Bumper Stickers

Bumper Stickers

Recently, a friend told me that she believed the political and social conscious bumper stickers on her car led to an unfriendly interaction with people she didn’t know (but people who saw her bumper stickers). We both were pretty shocked about this, but then she mentioned as she was leaving, she saw their political party license plate and didn’t feel so friendly towards them. I thought that if it had been me, I’d probably feel the same as she did.

The very next day, I was at a store and an older, jolly man behind me started talking to me about all the great deals he was getting. He was so happy, and we had a pleasant chat. (I love a great deal too so it wasn’t hard to feel the enthusiasm!)  In the middle of this, I noticed he was wearing a NRA shirt. I didn’t let this change anything about the interaction, but thinking about my friend’s experience, I wondered if he would have talked to me if he knew about my “Change gun laws or change Congress” bumper sticker. I don’t really seek out any strangers to talk to in general, but if I did, I know myself well enough to know I likely wouldn’t seek out someone with a NRA shirt.

This led to another conversation with the same friend. She said maybe we all need to take off all bumper stickers, left and right, because, really, what is the point? If they are going to make people mad, how is it helping anything?

I do see this point.

I also think it’s the easy way out. And it puts civility further out of reach.

I think it’s harder to know when people feel completely different about something I think is fundamental and not treat them differently. I think it’s harder to love people who think opposite of me about things I think matter.

But, we can do hard things. 😀

I love people who voted differently than me in the 2016 presidential election. Admittedly, this isn’t something I like to think about, but it is a fact. And another fact is that how we all voted has never once changed that when I am with these people we laugh, we have great conversations and we have fun together. It doesn’t change that when we are together it is a safe place for all of us.

One of these particular people was recently telling me how we all just need to remember we are people, humans having the same experience, and that there’s more alike about us than different.

I hear this. I don’t think it’s as easy as it sounds for many reasons, but I do think it’s true.

And so this brings me back to thinking about bumper stickers.

Should we take them off? I don’t think so.

But, I do think we all need to calm down a little bit. If our first reaction is anger, that means it’s really fear, and fear is never a good place to be.

Fear does not move us forward.

Fear does not help us grow.

Fear and civility usually don’t go together.

We have to think out of love not fear. We have to operate, consistently, out of the place where we ask ourselves, “What would love do?”



Thanks www.instagram.com/csrcalligraphy/ 😊


It’s not always easy, especially when we view the stakes as high.

It is necessary though.

And we can practice when the stakes are not high – like when I see a farmers’ market magnet, it doesn’t affect me negatively even though I don’t really eat vegetables.

Or, the parent of a child who plays high school sports does not immediately hate other drivers on the road when she sees rival schools’ sport stickers.

Or, the atheist who sees religious stickers and does not feel enraged.

And so it goes.

We promote what matters to us, what we care about, what we love. And I think that’s good.

We don’t all love the same things.

But, we can all – on some base level – love each other.

And certainly be civil – regardless of our bumper stickers.



To keep thinking and reflecting on all of this, I highly recommend:

  • Dr. Brené Brown’s 2018 book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone – it’s less than 200 pages and it contains many worthwhile thoughts centering on these four ideas: 1) People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.  2) Speak Truth to B.S. Be Civil.  3) Hold Hands. With Strangers.  4) Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
  • If you don’t want to read a book, here is an online excerpt from Braving the Wilderness.
  • Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper – The Power of Community



Last summer, I jumped off a cliff (about 15-feet high!) into a lake in Maine.


Afterwards, I sent one of my closest friends this photo and he asked me, “How scared were you to do that?”

My immediate reaction was that I was not scared at all.

I almost felt embarrassed to say that, like I was bragging, but it was true, and I definitely was not trying to brag. It also felt freeing to realize that I did this big thing and didn’t feel scared about it.

I was recently remembering this when at a challenge course park with another teacher and our graduating class of 2018 at school.  The park’s website describes it as “…an obstacle course in the trees [that] includes climbing, zip lines and combinations of the challenge bridges and zip lines. The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring has 13 trails, which are color-coded, with purple — the easiest — being a 12- to 20-foot-high course, and double black diamond — the most difficult — being 65 feet in the air.” (If you go their website, you can see rotating photos of the elements.)

These trails might have you walking across a tight rope or across logs or across something else where whatever solid thing on which you’re stepping gets farther and farther apart as you go along. There were zip lines and ropes, wires and wood. On the day we were there, it was also slippery from earlier rain, which added another level of challenge.

