Spending more than half of my life in and out of a locker room, one gets very used to sound of competition. Sayings like, "failure is not an option" and "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," were common echoes in my upbringing. From one coach to the next, it was always about winning, getting better, playing your best, minimizing mistakes, practice makes perfect, etc., etc. It's no wonder that I wanted to quit after losing my first soccer game in 4th grade or quitting during the 4th quarter of my first contact football game in 8th grade. I was convinced by others, that if we weren't winning or if I wasn't playing well, we were losers (or I was) and should concede. As I look back, all I remember about my playing days is that every coach I ever played for was obsessed with one thing – winning. That is, except for one. My dad.
Frank Escobar Sr. never officially served as one of my coaches but I'm certainly convinced today, he taught me more about sports than any formal coach I ever had. You see, my dad had what we call growth mindset. A former junior college athlete himself, it wasn't that he lacked competitive drive or a will to win, he simply had perspective. And, that perspective helped me find my balance and competitive spirit for years to come, even today.
I do consider myself competitive, even hyper-competitive at times. The difference is my competitiveness is not tied to winning, rather just competing. I went 0-10 my senior year in college and while most of my teammates (and coaches) were rather embarrassed of our performance, I didn't seem to mind telling friends and family how my last hurrah in college football ended up. You see, I was just happy to have been playing college football. A 5-foot, 100-nothing pound little Mexican kid from Nowhere, California was just lucky to attend a college, let alone convince a college to pay for me to attend. This is how I kept perspective and as a result, didn't allow an 0-10 final season discourage or distort my beliefs about who I was, what I was capable of, or what I should or shouldn't pursue in my future. Call me uncaring, of low expectations, accepting of failure, and I'll call me keeping perspective and exercising an attitude of learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Today, our American culture makes it difficult to accept a loss. After all, we have to be the best at everything don't we? Whether in finance, business, sports or education, America was built on competition, and not just competition but winning that competition. Now we strive to place our children in the best institutions, raise them in the best neighborhoods, give them the best advantages in life so that we can help them live the American dream – to be a winner. It is quite scary how we have become a society consumed with wining at all costs and accepting nothing less. This is all too evident in our material wealth, showroom lifestyles, and obsession with Facebook stalking the reality-show lives of the rich and famous.
I believe if we are to willing to win, we must accept failure as a part of that process. We must also accept that winning is up to one's own interpretation and right to define. Where one may define winning as earning a 4-year college degree and entering their dream career, another not so far away might define winning as a stay-at-home parent committed to their child's upbringing. I wish America, in all it's diversity, would better accept that winning is as diverse in definition as the very social-fabric that clothes it. And where one may define a loss another defines it a win.
I choose to believe that losing is an important, necessary experience in life. And not just for the sake of winning but for the simple sake of living. I also believe that the more we teach our young one's to lose, the more they'll win at whatever it is they define as winning in life. In our after school sports league, RIZE, we constantly tell our coaches they should be hoping for a loss. Obviously, we get lots of blank stares and every now and then a good laugh. But the honesty in it all, is that when our students lose in the after school program, whether in a sports game or a dance competition or on a quiz, our staff "win" the opportunity to develop their grit, resiliency and growth mindset. The social-emotional skills and perspective that will help them deal with the real losses in life that will inevitably challenge them in their years to come.
Today, I couldn't be more proud of my colleagues and our field for the wide embrace that we have given the act of failure. As odd as it may seem and indifferent to how I was raised (in the locker room), I do believe that my losses in life and work, have not only defined me, but have also helped me developed into the person of resiliency and persistence that I am today. For me, I truly believe that losing is the new winning.
For breakfast I had oatmeal, 2 pieces of wheat toast and glass of water.
