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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Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting


I have a friend who thinks he’s not a good friend.  We talk about this a fair amount.  He thinks this mainly because he says I do all the “heavy lifting” in our relationship.  I know what he means.  I’m the organizer, the one who follows through.  I make sure we see each other regularly.  This is my strength in many of my friendships.


But, this is definitely not the heavy lifting of a friendship.  I think the real heavy lifting is showing up for each other by being vulnerable and real, by listening and caring, and by embracing what’s important to each other.  The heavy lifting is in being attentive to the details of your friend’s life: what’s happening, who’s involved and what matters most to him or her.  It’s assuming positive intent and being a champion for your friend.


It’s being worried when you think your friend is sick.  It’s putting out all your good thoughts to The Universe when your friend is looking for a new job or starting something new.  It’s calling to check in when you know your friend could use some extra caring.  It’s laughter and brightening your friend’s day with a joke you share.


This is the heavy lifting between friends.  It’s mutual respect.  It’s prioritizing the connection and the person.


It’s love.


And, if you’re doing it right, this kind of heavy lifting doesn’t leave you feeling sore or tired.  Just the opposite. 😊



I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy – what it is and what it isn’t.  Truthfully, I don’t think empathy is my best trait, but I’m trying to improve.  Brené Brown talks a lot about empathy.  Oprah too (“All people want is for you to show up and say, ‘I don’t know what to say but I’m here.’”).


In my recent experiences I’ve come to see that being empathetic requires a prioritizing of the other person’s feelings over yours.  You often have to put your own opinions aside in order to fully show up with empathy for someone else.  Empathy isn’t about problem solving; it’s about caring and being there.  It’s putting your feelings of love and concern for someone else over your own, over what you may know because empathy is about what you feel and, most especially, what the other person feels.


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Empathy does not feel like criticism or like there’s a problem that needs to be sorted out.  It’s not feedback either, or suggestions.  There’s a place for all of that when relating to and with others, but it’s not during empathy.  Empathy is simply about listening to what’s being said and what’s not being said.


Empathy isn’t easy, but neither is connection.  It’s not always natural, but it’s always possible if we have the right intention in mind.



I went through a period a few months ago where I felt like everyone around me was complaining all the time.  It seemed like everything was an issue.  It seemed like everything needed attention, or a comment.  But, really, not everything requires something of us.


Most things, they can simply exist.  Things don’t have to be issues if we don’t make them issues.  It really can be as simple as that.


I get that when things are challenging or stressful, sometimes a small thing feels like a big thing because it’s one more thing.  But, again, that’s only if we make it that way.


We can do hard things.


We can problem solve.


We can triumph even in stress.


We can make another plan when the first one isn’t going our way – or when circumstances get in our way of being successful.


We can be uncomfortable for a short time, and we can persevere.


We don’t have to see everything through a negative lens.


The thing I started to notice about complaints is that often very little solution is offered.  The complaints I’ve heard lately are more like announcements: announcements of negative energy that filter to everyone and everything in the room.  It’s like when suddenly you can see dust particles everywhere if something has been disturbed; these complaints, they are like that.  You can’t see them, but you can feel them.  And they don’t feel good.  With complaints, what’s been disturbed is the energy, the atmosphere, the space – and me!


So, if you don’t have a solution, and you don’t want to add more to your responsibilities by seeking one out, please consider keeping quiet.  Or, how about making other sort of announcements?  I think we can all use more positive energy.  I love the people who surround me with announcements of good news and good feelings.  It’s so valuable.  And uplifting.  As Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor said, “Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.”


Any space.  All spaces.  Please.


There is a reason why that old expression, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” still exists.



Desk Drawer

Desk Drawer

Last week, I found something in my desk drawer.  It was something I had in my old desk, in my old office, and now here it was in my small temporary desk in my shared, small temporary office.  It was personal, not at all related to my job.  Why had I moved this item?  When I found it, I felt a little embarrassed for myself and I removed it from my desk.  (I certainly don’t need to move it again later to my new office!)  I didn’t throw it out though.  I couldn’t.  So, I brought it home and I put it with other things I can’t throw away, things that I think matter.  But, I also know that someday later, I’ll find it again and probably wonder why I didn’t already throw it out.  It matters now, but someday it might not.