It was specifically while on a yellow trail (the next one up from the easiest purple trail) that I thought about my friend asking me how scared I was to jump off that cliff. It was specifically in this moment that I felt quite scared. It was also in this moment that I started saying over and over to myself until I was done with the trail, “I can do hard things, I can do hard things, I can do hard things…”

I was strapped in a harness so I knew that even if I fell (which I did once), I would not get seriously hurt, but, still, it was really scary to me.

(That night and the days following, I would become seriously sore, but that is another story…ha.)

What makes some things scary and some things not scary? I couldn’t tell you why the cliff jump was not at all scary to me, but a ropes course where I was harnessed and actually secure was so scary that it caused excessive sweating and my heart to feel like it would beat right out of my chest. All I can say is that I believe there is equal value in doing things that scare us and in being honest about it all.  Just as easily and openly as I said last summer that I was not scared jumping off that cliff did I say I was very scared on this ropes course.

These experiences are all about choices. You can start, you can stop, you can finish all the way through or you say no from the start. You can acknowledge you’re scared and keep going, or you can acknowledge you’re scared and you can stop. Whatever your choice, it’s the right one for you.

There are other scary experiences though that we can’t opt out of. We don’t have any choice sometimes.

Brené Brown says that vulnerability is the best measure of courage.

It’s good to remember this, when we have choices and when we don’t, about scary things. And, I think it’s good to try scary and hard things as much as we can when they are choices presented to us. I think it makes the non-negotiable scary and hard things a tiny bit easier when they come.

We can do hard things.


Brave kids very high up in the air!


A few days after this experience at the adventure park, our class of 2018 graduated from our school.  Watching them so high in the air that day (much, much higher than their teacher and I were willing to go) was truly an inspiring experience – and not just because of how scared I was!

At their graduation, I shared with them some advice, all inspired from our adventure park experience. I think they embodied all of this while being 20-40 feet up in the air, and I think it’s good advice for all of us to remember – even when we are on solid ground.

  1. You can do hard things!!! I don’t think I need to explain that one. (And, yes, I am the person at the park who yelled this from the ground – and also said it to myself as I was attempting these challenges myself!) 
  1. Similar to hard things, sometimes things are scary but you can still do them. You can count to three and you can go and you can do it! And then the next time you have to do something scary, it might be a little less so because you got through that first thing. 
  1. You always have a choice. You can keep going through something hard – you can persevere – or you can stop and go a different way – take a different path. There is no right choice or wrong choice. Only you know what’s best for you and you have to listen to your own heart and not the other noise around you. 
  1. And finally, being encouraging makes such a difference. We all saw first-hand how some of the other kids at the adventure park acted. Be patient. Be encouraging. Stay true to you, and always be curious. You don’t have to be at our school to act in a “This is community” kind of way, and I hope you always will remember this and live it as you move on.

Teaching Isn’t Easy on a Regular Day

Teaching Isn’t Easy on a Regular Day

On Friday, May 18, there was another school shooting. There have been more than 20 school shootings in 2018 (source).

For those who know me, it is no secret what I think about this or the need to end gun violence – and my support of organizations working hard to do it. I’ve said so many things so many times about it all.

Today, I’m going to say something different.

Every time these deadly and tragic and truly awful events happen to students and teachers, I think about the school I lead and our community. It’s unimaginable to think about it happening and it’s unimaginable to think about the aftermath. The only way I can even *remotely* relate to what these schools must go though is thinking about the hard times we have faced and how generous acts of kindness and encouragement always made a difference in those times.

Without ever having experienced something so terrifying as a school shooting, I do know that people reaching out in hard times helps. I know this for sure.

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I reached out by filling out a form on their website. A little more than a month later, I got an email from a Stoneman Douglas teacher who told me, “As I am sure you can understand, staff morale is a concern for us. Each day does bring challenges, so if you are interested in doing something for the staff that would be amazing.”

I could definitely understand.

And I had ideas about what we could do about it.

Twenty-one of us from our school community (teachers, staff, board members and parents) donated money to do something special for Stoneman Douglas and another 16 of us committed to writing notes of encouragement to their almost-200 instructional staff members. I was given a list of names of the Stoneman Douglas teachers and administrators, and we divided them up and got to work.