My husband and his team put on amazing festivals, and one of them is called The Festival Of Machines. Sprawling over several acres of property, festival-goers can look at (and climb on) cement mixers, tractors, old time steam engines, old time fire engines, classic cars, race cars, army helicopters, and more. They can ride on a mars “rover” bike made by a competitive high school team, race each other on kid-sized motorized vehicles, take flight on a “hover chair,” go on a thrilling ride in an actual two-seater go-cart, spray water from an actual firehose attached to a hydrant, go down a ramp in a soap box derby car, go on a hayride, and more. It’s tons of fun, with lots to experience.
As any “experiential” place will have you do before entering, this festival asked participants to sign a standard waiver releasing them of liability. The kind we all sign before we go in a jump house or on a trampoline or up in a hot air balloon or basically anywhere we’re going to engage not just our minds but our bodies in some kind of fun.
So the first day I took the kids and was standing at the waiver table, signing away, when a man walks up next to me, tosses the waiver down, and says to the poor, sweet young bright-eyed worker man behind the table: “So what happens if I don’t sign it?” His stance was aggressive and his voice trembled a bit with the nervous/excited adrenaline of someone who has come to pick a fight.
The poor, sweet worker started to reply with some version of “well that basically means you can’t participate in any of the hands-on activities etc and so on” and then paused and asked “so why wouldn’t you want to sign it?”
Which was all the man needed to hear.
“Why wouldn’t I sign it? Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I SIGN IT? This basically says that if you guys screw anything up or if an engine blows up there’s nothing I can do about it. Are Americans really THAT STUPID that they don’t READ ANYTHING ANYMORE?!?!”
He said. Loudly. To the “stupid American” standing right next to him currently signing the darn thing (me).
I tossed a sympathetic smile and eye roll to the poor, sweet, and now growingly awkward, worker behind the table, finished signing the waiver, and walked away.
I thought about saying any number of things to that man, but I didn’t. And I’ve been thinking about that choice to stay silent—whether I should have somehow intervened. But my kids were standing right there with me. My 8- and 5-year-olds. They weren’t paying attention to the man because they were too busy eyeballing all of the activities that awaited them. But if I had engaged in the conversation, they definitely would have started to pay attention. And I’m not sure anything productive would have come of it.
Because he was So. Sure. of his Rightness. He was so sure of his rightness that he grabbed his “right” flag and went searching for someone to stab with it. And a person that dead-set on their rightness is not usually someone open to a dialogue.
Still. I struggle with this one, because what about the poor, sweet worker man? I just left him to deal with Right Man all on his own.
When to engage?
What would you have done?
While I grapple with this one, I will say this: watching Right Man reminded me what happens to people when they get hung up on being right. When they don’t want any other resolution than affirmation that they are RIGHT.
Whether we care to admit it or not, I think we all have moments where this comes out in us. Whether at work or at home—moments that make us say “Hey, I’M RIGHT! Now let me go prove it so that people will affirm it and generally acknowledge and revere my RIGHTNESS! I’m So Right!”
So here’s the thing: sometimes you might actually be right. But that’s not the point. The point is what happens to you when suddenly all you can see or care about is that those around you also understand and acknowledge that you are right. It becomes less about the thing itself and more about personal validation.
So—are you currently holding a “right” flag? Let Right Man be a cautionary tale for you. Put down the flag, friend. Put it down.
How can you let go of the “right” flag today?
For breakfast, I had a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich with bacon. Mmmm…bacon.
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, life can become overwhelming. As youth workers we want the young people we work with to embrace the positive messages of the holiday season, be it gratitude and thankfulness to knowing that they are loved and cherished. While we go the extra mile at work to ensure our youth enjoy their holiday season, we may also be stressing about our personal schedules and responsibilities around the holidays. How will I find time to purchase all those presents, not to mention wrap them, attend the overabundance of holiday parties, prepare a turkey, bake the cookies, and still enjoy what the holidays are meant to be?
Enter, the Power of Positive Thought!
The power of remaining positive, whatever the situation, can never be underestimated. The true test of an individual to remain positive is when challenges become difficult. Remaining positive keeps one's mind in the right state of balance and often opens resolutions to the problems at hand.
