use it, it helps.
When I’m in my car, which has not been much lately, I sometimes listen to stand-up comedians on Sirius radio, depending on my mood and what I need at that time. Now that our shelter at home has been lifted, I went to meet a friend at a park. On the way, I heard a comedian tell a joke about his pledge to live by the 10 Commandments. He mentioned how easy it is to keep some of them but how hard it is to live by others. He gave examples of various commandments and his effort to abide by them. He shared that he is committed to “not telling falsehoods” and always being honest. He said his approach to this feat is to use a different tone of voice (i.e. sarcasm). It was hilarious! And timely since I’d been thinking about this whole “Speak your truth” notion. Being honest is hard! It takes courage, whether you are one person in a large group of people who all share your view (although strength does come in numbers), or if you are alone, with coworkers, your boss, or your family and friends, standing up for yourself. But speaking your truth for you is necessary and worth it! I want you to also be happy and free!

Reset

If you follow me, you know I write a monthly blog and post it on the first of every month. This is my third blog since the pandemic began and my second one since we’ve been in “shelter in place”, at least here in Michigan. It’s surreal to think that we have been in this stance for over 70 days. In some ways it doesn’t seem possible that two+ months have passed already, yet on the other hand it feels like we have been like this “forever”. In the last couple of weeks, it seems like people have begun to regulate, learning to adapt and adjust to this new way of living. We are used to zoom meetings now (and starting to complain about them, like we did about our in-person meetings). We have become accustomed to donning masks and gloves if and when we leave the house. We monitor the COVID data and celebrate that flattening of the curve and the decrease in daily cases/deaths. And we are acknowledging the silver linings (see March 2020 blog); appreciating John Krasinski’s “SGN” vlog, virtual happy hours, more time to connect with family and friends and binge watching everything. Through all of the difficulties we’ve experienced in these last few months, we have proven our resilience.
Recently, I was asked to record a podcast with an organization with whom I have a contract. During our conversation on the podcast I was asked what I hope comes from all of this. I told them the word I keep using is “Reset”. (I even asked my son, who is a musician, to write a song called “Reset”. He is working on it. I heard his lyrics and cannot wait to hear it once it’s completed).
We are all well aware that life before COVID, was harried and had been for some time. Stressors were increasing, mental health and wellness decreasing. People were buckling under the pressure of expectations and demands. Struggling to keep up was the name of the game. “Busy” was the given answer when inquiring about how someone was doing or how things were going. I felt it, noticed it, disliked it, and thus began Living S.L.O.W..
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I choose to believe that good comes from bad. I am the type of person who looks for “the lesson”. Why is this happening? What is to be gained from this experience? I have fought to hold to that belief even during this time. Fighting to see the good and looking for ways to use this time to continue to evolve into a better version of myself.
As many states begin to re-open, signaling our emergence back out into the world, my hope is that this is an opportunity for all of us to reset. Take this moment in time to realign and re-establish our priorities. Ideally, we would reset globally, politically, nationally. I would be thrilled if there was a reset academically. As we moved to online learning, did you notice the shift to just focus on the basics? Checking in with every student, making sure they were safe and secure. Did they need food or emotional support? That became our emphasis. Permission to lighten the academic expectations, including no achievement tests and modified AP tests was allowed. We started to pay attention to the humanity of students, their families, and educators. How can we carry this forward in the coming months?
I’m not so sure my grandiose wishes for a complete overhaul of our established systems will be realized, but if nothing else, perhaps we can reset personally. That’s always a great place to begin. What are things you have been doing now that you would like to continue? Have you taken more time to get outside? Taken more walks? Become more physically active? Spent more time with family? Reached out to friends more often and in innovative ways? Developed new hobbies? Read more? Found creative outlets? Become more patient and tolerant while waiting in long check-out lines? Acknowledged people normally taken for granted (cashiers, nurses, teachers, mail-carriers)?
Just like iron is refined with fire, so is our human nature. When push comes to shove, many of us rally. We come together, make adjustments, rise to the occasion, and come out on the other side stronger and better. Let’s commit to using this time, however long it lasts, to establish and maintain the good that has been produced. It is time for a reset!