Then, through my connection with Tropical Smoothie Café (because their charity partner is an organization I’ve been involved with for many years), I was put in touch with the owner of a Tropical Smoothie Café location 6 miles from the school. I thought with our collection and maybe a discount from them, it would be possible to provide a lunch for all of the Stoneman Douglas staff. Turns out it was more than possible! Tropical Smoothie Café very generously donated 250 boxed lunches and smoothies for the Stoneman Douglas staff on May 14, which was a day that their students had an early dismissal and the teachers had a meeting.

To coincide with the lunch, we sent down a package with our cards and little boxes filled with Hershey’s Hugs and a label saying “Hugs from one school community to another – thinking of you at Pinecrest School in Northern Virginia.  ” We’re in the process of sending down another 100 boxes of Hugs for the Stoneman Douglas office, custodial and school security staff as well.

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Notes on the left and boxes of Hershey’s Hugs on the right 

Even after mailing the box of cards and chocolates and buying the supplies to put it all together, it still left us with a good chunk of money. (The Tropical Smoothie Café CEO also made a personal donation to the cause!)

The first Stoneman Douglas teacher with whom I was in touch connected me with another teacher to talk about how best to use this money to support them. I knew immediately what kind of educator she was when she called me one week night at 8:40 p.m. as she was leaving school for the day.

She shared a lot with me on that phone call about how the teachers in the building where the shooting took place were affected. They lost 30 classrooms and two teacher lounge spaces. She and the other administrators have been prioritizing doing nice things for all of the teachers, but for the displaced teachers in particular. They have been finding ways to get together off campus because they need to be together. It’s hard for them to talk about this with others who have not experienced it.  On February 14, as the shooting was happening, many teachers thought it was a drill; they had no idea it was real.

She told me that there is data on teacher retention rates in situations like this (she mentioned Sandy Hook and Columbine) that 50-90% of teachers will turn over after this kind of incident. She said that would “really devastate them” so she’s working very hard not to have that happen at Stoneman Douglas – and she’s also worried about the summer when they will all go their own ways.

At the end of the call she said, “They are all very proud to be teachers, and they’ll be very happy people at another school thought of them.”

It probably goes without saying that this conversation was very moving – and enlightening.

So, in the next couple of days, we’ll be sending down the remainder of the funds we collected (part in a check to the school and part in Visa gift cards so there is no restriction on how they can use it) with a note indicating our intention: self-care for the Stoneman Douglas teachers and school leaders.

And, then, I am going to reach out to Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, to see what we can do to help them.

And I encourage you to do so too.

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“Pinecrest School in Annandale, VA is #MSDStrong with you! ❤️”   Pictured here are some of our teachers and staff and members of the Board of Directors who participated in support efforts. #ThisIsCommunity


“Teaching isn’t easy on a regular day. Please know how many thoughts are with you all at this time.”

This was part of the message on my cards to the Stoneman Douglas teachers I had on my list.

I was hesitant to tell this story because the couple friends I did share it verbally with all reacted similarly – with comments about how they would have never thought of this and compliments for me that I did. While I appreciate their generous words, I did not want that kind of attention. There should not be anything special about reaching out to people who need to help. It should be what everyone does. It should be the norm. That’s why, in the wake of the most recent school shooting, I’m telling this story now: I hope it will encourage others to reach out, more regularly and also with the realization that you don’t need a lot of money to do it. You only need to realize how much of an impact we can all make on each other if we try and if we focus more outward rather than inward. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had similar views: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”)

There doesn’t seem to be a clear or easy way to make contact with Santa Fe High School on their website or on the school district site (yet) but I’ll keep clicking around and see what I can find. (And I’ll update this if I find a direct link.)

If you want to do something for the Stoneman Douglas teachers and staff, please let me know and I can put you in touch with the two teacher leaders I’ve been thinking about daily ever since we connected.

Finally, if you have views on gun violence prevention, please contact your US Senators, your US Representative, the President and your state governor, senator and representative.  I believe using our voices matters as much as I believe reaching out makes a difference. (If you would like to see sample letters I’ve sent many times in the past, let me know. I am happy to share them.)

And here are some organizations that you can support if you are so inclined: Everytown for Gun Safety, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  You can find a local Moms Demand Action (for anyone, not just moms) or a Students Demand Action group here

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But, even if you don’t agree with my feelings about gun violence prevention, please think about what you can do to help teachers at schools affected by gun violence. Teaching isn’t easy on a regular day, and educators need our consistent support to make a difference to their students and to our future.   