Embracing the Power of Positive Thought is a mindset that can be found at any moment, and turned into a habit. Here are some ways to embrace the Power of Positive Thought:
Shift Your Thoughts
Be conscious of your thoughts. The moment you realize you are diving into frustration, distress, or low self-esteem – shift your thoughts, think about something completely unrelated. This breaks the pattern of negativity. We have the ability to control our thoughts and think for ourselves.
Find the Lesson
No matter how unfortunate a situation may appear, recognize the beautiful lessons waiting to be discovered. You may have made a mistake, but now you can accept it and continue, knowing that you will make a different decision in the future. Understand that every problem is a learning opportunity in disguise.
Attitude of Gratitude
You cannot be both angry and grateful at the same time! Start counting the blessings and miracles in your life, start looking for them and you shall find more. You think that you don't have anything to be grateful for? You are alive and breathing! Realize how fortunate you are and all of the abundance in your life.
Positive Affirmations & Visualization
Practice seeing yourself in a positive and confident light. Try it whenever you have a few minutes. Self-affirmations (list of positive statements about yourself and your self-image) are another simple and powerful tool to train your subconscious to see yourself in a positive light. This is important, as many of us can be extremely hard on ourselves!
Inventory of Memories
Keep an inventory of memories that can immediately make you smile. Recall occasions where you felt happy, appreciative and cheerful...when you were at peace with the world. Whenever you are in a negative frame of mind, reminisce on those happy moments to bring a balanced perspective to your situation. You realize that what appears negative today will change tomorrow. Nothing stays the same.
Whether you are positive or negative, the situation does not change. So, we might as well be positive, right? As with any habit, the habit of embracing the power of positive thought in all situations takes practice and a commitment to take control. Start small, paying attention to your emotions, and you have to start by wanting to change. Keep going at it, and you will gradually become a positive energy source for the others around you!
Source: Think Simple Now
For breakfast, I had creme brulee coffee with almond vanilla oatmeal!
Learning doesn’t always have to be teacher led. There are other models that create authentic experiences for students and are closer to what they will experience once they are finished with school. Last spring, a group of high school juniors came to me, wanting to explore the intersection of art and technology using both paper and sewn circuitry. I had never worked with either before but was excited to learn these tools myself, so I eagerly agreed to the project. Tinkering alongside your students might sound scary, but it's a great way to model the learning process. For the first few weeks we met and played with materials, using online tutorials and YouTube videos as resources. My students constantly looked to me for answers and I enjoyed their continued surprise when I responded by saying that I had no idea how to do something. I would ask them what they needed to know and how they thought they could find answers. My students quickly learned to ask thoughtful questions, and which online sites were good resources.
When we tried things and they didn’t work they way we hoped my students would get frustrated. Again, they would turn to me to solve the problem. Although I genuinely didn’t know how, it was uncomfortable for me not to provide answers. Often this would happen at the end of our time together for the week. I found they needed time to process failure. But soon, they would be back in my classroom sharing their strategies for figuring out where we had gone wrong and eager to dive back in. I could see the shift as my students discovered that learning is a process that is fully engaging and that they could be in charge of their own journey. They became the leaders of our inquiry, and I a true co-participant. Their self-confidence grew and they wanted to take what they had learned and share it with others.
We teamed up with a first grade class at one of the elementary schools in our district. The first grade teacher didn’t understand circuitry, but when we talked about the possibilities, she was excited. Her students had collaborated on stories, which they wrote and illustrated on iPads. Each group then identified their main character and the problem they had to solve in the story. Their art teacher helped them make their main characters into stuffed felt animals in his class. And then my students arrived. Every Wednesday, for six weeks, my students would leave high school and travel to the elementary school across town. Each teamed up with a group and taught them about electricity and circuits. Then they helped them plan and draw their circuits. Each stuffed animal would have one object that when attached by snaps would complete the sewn circuit and light the tiny LED. The younger students were excited and couldn't wait for Wednesday afternoons when the “big kids” came to their classroom.