(last minute addition: in light of the recent events this underscores the need for a reset)

Do What You Can

A couple of years ago a friend of mine sent me a quote that says, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” I have it hanging up in my office and refer to it often, either for my own personal reminder or to impart it to someone else. My understanding is that the author of that statement is unknown, but whoever originated it was on to something!
Initially, as things were beginning to shut down due to the Corona Virus, and people were encouraged to stay home to “flatten the curve”, I thought, “this may be an opportunity for people to go SLOW”. I had the misconception that things were going to lighten up for many of us, especially for those of us who work in the field of education. I knew it was going to be challenging for workers in the health arena (although I didn’t realize to what extent-so let me again say “Thank you” to those professionals). However, I also didn’t realize how drastically things were going to shift for our educators either. It’s been impressive to see the efforts made by so many teachers. I see them working tirelessly to connect with students, ensuring their emotional well-being while also stabilizing and enriching their academic achievement. What I thought was going to be an opportunity to move forward at a more reasonable pace has become yet another break-neck race, complicated by various limitations, including attending to personal familial needs and priorities, along with any emotions; fear, anxiety, grief, that are bound to be felt at this time.
On that note, let me take a moment here, to give you permission to feel your feelings (and to let others around you feel theirs) all without judgment. These are scary, uncertain times. It could feel unnerving to not know when all of this will end. I suspect if we knew for sure that by XX date this would be “done” it would be easier to manage. I imagine we would have countdowns everywhere, “12 more days, 11 more days, 10 more days…” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and so we continue to move ahead, not knowing exactly where the finish line lies BUT knowing we are making a difference, doing our part, while staying at home. And we will get through this together.
Additionally, there is a lot of grief being experienced. Loss of loved ones, loss of time with family and friends, loss of freedom, loss of milestone celebrations; birthdays, weddings, graduations. It is ok to be sad and disappointed about what we have sacrificed. Take the time to mourn those things. Cry your tears, journal your thoughts and emotions, allow yourself to go through that process. Feel your feelings. It can be healing.
It has been stated frequently, that these are unprecedented times. There is no guidebook for how to transition work, school, life into sequestered states. We are all trying to figure it out as we go. How do we feed hundreds of thousands of children? How do we ensure students have access to technology they need to continue their education? And how do we in some way do all of that while supporting a myriad of emotions? It’s a lot to expect.
As I connect with educators across the state and nation, my encouragement to them is the same. “Do what you can”. That’s all that can and should be expected. We can not give more than we have to give. It can be easy to blur the lines between work and life when you are at home. I noticed that happening to me a few weeks ago. I was working long/late hours, burning the candle at both ends. That lasted about a week or two until I realized, “I can’t keep up this pace and stay healthy.” I now deliberately communicate to colleagues when I’m logging off of work and shifting my focus to family and fun.
It is ok to establish boundaries and to prioritize your own health and well-being. Find ways to protect your needs, give yourself time, even while sheltering in place. You may not be able to make a “Target run” but you can walk around the block. Step away and read a book, work on a puzzle, listen to music that uplifts you. Several friends and I have begun sending cards in the mail to 2020 graduates and/or to coworkers. It’s amazing how giving to others also fills you up. The energy you put out in the world comes back to you. We will be forever changed because of this historic time in our lives. I’m sure life will never be the same. I just hope as we re-set, that our commitment to only “do what we can” stays with us long after our masks have been discarded. Stay home, safe and well!