Nicole McDermott is in her 13th year leading Pinecrest School, a small, engaging independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia. She volunteers for a week ever summer at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from all around the country, and as a result of that experience has become an unofficial brand ambassador for Tropical Smoothie Café. Tropical Smoothie Café has donated more than $1 million to Camp Sunshine in the past ten years.

Nicole prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into more of her best self. She knew in second grade she wanted to be a teacher and considers it her vocation and calling much more so than her occupation. You can read more of Nicole McDermott’s written work on this blog.

39 Things I Know for Sure

Another year, another thing I know for sure! 😊  

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39 Things I Know for Sure

  1. “When people show you who they are, believe them.” –Maya Angelou
  2. Be intentional. Know what you’re doing and why – and own it when something does not go exactly how you intended.
  3. Operating out of fear creates stress and tension for you and everyone around you.
  4. Love is in the details.
  5. There are three ways to be when leaving something (a place, a job, et cetera): act like you don’t care/have a screw them mentality; act as if you’re not leaving/so that people wonder, “She knows this is her last month here, right?”; or be chill, do your best as usual and have only good intentions for what you’re leaving. Choose the third option, please.
  6. Accepting that something isn’t the right thing for you is very hard, but sometimes very necessary.
  7. Using people’s names in conversation builds connection.
  8. If you can do it, do it (whatever it is – for you or for others).
  9. Always take the opportunity to tell someone you’re appreciative, grateful, happy, and/or better off because of him/her. (“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” –Tom Peters)
  10. Validate. Say thank you.
  11. Being truly empathetic is about showing up, listening, hearing, being there; it’s not about problem-solving.
  12. Technology is a tool – for efficiency, for connection. It’s not for exclusivity or rudeness.
  13. Discretion, especially in groups, is a very valuable yet a VERY underused skill.
  14. Friends made during life-changing experiences are often life-long friends.
  15. When you have an uplifting, escapism, Joy Rising and/or Bonus Day experience, you’re resetting and refreshing. Look for big and little ways you can do it regularly. It’s so good for you.
  16. Self-conscious inclinations limit you; try to break free from them, even if little by little.
  17. Kids whose parents divorce or have some other challenge (in their family or within themselves) could benefit from talking to a professional. There’s no shame in it.
  18. Energy matters. (“Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” –Jill Bolte Taylor)
  19. Showing emotion is real and true; it’s not something about which you need to be embarrassed.
  20. When someone gets cancer (or is going through something tough), say, “That’s awful. I care about you. I am thinking of you. How can I help?” Nothing else is needed. And, you can never say “I’m thinking of you” too much to someone who’s facing a challenge.
  21. Be yourself, openly and with pride and humility. You will encourage others to do the same.
  22. Quality leadership shows itself in so many tangible ways. You often don’t realize what you have until you don’t; try to be aware and recognize it when you have it and try to be a contributor to the positive culture and environment.
  23. Community isn’t a place, but a feeling. It should be synonymous with safety, trust and connection.
  24. Honor your friends’ trust.
  25. Find your person and people – and never forget how incredible it is that you did.
  26. Traditions and inside jokes can be the best. Know when it’s the right time to bring these out though based on who’s around you.
  27. When communicating to a group, operate as if everyone is brand-new to the situation. Thinking this way helps you be very clear with the information. Anticipate what will be asked and address that up front. When people know what to expect, they feel more safe and comfortable.
  28. Manage expectations – for you and for those around you.
  29. Credibility and respect are earned through honesty, being real and having a pure agenda on a consistent basis.
  30. Invest in what matters to you – with your time, resources and effort. (“Actions express priorities.” –Gandhi)
  31. Trust your gut. Go with your instincts. (“Doubt means don’t.” –Maya Angelou)
  32. Give credit where credit is due. (Even to yourself. And when others acknowledge you, being gracious is the best response.) Don’t take credit for something that isn’t yours. Know your role.
  33. Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye or call an ending takes a lot of maturity and self-awareness. It’s important to know when it’s time to give someone else a chance and/or find out what new opportunity is awaiting you.
  34. Be careful with the word “but.” When used, most anything said beforehand is not heard.
  35. We can’t ask people to do things that we aren’t willing to do ourselves, especially as leaders.
  36. When giving a speech, remember President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.”
  37. Grateful thoughts change my energy, and that means the energy I share with others changes. Gratitude is transformative, and there is always, always, always something for which to be grateful.
  38. We can do hard things. And if you’re working on something REALLY hard that takes a L O N G time, having the right team around you is essential.  Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.
  39. Be wholehearted and act only in ways that reflect this. People can tell the difference. (“When we put ourselves fully before another, it makes love possible, the stubborn way the land goes soft before the sea.” –Mark Nepo)

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Writing
 my original post in March 2015 was inspired by Drew Dudley’s “38 Things I’ve Learned in 38 Years” published February 2015 (but no longer online).