My juniors loved working with the younger students but were nervous about being considered the experts in the room. We talked about how it feels to be the teacher and how teachers aren't really the holders of all knowledge anymore. If students can use YouTube and other online tutorials to learn, then what is the role of the teacher? The model of learning together, teacher and students participating in the journey side by side, is important today as more and more content is available online. By modeling the learning journey, being vulnerable and admitting that something is hard, but persevering through the struggle, teachers can teach the most valuable lesson there is: that all learning is a process. It's not linear. It can be bumpy, frustrating and discouraging, but ultimately worth it. Modeling the tools to get through the hard moments is valuable but also creates a different kind of bond with your students. They know you're in it together.
Our young students finished their light-up stuffed animals and presented them at our final celebration by proudly reading their stories. My students became masters of their own learning journeys and felt the power of sharing that process with others, both young and old.
For breakfast, I had oatmeal with raisins and coconut milk!
Follow Lisa Yokana on Twitter @lyokana59.
I remember it like yesterday, sitting in a room that contained an elderly gentleman recovering from hip surgery as he talked about his passion for ballroom dancing. Photos of this pastime decorated his temporary recovery room. I was an awkward middle school student delivering a handmade snow globe (yes, the kind made from a baby food jar). This was part of a 4-H club's service project, visit an assisted living community and sing songs to bring a little cheer to the residents. Almost thirty minutes later, our club leader came around the corner and breathlessly peaked into the room. "We've been looking for you!" she exclaimed. What came out of this experience was the knowledge was the knowledge that by sharing a small piece of my time and my talent for listening, I brought great comfort (or treasure) to a very lonely individual.
This started me on a personal and professional mission to promote youth philanthropy. Now don't be afraid of using that "p" word, it's a great and powerful word that belongs to everyone that is sharing their time, talent, and treasure with others. Everyone can be philanthropist regardless of their age, social-economic income, and family dynamics. But what is youth philanthropy and why should you integrate it into your own programs?
Youth philanthropy is the ongoing and intentional giving of one's time, talent, and treasure to help the common good (both locally and for national/international efforts). Youth-serving organizations can integrate youth philanthropy by engaging their youth in on-going giving, serving, fundraising, and grantmaking (or the giving of funds). Over the years, the most successful youth philanthropy programs tend to include a combination of the following components: philanthropy education and training, leadership development, community service, civic engagement, grantmaking, encouragement of personal giving, fundraising events/ activities, and the development of youth and adult partnerships.
Young people all over the country and in my home state of Indiana are serving their communities by both recognizing community needs and then finding solutions and even in some cases creating non-profit organization to solve those needs. They are giving of their time, talent, and treasure by dedicating many hours of volunteer service and raising funds for their cause. These youth are leaders, strong role models that lead by example so their peers will also take action and care. Lastly, youth have the ability and passion to engage others to make a difference, regardless of an individual's age.
Through research and evaluation I've also found that the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets are supported through youth philanthropy experiences. Interviews with youth participants report that they've learning life-skills through youth philanthropy programs/service-learning. These include the following:
• Consensus Building
• Critical Thinking Skills
• Organizational Skills
• Understanding Group Dynamics
• Facilitation Skills
• Relationship Building
So I'll conclude with a question, why should you be thinking about incorporating youth philanthropy in your organization? Because providing philanthropic educational resources for youth and their families can nurture the spirit of generosity among all, regardless of income level. Engaging youth in giving and serving is an integral part of developing and maintaining a vibrant community and is an investment in building a base of committed nonprofit volunteers, potential board members, and future donors who realize the difference they can make individually and collectively for their community. As educators and the staff of nonprofit youth-serving organizations we have an obligation to help and educate others understand what philanthropy can do for their schools, community and society at large.