Silver Linings

It’s impossible to avoid the difficult reality we are facing in our world today. It’s the primary focus of all news reports and updates; the theme and thread of social media outlets and peppered into every conversation; it’s top of mind, as it should be. As a school mental health consultant, working on various contracts, including at the state level, it has been all consuming. My job entails supporting students’ and educators’ mental wellness, which has only been compounded by current events. There are many of us who are working extended days to address the physical and emotional needs of students and their families. (I was going to say working “tirelessly” but that wouldn’t be true. We are tired but also highly motivated by our passion to help others). The pressure and urgency to meet the needs of thousands of young people, while also maintaining CDC guidelines and other restrictions offers a unique challenge.
It would seem natural and justified for any of us to feel anxious and stressed during this time of isolation, constraint, and limitation, in addition to other personal difficult situations, I have recently experienced and I know others have as well. However, during all the chaos, emotion and distress, I have been able to reframe and find silver linings. I hoped that perhaps sharing them in this month’s blog would also help you.
Personally, for someone who is on the road FREQUENTLY, it has been a blessing in disguise to be “stuck” at home. I may feel differently in a week or two, but I decided I’m going to enjoy this travel-free time. No suitcase to pack, or arrangements to make for my being away. No extra miles on my car, which means less stops for gas and oil changes.
I also decided I wasn’t going to panic purchase. I didn’t overstock on toilet paper or cans of soup. I’m going to get and use what I need to sustain myself. I also think this is a good opportunity to eat what I actually have in the freezer and pantry. I’ve cooked more in the last week or so than I have in a long time. Feels good to have the chance to do that.
On that note, another silver lining is eating dinner together as a family. This interruption in normal life happenings is allowing for more family connection time. (and we will also need some time alone in our “separate corners”). I’ve heard that sentiment shared by several others, celebrities citing that on their social media and in phone conversations I’ve had with friends.
Which is another silver lining, I have been able to connect with friends more, through FaceTime, text, and phone calls. We’ve sent GIFs and articles, shared our concerns and perspectives and even some laughs. It’s been balm for the soul to engage in those relationships. It helps heal a hurting heart while bolstering the sense of community, we truly are all in this together.
It’s been refreshing to see so many of us unite across the country, through something as simple as streaming live workouts, to learning about acts of kindness, self-sacrifice, ingenuity, proving our commitment to one another. Teachers emailing to check in with students, car parades through neighborhoods to connect with families, food deliveries or pick-ups are occurring. An increased recognition for what educators experience day to day that parents are now undertaking. The acknowledgement of those health care workers who are on the front lines fighting for lives, and health and safety for all of us. We really can pull together as a human race in troubled times. It fills my heart.
My hope is during this uncertain time, not knowing how things will unfold or for how long, that we can fight to find morsels of goodness in all of this. Not to dismiss the seriousness and need to “follow the rules” in hopes to stave this pandemic off sooner than later, but to remember in every hard time, there is always a silver lining. Stay healthy, safe and well.

Charged Up

I just returned from a quick trip to Florida with my youngest sister, to sell our dad’s house and the “love of his life” corvette. It’s a beautiful machine! A 50th anniversary edition with all the bells and whistles, kept in an insulated garage, and was driven only once a week. It even has a trickle charger to keep its battery functioning. You can imagine our surprise when we arrive to the house, preparing to sell both items, to find the car is DEAD! Upon further investigation, my sister finds the trickle charger on the opposite side of the garage. You may already have assumed this but, it is impossible to keep the battery life full if it isn’t connected to its charger. Funny how that works (or doesn’t work), huh?
Of course, we all know the importance of keeping our phones, laptops and other devices charged. I see people hovering around outlets at airports all the time, and often I am one of those hover-ers. My motto is “plug in while you can”. Which was what I’d planned to do while returning home from another recent trip (the week before the Florida trip, mentioned above). Being the multi-tasker I am, I scheduled a work call while sitting at the gate and was chatting away, while also digging in my work bag so I could plug in my phone. As I continued to talk and dig, I got a little more frantic. You know the scene, I’m pulling things out, looking and re-looking, until the grim reality hit me. I left my charger, plugged into the wall behind the bed, in the room where I was staying. UHHH!! I had even told myself that morning, “Grab your charger now or you will forget it”. And sure enough…the self-fulfilling prophecy came true! So, I cut the call short, knowing I needed to save battery power. I had a connecting flight through Atlanta and well, you just never know. I sent texts to my kids and a few others, telling them I would be “off grid” for a bit because I had no charger. Even though it was a little anxiety provoking at first, I quickly realized it was also kind of nice to be forced to “unplug” and conserve power, for my phone and myself. (And I also went into “power saving mode” on my phone…didn’t know that existed. That’s a benefit of having millennial children.)
Those two situations reinforced in me the importance of chargers and how much we depend on them. However, it also made me notice, that we don’t necessarily take advantage of those same charging opportunities for ourselves. There are numerous situations we face daily that can drain our battery, lowering our energy level. Emails, texts, phone calls, deadlines, requests, to name a few. Co-workers, bosses or kids who need attention are never in short shrift. There is ALWAYS something to do or someplace to be or someone who needs something. But often we don’t prioritize ourselves. What about your energy level? Where is your trickle charger? Is it connected? Or is it on the other side of the garage? Do you “plug in while you can” to whatever restores you? As often as we are aware of the battery life of our electronics (or corvettes?) I encourage you to notice your own personal battery life. What percentage are you on? Are there ways you can conserve energy? Can you go into “power saving mode”? What can you do to recharge?
For me it can be as simple as sitting in silence for a few minutes. Or perhaps it is stepping away from the computer to clear my mind for a moment. It could be saying “no” to “one more thing” even though it’s so easy to default to volunteer mode, offering to help in a myriad of situations. Through all of the shuffle of running a business while helping care for a senior (my dad) and care for a senior (my daughter), I am learning to ask for help or even better yet, let others do for themselves. I’m trying to wait (the “W” in SLOW) before I jump in to “rescue” or respond. Taking a minute to determine if whatever it is that lies before me, is something I have the time or energy to take on. Frequently, I can be my own worst enemy, self-inducing expectations that are not realistic or fair or even kind to myself. (Albeit perhaps they are possible but are they necessary?) I’m releasing the pressure I put on myself to be perfect or the first to _______ (fill in the blank). I’m learning to be ok with saying “no” or “maybe later” or “that won’t work for me right now”. I’ve also begun asking people, “how urgent is this request? Can this wait tomorrow (or next week)?” It’s amazing how often that question stops people in their tracks to evaluate the actual level of urgency related to the particular task. So often we are in “immediate response mode” that we don’t realize it may not really be that pressing.
We get to decide how much of our own battery we use up in our lives. It is ok to plug in (or unplug) and recharge. It is ok to put yourself first and take some down time. Look for your trickle charger, connect to it and watch your energy come back to life. You’ll be zooming down the road, just like that gorgeous vette, in no time. (and then you should take another break)