Take a Breath

Take a Breath

Every day for an entire year, I’ve told myself something important before I got out of bed in the morning:

“I will take a breath before I respond.”


I eventually added a second intention, and just recently another, so now I say three things to myself every morning, but taking a breath before I respond is the most significant.


A year ago at this time, I was in a very stressful situation.  Despite good intentions, I knew I was sometimes struggling to be my best self as I navigated all that was going on.


On the morning of November 14, I remember thinking, “I need to try harder” and my daily intention was born.  I remember distinctly blowing it almost immediately once the day began.  I did not take a breath before I responded.  I felt badly and resolved to do better.  And I do think I did, a little bit, as the day went on.


We’ve been practicing mindfulness at school for the past few years.  One of our goals is to teach children to respond rather than react – i.e., take a breath or a pause before you respond.


Clearly it took me a little longer to personally embrace the importance of this particular mindful trait, but I’m sincerely trying now.


I still say this to myself with conviction every morning.   But, just the other day, someone told me something that caught me off guard and did not make me feel good, and I know I did not react well.


Taking a breath before I respond is a work in progress for me.


In June, I started meditating for 5-10 minutes daily.  I’ve been doing it consistently for 156 days as of today.  It’s hard to quantify if it’s helping (Have I taken a breath before responding more times since beginning my meditation practice than before? Very hard to know for sure.), but I think it is.


I think it’s helping me create a little space and that’s where the breath comes in.  More space allows for more chance I’ll take a breath before I respond.   More space allows for more chance that my response will be just that instead of a reaction.  More space allows for more chance that my best self will come through as I respond.


It’s hard to set benchmarks around skills that feel intangible.  If asked to rate myself today, I’d say I am at about fifty percent for my success rate on this over the past year.


It could be higher than that.  It is so hard to know.


What I do know for sure is I need to keep working on it, and I will.  As I reflect on a year of trying my best at this, I also think about my present day situation.  I am under a lot of stress now too.  It’s actually almost the exact same stress as a year ago with variations in details.  Things are not perfect, but I think things are going a little better now than a year ago at this time.


I’m trying to take a breath before I respond, and I will keep reminding myself that each morning until this skill can be marked as consistent.  It will probably be awhile before I get there, but I can do hard things and I will.


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Easy to remember to take a breath when I’m here 😊 

Gratitude on Back-to-School Night

Gratitude on Back-to-School Night

It’s always interesting how different memories attach to different events in our minds. This does not typically happen in the moment.  It’s usually later that certain events take on a different significance.

My best example of this is from 2011: my thyroid cancer and Back-to-School Night.

There isn’t a logical link, and I know the “important” dates: when I was told there was something suspicious on my ultrasound (September 9), the fine needle biopsy that followed (September 19) and the surgery to remove my thyroid and the cancer (October 26).

Sometimes I think about having thyroid cancer on these particular days and sometimes I don’t.

Mostly I think about having thyroid cancer when it’s Back-to-School Night.

I couldn’t tell you the exact date of BTS Night in 2011, but I know it was either September 19 or within a couple of days of that.  The reason I know this is because I had to wear an outfit that incorporated a scarf that night.  The scarf was to hide a terrible rash on my neck that was an(other) unwelcome result from the fine needle biopsy that told me for sure that I had thyroid cancer. The rash was from the chemical they used to clean my neck before they stuck me (twice). At that point, my thyroid cancer was not public information, and I didn’t want to explain the rash (or how I got it) at BTS Night.

In that moment, the rash on my neck that everyone could see was worse than the papillary thyroid carcinoma inside me that only a handful of people knew about.

I think about this every year when I am getting dressed for BTS Night.  And so I was thinking about it twice this week.

I went through a lot of feelings at school this week – to name only a few: nervousness about how BTS Night #2 would go, exhaustion by the end of the week (there was also a late night board meeting in between our two BTS Nights – not my best calendar planning), and worry about issues needing my attention.

But the most important feeling I had this week was gratitude. BTS Night reminds me to be grateful that I didn’t have to hide anything or that my health didn’t dictate my outfit.

Much more importantly, it reminds me to be grateful for my good health – and also the good health of everyone who matters to me.