Visit these helpful links to learn about program and resources that will help you integrate concepts of giving and serving (youth philanthropy) into your programs.
For breakfast I had homemade gluten free "everything" muffins (cranberries, nuts, yogurt, banana, apple sauce, etc.) and a banana. Every breakfast includes two cups of coffee at home and one more for good measure at work!
Our minds are incredibly powerful. They have the ability to help us create amazing things; or, they can us! The perfect example is worrying.
We've all experienced worry — it's a natural human phenomenon. Worry happens when we have thoughts or emotions about a potential threat or problem in the future — something going wrong or something bad happening.
Worry can serve a purpose if we use it to help us identify issues that we can get prepared for. However, it can be detrimental, and an energy drain, if it leads to rumination (to think about it over and over) and anxiety. And most people, especially kids, are never taught how to break through the worry cycle!
The key to alleviating the worry cycle is to shift worry from anxiety and rumination to concern and preparation.
In this article we will look at a process you can use to step through your worries and several strategies you can use to ease your mind. And this process works for kids too!
1. The first step is to acknowledge your worries – give them time. The more you try to resist something the more it will persist. It's like trying not to imagine a green monkey wearing a big orange cowboy hat sitting on a purple giraffe in the middle of your kitchen...you just can't help it. The best way to stop rumination is to write it down and then go to step two.
2. Second, put boundaries around your worries. Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries. During this time, write down anything that you're worried about. If something comes up later in the day...just add it to the list and tell yourself that you can think about it tomorrow during your allotted time. The process of writing the worry down lets your mind rest because it knows you've got it on the agenda.
3. Third, change your language. Language is a very powerful tool – it creates our experience. Instead of using the word "worried" which automatically triggers a feeling of anxiety in most people, use the word "concerned" followed by the word "prepared". For example instead of saying, "I am worried about the economy and losing my job" you could say, "I am concerned about the economy and losing my job. To get prepare I am going to examine my budget and add to my emergency savings fund. I might also consider a part time job."
(How might you use this with a child? If you hear a child say, "I'm worried I'm going to fail this test". You can help her shift her language to something like, "I'm concerned about this test. To get prepared I'm going to ask the teacher for an extra practice sheet.")
4. Fourth, shift you worry into action. Tell your mind what you are going to do about the situation. For each concern, map out a plan. Put it in writing so that each time that concern comes up you can ease your mind by reviewing your plan.
5. Fifth, focus on what you want, not on what you don't want. Your mind is very powerful. Your thoughts trigger both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind to create whatever you focus on. Supportive self-talk and visualization are powerful tools to help you stay focused on what you want.
6. Sixth, focus on what is working in your life, not on what is not working. Shifting thoughts of worry to thoughts of gratitude can help ease your mind and create positive energy throughout your body. Did you know that multiple research studies have shown that practicing gratitude actually creates happiness? Positive energy and positive thoughts are essential for creating what you want in your life.
7. Seventh, look at what you can control versus what you can't control. If the thing you are worried about is something you can control, such as building up your savings account, then take action on that. However, if it's is something that you have no control over, such as when someone dies, then worrying about it only creates negative energy that doesn't serve you. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you may want to create a "ritual" or personal practice where you turn over your worries to that which is greater than you.
8. Eight, adopt a personal practice that can help you relax. Many people find that meditation, exercise, or journaling can help them ease their mind. A daily practice of relaxation can help neutralize the impact of worrying
Finally, remember that worrying and rumination doesn't serve you – it steals the beauty of the present moment and can rob you of your happiness. Learning to focus on what you can do versus focusing on things outside of your control can lead to a feeling of personal power versus feeling like a victim of the future.
As I mentioned, worry is a phenomena that our kids will also experience. One of the greatest gifts you can give them is to teach them how to turn worry into action.
For more information about how you can use stories to empower kids Adventures in Wisdom to check out a free story.
For breakfast, I had an egg white and turkey sausage breakfast taco and a hug from my hubby and kids!