Running Fast vs. Living SLOW

Is it just me or does it feel like we hit the ground running after the holidays? Typically, it feels like we ramp back into “reality” progressively. I have also noticed the last few years, how hard it is for me to unplug, whether I’m going on vacation or just getting some time off work. I have to make a conscious effort to not check email and to intentionally step back. It can be difficult. I worry about “Who will handle that situation?” “What will happen in this circumstance?” “What if someone needs me?”. And then of course all the emails to respond to when you get back. BUT once I do finally unplug, I find it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to plug back in, which is unusual, since I really love my work. Someone said it’s because of my age, which could be a viable explanation. I especially noticed that process this year. I was enjoying my quieter days, slower pace and felt resistance to jumping back into the rat race. It made me wonder, like I have at other times, do we really have to move as fast as we are? Why are we running so fast and so frequently? Why is there so much time crunch and pressure to meet deadlines or make things happen? Where did that shift come from? And when? Has it always been there, and I am just realizing it? I think it has to do with technology and our expectations. There really is very little “excuse” for something not happening “immediately”. We are living in a world of instant gratification. I think everyone senses it, adults and students alike. It can be hard to wait, be patient, go slow.
I am convinced it does not have to be like this, at least all the time. And I am pretty certain I am not the only one feeling this way. I’m hoping to start a mini revolution. I’m asking others to join me in the fight to slow our roll. I’ve had some re-awakenings to the importance of taking a bit more time to respond or react. In fact, often when I’m in the spin and going in fast forward mode, I end up making more mistakes, which ends up creating more work and taking more time (as well as adding more emotional duress or stress, and none of us need any more of that?!) There have been three distinct episodes in the last couple of weeks when I should have taken a moment to regroup and rethink before responding. And because I didn’t do that, I ended up causing myself and others discomfort. It can be a downward spiral from there, I feel upset, so I don’t sleep well or eat healthily. I fret and am not able to give my full attention to whatever task is before me for the day. I can be edgy with others that aren’t involved. It is not a happy way to live and is the opposite of self-care. Those situations were a good reminder to slow down.
Not only have I recognized it in my own life but because of my renewed awareness, I see it in others around me as well. People make rash decisions which unintentionally impact others, which in turn, effects those peoples view of themselves, which can influence their job performance or work outcomes. Can you think of times when that has happened to you? Perhaps an administrator didn’t think through a decision thoroughly and there were repercussions that trickled down to you and your colleagues. That seems to happen frequently. Or perhaps you react quickly to a student in a way that discourages them, they withdraw and don’t perform as well academically. It can set off a chain reaction.
I believe the same can happen if we do the opposite and pace ourselves more intentionally. It could be as simple as taking a few breaths before responding to a student, an email, a parent or a colleague. Maybe you just ask someone to give you some time to think about how you want to handle a particular situation. (i.e. “Can I get back to you tomorrow by noon?”. Perhaps you could ask the decision maker for clarification on why they made the decision they did? (i.e. “Can you help me understand how you came to this conclusion?”) That approach could also help them to slow down and rethink as well. OR you learn something new about their decision-making process, which could help you feel better about it. Another approach to help us go slow, could include setting a deadline that feels more reasonable for you. ( Such as “I’m happy to do this for you. I’ll have time to work on it and get it to you by Friday.”) We may not always have the luxury to incorporate these strategies, but I believe we have opportunities to use them that we may be missing. Please join me in committing to ourselves (and helping others) join in on the Living SLOW mission, so we don’t have to run so fast.