And it also reminds me that not everyone is so fortunate.

Even though everyone always tells me my surgery scar is invisible, I see it and look at it pretty regularly. And when I do, the tiny cancer (approximately 7mm – the size of a watermelon seed) that lived in me for an unknown amount of time before it was removed in 2011 flits through my mind.  I know so many people with cancer much bigger and scarier than mine – either their own or their child’s. And I know if mine flits through my mind regularly, their minds can never fully be at ease.

And, so, Back-to-School Night reminds me of all of this.  It reminds me think outside of myself (especially the every-day challenges that come with leading a school) and send up some thoughts to The Universe for all those who are affected by cancer or other serious illnesses, for those who have lost loved ones to cancer and for those who survived it. It’s constant and it’s everywhere, and it needs our support and action.

And, feeling grateful for good health when we have it – and when those close to us have it – should be constant and everywhere too.


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Wore this on my right wrist both BTS Nights to help remind me of gratitude and the many amazing people I know who are doing and have done hard things: the gold ribbon is the awareness symbol for childhood cancer



September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month.
Please be aware! 






About Childhood Cancer: Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children (after accidents). About 1,250 children younger than 15 years old were expected to die from cancer in 2016. About 10,380 children in US under the age of 15 were expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. (source)  
Only 4% of federal funding (through the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute) is dedicated to childhood cancer. #ItsNotOK #MoreThan4 #AwarenessFundingCures


About Thyroid Cancer: The chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has risen in recent years and is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US tripling in the past three decades.  In 2017, it’s estimated that there will be about 56,870 new cases of thyroid cancer (42,470 in women and 14,400 in men) and about 2,010 deaths from thyroid cancer. (source) #CheckYourNeck




Don’t Share The Panic

Don’t Share The Panic

I was recently having dinner with friends and we were talking about our schools (we’re all educators). One friend told us about something she recently had to tell a colleague:


“Don’t share the panic.”


I knew this was a gem (and a blog post) the moment I heard it.


This is so real, and so important.


Don’t share the panic.  If you’re feeling worried or anxious or concerned, how does it help to get someone else all up in arms with the same feelings?  It may help you in the short term, but it doesn’t help the greater good and it certainly doesn’t help the community you’re part of.  (And if we’re talking about schools, it one hundred percent does not help the students.)


The big project I’ve been writing about is a good example of this on a large scale.  Over the course of it, there was so much panic for those of us leading it and countless times (as I have written about previously) when it felt like it was never going to happen.  Yet, we only shared those feelings with a very small group of people.  We didn’t share that with everyone.  And everyone was better off for it.


I’ve been thinking about the distinction a lot.  I think it’s always valuable and necessary to share information and facts, but it is usually not helpful or necessary to share feelings and opinions.  It would not have benefited anyone on our staff or in our community if they knew I felt panic about our big project at times.  It would have only made them feel panic too.  It would have created doubt, and ill will, and concerning feelings.  It would have served no purpose.


On a small scale, this concept can be applied every day in little moments.  You don’t need a big project to remember not to share the panic.  I think if we are focused on moving forward and looking beyond ourselves, we will share better energy with each other.  We will share facts and information, which are not always positive, but they are real.  We can work with facts and information, and we can use them to make decisions and to progress.


Our feelings don’t really help us do this, and sometimes they get in our way of remembering our priorities.  Sometimes we get stuck in how we feel and we end up spreading panic instead of spreading positive energy.


It is not always easy, but when we stay focused on what matters most, I think it helps us remember to not share the panic.  And, I think it helps to remember that moments of panic are just that: moments. The panic is not permanent.  It will pass.


And, until it does, please don’t share it.



This one is dedicated to my grad school friends.  “Don’t share the panic” is one of many gems that came out of our monthly dinners during the last school year.  It’s always real when we’re together, and it’s always great. xo



Except for the 38th lesson in my 38 Things I Know for Sure post from February, I had not previously written anything about this project while it’s been going on.  I think part of me never felt it was safe to do so because the outcome felt so uncertain so often.  There’s certainty now and so this is my third post relating to “the big project.” (The first was Failure and the second was Failure, Part 2.)  It’s also very important for me to say that I have not been alone in undertaking this big project, and I hope nothing I ever write on the topic makes it seem that way.  As I wrote in my 38th thing I know for sure:  “Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.”  