In adolescence I disengaged from my education. While I had no problem making grades, I did not perceive relevance in my education. My peers and I considered ourselves socially conscious but we did not have a positive outlet to put our energy into. Luckily… I continued on to higher education. This is when it all changed. I pursued my own interests and became enthusiastic about learning. I participated in extra curricular activities including my first youth work experiences. I found my calling. The growth I experienced in my college years was due mostly to experiences I had outside of the classroom. But what if I did not go to college? I would argue that my experience is not unique, and it illustrates how important your work in expanded learning is. You have the opportunity to offer youth meaningful opportunities to discover their talents and passions.
Years ago I had the opportunity to train after school staff on the youth development research summarized in Resiliency, What we have learned (Benard, 2004). The text highlights that when youth experience “Protective Factors” (Caring Relationships, High Expectations, and Opportunities for Meaningful Participation), it meets their needs of safety, belonging, respect, challenge, meaning, and mastery; leading to increased social competence, problem solving, autonomy, and purpose. Creating these types of learning environments leads to better LIFE OUTCOMES for youth. These notions are widely supported by newer research, including Carol Dweck’s notion of Growth Mindsets, Angela Duckworth’s study of Grit, as well as research on social-emotional learning. They are embedded into expanded learning quality frameworks including the Learning in After School and Summer (LIAS) principles, and the recently released Quality Standards for Expanded Learning in CA. The research is in - positive youth development (still) works, no matter what we call it.
So how are we doing? The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is the largest statewide survey of resiliency, protective factors, and risk behaviors in the nation. A close look at the data will confirm that my school experience was not unique. The data illustrates that from 5th grade through 11th grade (for many consecutive years) youth do not indicate they have strong opportunities for meaningful participation. This holds true for school, home, and community environments. Your program may be one of the only places where youth experience opportunities for meaningful participation, a critical need for healthy development!
So how do we offer meaningful learning opportunities in environments rich in the protective factors that will result in positive outcomes for youth? With intention and tenacity. One last piece of research can help us understand this. A study of national after school programs (Durlak and Weissberg, 2010) surfaced the importance of intentionality in our programming. The study concluded that when program staff facilitated active learning, with a sequenced approach, focusing specific time and attention on skill development, and were explicit about the skills they were attempting to promote, youth experienced significant improvements in a variety of academic and social domains. What this tells me is that when we (as adults) know exactly why we are doing what we are doing, youth see better outcomes. We must all apply a growth mindset and grit into our work as practitioners. Through caring relationships, we must hold ourselves to high expectations. We must work every day to ensure our programs offer relevant and meaningful experiences to our most important clients, youth. In this pursuit, we are never “done” and we always seek to do better. This is what many mean when they use the term Continuous Quality Improvement.
Bottom line, the environments that you create and the experiences you offer change lives. That’s why we do what we do. How do we do it? We never give up, and we do all we can every day to be better for the youth, families, and communities we serve.
For breakfast this morning I had a green smoothie made from greek yogurt, banana, carrot, and spinach.
For some reason lately I've been thinking about those moments that awaken us in some way—moments that either subtly or profoundly affect the way we interact with the world.
Some of those moments are earth-shattering, like the first time Loss comes up and punches you squarely in the face. (For me, that came in the form of a 7 am phone call when I was 17 years old alerting me to the death of one of my most beloveds).
Some of those moments are seemingly trivial, like the first time you find your own unique style. (I still remember trying to explain to my mom just how important Grunge music was as a college student in the early 90s).
Sometimes those moments change the very face of the world, like the first time you encounter a national or global crisis. (Nothing will soften the memory of standing on a rooftop in Manhattan with some of my co-workers, some blocks north of the World Trade Center, marveling at the gaping holes in the sides of the buildings, when the sudden distant rumble of some kind of thunder preceded the slow and shocking collapse of the first tower).
Sometimes those moments make you aware that you've never actually understood the full function of your heart until then. (While I thought my elementary-age heart fully opened up when I first saw "Stand By Me" and was introduced to the glory of River Phoenix, it was actually the first time I held my first baby that I knew the world would forever be so much more terrifying, heartbreaking, beautiful, wide open and exquisite... and that I could never hide my heart from any of it again).
Sometimes those moments show us just how important our voice actually is. (I spent the first year and a half at The Leadership Program waiting for an invitation to be included, to be "liked," to be considered worthy. And then I got tired of waiting and just declared myself included... and I've spent the past thirteen and half years declaring rather than waiting).
And some of those moments aren't actual moments at all but rather the accumulation of pieces of moments that you suddenly become aware of on a random Tuesday. (My husband and I have been married for 14 ½ years, and clinking coffee mugs across the table at each other this morning I was hit with the profound weight of the remarkable life we've created together, side by side, interwoven in ways that are not explainable and that extend so far past the pictures on the wall of two young people on their wedding day, practical strangers to me now).
Whether small (How did I ever live in a world without minivans?) or big (This wide-open heart thing that my children have created in me is sometimes unbearable)... these are the moments that offer an opportunity for us to awaken. It's as if one of the many layers that color how we view the world gets peeled away, and as such the color shifts just a bit and the world looks different, forever. It's kind of stunning when you take a moment to think about it, when you awaken to these awakenings.
Are you noticing the moments when you awaken? When your students awaken? Whether it's your own moment or a moment experienced by one of the youth with whom you work, it's important to acknowledge just how the awakening has shifted the way the world looks. Daily rituals can support this process—do you start your program with a circle and time for students to check in and tell you how they're feeling? Do you end your program with a chance to come back together and reflect on the day? Are there opportunities for students to journal or draw? All of these activities open up space for those awakening moments to be captured and acknowledged.
What moments have awakened you?
For breakfast this morning I had a cup of peppermint tea and a toasted mini-bagel with peanut butter. So civilized!
We recently had our annual administrative retreat, wherein we disappear into the woods for a few days and hopefully come out refreshed, reinvigorated, and clearly focused on the goals and plans for the year ahead.
Packing for the trip beforehand, I was chagrined out how ill-equipped my biggest bag was for the task at hand. For a week in the woods needs to include things like sleeping bags and multiple changes of clothes... and, if you're my company, a costume for the annual themed-party. I was horrified as I saw the bag grow perilously stuffed before I had even begun to ponder shoes or toiletries—and then I realized that I had actually forgotten to account for an entire day.
The end result was a busting-at-the-seams-will-it-make-it-to-New-York sack of ridiculous. I had to leave behind the pack of buckets and shovels I was planning to use for a workshop. And don't get me started on the props and costume pieces that just couldn't make the trip. Sacrifices had to be made.
Something tells me that my bag might perhaps (and only in the remotest possible way, of course) just slightly resemble my life. Minus the costumes and buckets, though those certainly play a hearty role in my day to day—both at work and at play—but minus even those, the idea of "stuffing" my life to the gills and over-preparing for every eventuality (while forgetting sometimes the most base of basics—like sunscreen! Hello!! And a towel! What?!)... well that rings a bit familiar. Ask anyone who's ever seen my purse. Or my car snack bucket. Or my office inspiration board. Or... well, I think we have enough examples. Let's just say I perhaps overdo it in more ways than just my most recent suitcase debacle. Because I definitely take a "why-have-just-one-when-you-can-have-three?" approach to most things, and that translates into a "why-stop-at-a-9-to-5-work-day-when-you-can-also-volunteer-to-bring-the-cupcakes-to-the-school-party-and-say-yes-to-the-community-fundraiser" kind of mindset.
It's a life overstuffed.
And while I LOVE my overstuffed car and bulletin board and suitcase and schedule and life, I also recognize that overstuffed can sometimes end up busting at the seams. Overstuffed can sometimes collapse at the weight of itself. Overstuffed, by definition, means that there is no empty space left. And no empty space means no time, except when sleeping, for rest. For contemplation. For expansion.