It’s Not Going To Happen (Failure, Part 2)

It’s Not Going To Happen (Failure, Part 2)

I was recently working on a tiny project – an off-shoot of the big project I wrote about last time.  This little project shared none of the consequence and importance of the big project, but it was important to me.  And while it ended well with results I was happy with, it did not start out that way.


The story is long and not that interesting so I won’t bore you with it here, but when it was taking place, I did bore a friend with ALL of the details.  He listened attentively to everything before he finally said something like, “At what point did you think, ‘Forget it, this is not going to happen?’”  I barely paused before I said with certainty, “Oh no, I never thought that! That wasn’t a choice!”  We both laughed.


This is symbolic for the big project because so many times I thought, “This is not going to happen.”  Even though it really felt like that sometimes, it also equally felt unfathomable that something I could give so much time and energy to could not happen as I expected.


Those of us in the trenches laugh about the moments when we thought it was over.  We each had different times when we thought we should pull the plug – or, more accurately, thought we had no choice but to pull the plug.  I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was texting my best friend with something like, “It’s over. It’s not happening.  I need to update my resume.  This is a major failure.”  I can’t remember now which disaster moment that was but of course none of that was true even though it felt very real in the moment.


I know I said it felt unfathomable that something I was giving so much time and energy to could not go as expected.  This is something unfathomable to someone like me who values the pursuit of excellence and working hard.  I’ve thought about this a lot over the past several years.  I’ve thought about how it would absolutely feel like a reflection on me if it didn’t happen, and yet I’ve also thought about how sometimes things just don’t work out.  We are fortunate that our project is working out, but that does not always happen.


This is the gift and the lesson of our big project: sometimes (often? always?) these things are beyond our control.  We can do everything that we can control: we can work hard, we can be thoughtful, we can consider every angle, we can assemble effective teams, we can make hard decisions with the greatest hope that they are the right ones, but in the end, we are sometimes (often? always?) not solely responsible for any one thing.


I talk a lot about gratitude and how important it is for me, and this is a perfect example of why it matters: sometimes when I think about our project, I have no idea how we actually got here – on the brink of getting the result we want – and I don’t really need to know.  What I do know is that I need to feel grateful, and I do.


I also feel grateful – most of the time 😉 – that it’s in my DNA to never give up and to do whatever is needed to get to where I want to go, but I also now feel awakened to the idea that something could not go as planned even if I didn’t give up.  Sometimes things just don’t work out. And if that happened, I would be okay. I might be sad and disappointed and lots of other feelings that would reflect the moment, but I would be okay.



Except for the 38th lesson in my 38 Things I Know for Sure post from February, I had not previously written anything about this project while it’s been going on.  I think part of me never felt it was safe to do so because the outcome felt so uncertain so often.  There’s more certainty now and so this is my second post about “the big project.” (The first was Failure.)  It’s also very important for me to say that I have not been alone in undertaking this big project, and I hope nothing I ever write on the topic makes it seem that way.  As I wrote in my 38th thing I know for sure:  “Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.”  



I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.  A few months ago, a friend thought a fundraising event she was leading was not going to make its expected financial goal.  I tried to reassure her that even if that happened, it did not mean it was a failure and, more importantly, that she could not have worked any harder for this event.


These kinds of situations are not easy – when we have to reconcile the reality of what’s happening with our desire for the outcome we expect and with our personal values.  Sometimes this is all in alignment and it’s perfect, and sometimes none of it is in alignment and it’s – like life – imperfect.


A few days after the event ended, which did end up meeting its financial goal, my friend and I were processing everything, and she said, in the moments when she thought it was not going to meet expectations, she sat on the couch with her husband and said, “I haven’t failed at anything in a long time.”


I have thought about this statement every day since she said it.


I knew how “me” I would have thought this was if she had shared it with me a few years ago.  Like my friend, excellence is very important to me, and I work hard for anything and anyone I care about.  But, in the moment that she said it, I felt removed from it.


I’ve been working on a big (B I G) project at school for so long now I honestly forget exactly how long it’s been.  It’s been going on for several years.  And it is important and consuming, and it has been the topic of so much conversation professionally and personally since it’s started.


The project has taught me a lot, and I think one of the biggest lessons has been about failure.  When my friend said that she hadn’t failed at anything for a long time, I thought immediately of this project.  I knew that before the project started, I would have shared my friend’s feeling without any reservation.  I would have been able to completely relate, but not now.  This project has not been a failure – and we are now in the final stretch of it so success really is in sight (literally) – but it’s felt like a failure many, many, many times.  There have been – what feels like – countless moments over the course of it where we had to announce something was going to be different than we thought or be difficult for longer than expected or that we had a(nother) setback.