So maybe I didn't need that fourth "just in case" shirt in my suitcase for this retreat. And maybe I don't need five varieties of crackers in my car. And maybe I can sometimes say "no" to an event or opportunity even when the only thing currently on my schedule is... well... nothing. Maybe I can keep a little nothing in my life and allow some "understuffed" time to help balance the overstuffed.
I think of this, too, with our children. How often do we "overstuff" their days to make sure they are getting an academic and social edge? Days filled not just with school but with sports and playdates and tutoring and music lessons. Days that also get filled in with time on the computer or I-Pad, time on Facebook, time on the phone. Days that feel rushed, from the moment we wake up until the moment our heads hit the pillow. What are we sacrificing in all this overstuffing? What benefit might our children receive if we make a conscious effort to give them a little bit of time "understuffed," too? It can't be coincidence that so many of our nostalgic memories of childhood turn into pictures of leisurely days just staring at the sun or swinging in the hammock. Whether we ever actually had those moments or not, the fact that we long for them as adults should remind us that we have the opportunity right now to create that kind of actual reality for our youth.
What part of your overstuffed lives could you unpack a bit today?
For breakfast I had chia seeds mixed in with yogurt. I haven't sprouted any green fur yet.
To be a truly good LEADER, one must espouse the following sorts of traits and behaviors:
• Listen well
• Speak judiciously
• Approach others with humility
• Laugh often (especially at yourself)
• Treat others with empathy
• Remain calm and thoughtful in the midst of stress
• Be mindful of personal health so as to remain valuable to others
To be a truly good PERSON, one must espouse the following sorts of traits and behaviors:
• Listen well
• Speak judiciously
• Approach others with humility
• Laugh often (especially at yourself)
• Treat others with empathy
• Remain calm and thoughtful in the midst of stress
• Be mindful of personal health so as to remain valuable to others
It's simple arithmetic, but I'm not sure we always remember it. Leadership is a human endeavor, one based almost solely on one's capacity to relate well to others. Sort of like...life.
Go to a bookstore and look through the hundreds of books about leadership development and then flip through the hundreds of books about personal improvement and I bet at the core there really isn't that much of a difference between the bodies of improvement presented.
Essentially the blurred lines between who we are as people and who we are as a leader establish a truism that the two aren't really separate at all. I don't know if I've ever met someone who is a better leader than they are a person. An honest, humble, calm, and empathetic person leads with those same capacities.
However, I do think I've met people who are far better PEOPLE than they are LEADERS. We've all probably come across someone who is charming and thoughtful and magnetic in his or her "real world" who is then transformed by role and place into a modified (and often lesser) version of his or her truer self. What a bummer. And how avoidable.
Ultimately, if you subscribe to the notion that it will be difficult to be a better leader than you are a person, then leadership development is tantamount to personal growth. If we strive to be a more open, responsive, thoughtful, and kind person from 9:00 – 5:00, then we should do the same in the hours away from work. The efforts are one in the same.
In fact, to envision that somehow these efforts could exist in separate strands is to willingly admit that we are one person at work and another outside of work. This is not only illogical, it's also fraught with peril. The alignment of personal values with professional practice is central to job satisfaction. When we are out of alignment, we are at grave danger for professional burnout. Therefore, pulling together our personal and professional improvement efforts into a singular focus is an essential element of sustaining ourselves in all regards.
The reality is that when we're working for kids and around kids, we don't have the luxury of not being hyper-aware of not just what we do but how we do it. Kids are watching. They're always watching. Our staffs are watching. The community is watching. So if we we're truly going to excel in our work, we need to excel as people. That is a challenge from which we all benefit. Especially ourselves.
For breakfast I had a cinnamon-raisin bagel with honey and peanut butter. In that order so the honey soaks into the bread. And two cups of coffee. Just two.