The project felt like a failure to me almost every time this happened.


And I felt like a failure, too.


So, basically, I’ve felt like a failure a lot over the past several years.


There is a distinction here, and I know it’s a real one.  I know that if any project fails, it does not mean the person or people behind it do too, but it was hard for me to see before all of this started – or even in the middle of it at times.


But I think I do see it clearly now – even if my heart may sometimes struggle with it.  Mostly I think I see it because I could never let myself dwell on these feelings.  They were real and they were there, but they were not in the forefront.  They couldn’t be. The project – and school in general – requires so much of me.  It requires me to be clear-headed and organized and ready to give my best at every moment.  So, even when I felt like I was failing, I had to keep going.



A brick on the walkway at a very special place ❤️

Feeling like I’m failing –and living with the uncertainty of that – gave me freedom.  It forced me to stay in the present moment.  It also forced me to distance myself from it all.  Yes, I was in the middle of it, I was communicating information, and I was answering questions, but it wasn’t about me.  It was about the project.  This is also a hard distinction (especially if you’re me) but it’s one I’ve been learning along the way.


I think the other thing is this: I don’t think we can give ourselves to and invest ourselves in organizations or projects or events without believing that the cause is bigger than us.  Why else would we do it?  And so the paradox is if that’s true, that probably also means its success or failure or lessons (or all of the above) are bigger than us too.


Except for the 38th lesson in my 38 Things I Know for Sure post from February, I have not written anything about this project while it’s been going on.  I think part of me never felt it was safe to do so because the outcome felt so uncertain so often.  There’s more certainty now so this may be the first of a few posts about “the big project.” It’s also very important for me to say that I have not been alone in undertaking this big project, and I hope nothing I ever write on the topic makes it seem that way.  As I wrote in February – and know for sure:  “Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.” 



I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity.  There are so many ways to be generous, but I think the kind of generosity that gets the most attention is financial generosity.  And this is important.  So much good and charitable work could not happen without the generosity of many.  So this definitely matters, a lot.  And, I am definitely someone who champions a good cause with a financial donation.

This said, I think there are a lot of other ways to be generous too and we need to remember them.  And give ourselves credit for them.  And keep striving to be more generous whenever we can.

In addition to being generous with money, being generous with our time is equally important.  The same sentence I wrote earlier could apply here: So much good and charitable work could not happen without the generosity of many.  Sharing our time – often scarce, personal, discretionary time – is incredibly important.

And then there’s being generous with how we perceive others and interact with others – and how we perceive ourselves too.  I think this may be the hardest form of generosity.

Brené Brown says, “We practice generosity when we extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.”   This is the kind of generosity I’ve been thinking the most about.  It is not always easy, or natural, but I am starting to realize that it may be the most important kind of generosity.  I think many unproductive stories we tell ourselves start when we do not extend generous interpretations.  I can think right now of much stress and confusion I could have avoided if I was more generous with my assumptions (or even if I simply held off on making an interpretation until whatever conversation or event took place).  I think this is the most generous thing I can do, and I’m going to be working on this.

For me, sometimes the hardest part of self-improvement and focusing on different areas that need development is not me trying to do things differently but instead it’s when I feel like the people around me are not only not focused on those same areas, but are doing the exact thing I’m trying not to do.  This happens to me with gratitude all the time.  I am a big believer in the practice of gratitude, and I believe that there is always something for which you can be grateful.  When I hear people talking who don’t seem to be as in touch with gratitude as me, it’s frequently hard for me to listen.  I try to think in my mind of something the person could be grateful for if she or he was open to it.  I also try to think of something for which I’m grateful when I’m listening.  It helps change the energy, even if it’s only my energy.  (And yes, I realize that this does not always help me be an active listener…that’s another focus area for another time.)

So, now as I think more about generosity in thought and in assumption, I know the same thing will happen.  I know I am going to get frustrated with people around me who don’t seem to get this, including myself because I definitely do not always get this.  But I’ll try to use these times to become even better at it and to assume something generous about the people around me, especially when those people are not extending generosity to the people around them – or even to me.

Generosity requires a lot from us.  It requires us to be open and to be humble, to understand that life is – and we are – imperfect, to not assume everything is always about us, and to share kindness – in our thoughts, our time, our resources.

In other words, Hashtag Goals.

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