That’s how it goes with STUFF.  Stuff reminds us of moments, of people, of times that matter, of situations that impacted us.  Sometimes things matter only in the moment, and sometimes they matter in the moments to come too.


Sometimes, I simply can’t let the stuff go because somehow it feels like I am letting the moment go.  And it’s not that I am living in the past, but it’s that something about that moment from the past serves me in the present.


I can’t always articulate the why or the how, but I always know it makes me think and it makes me feel (even if that’s a little embarrassed).  And that’s vulnerable and real, like the items we save in desk drawers and, more importantly, the moments they represent.


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Today’s Confirmation

Today’s Confirmation

I often say that I never really chose to be a teacher; more that it feels like teaching chose me.  I’ve always felt it was a calling much more so than my occupation.  I’ve known since I was in second grade – thirty years ago! – that I wanted to be a teacher.  And even after I came to lead a school, I most of the time describe myself as a teacher when asked.  It means something to me.  It means a lot to me.  It means every day I can make a difference to children and their families – and to teachers and staff too.


However, the sad truth is that while it means a lot to me – and certainly to the people I teach and lead with every day at Pinecrest School, and to the many friends and family who are also educators, and most definitely to the teachers and professors who had a profound influence on my life from elementary school to graduate school – it does not mean a lot to everyone.

I know this for a few reasons.  The first time the world told me that teachers didn’t matter was when I was graduating from high school.  I remember many people reacting to the news that I was going to study education in college with comments like, “You’re too smart to be a teacher” or “Those who can do and those who can’t teach.”  What?!  I remember knowing then that these people were very mixed up.  How could they think the professionals shaping young minds and hearts every day should not be smart?!

Then, once I started working, my compensation also told me that teachers didn’t matter.  And then there’s the long hours, the work and planning during personal time, the comments from people who don’t get it about having summers off, and how you can never, ever turn your brain off when you’re thinking about a student’s well-being, or reflecting on a lesson or an exchange, or planning the next creative, hands-on, interactive learning experience.  And this is to say nothing of how much parent interaction and struggle there is on a regular basis, how you can’t go to the bathroom when you want, or how you are literally “on” every second of the day as soon as you walk into your school.

So, all of these things are messages about our profession, and we internalize them, and we are no doubt affected by them, but we keep doing this work.  We keep showing up, every day, to make a difference.  Because we believe it matters.  And it does.


But, today is the day that I know for sure that the world thinks teachers don’t matter.  Today is the day that 50 Republican Senators and the Vice President of the United States of America voted to confirm into office someone who has no experience being a teacher or a school leader, someone with no formal education in the area where now she’s going to lead.  Betsy DeVos did not even attend public school – nor did her children – and yet now she is rising into a position that will oversee every public school in the nation.

The Senate voting to confirm Betsy DeVos as the next United States Secretary of Education is so disheartening, and so unfortunate.  But, to me, the real confirmation from today is that our culture does not value educators or schools.  I can’t think of any other profession where people who have no skills or experience in that field think they should make decisions for it or be leaders of it.  I don’t believe someone else so “uniquely unqualified” (as many of the Democratic Senators accurately described Betsy DeVos) would ever come to lead any other government agency.  Would Secretary of Defense ever be someone who never served in the military?  Would the Surgeon General be a carpenter?  Would the Attorney General be a teacher?  No, I don’t believe these scenarios would ever happen.

I am too smart for that.

Despite the disappointment of today’s decision, there are 46 Democrats, 2 Independents and 2 Republicans who should be recognized for showing up for students, teachers and schools in the Senate today.  To Senators Baldwin (D-WI),  Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Donnelly (D-IN), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Franken (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Hassan (D-ME), Heinrich (D-NM), Heitkamp (D-ND), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Markey (D-MA), McCaskill (D-MO), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murkowski (R-AK), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden  (D-OR): THANK YOU!

And to the Senators not listed here, I hope the voters remember this day and your lack of integrity when you are next up for re-election.  (You can find their names and re-election timelines here.)  I am not from any of your states, but I won’t forget and I look forward to contributing to the campaigns of your opponents.



Nicole McDermott is in her twelfth year leading Pinecrest School, a small, independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia.  As it should be, before becoming a school leader, she taught kindergarten, second grade and third grade.  In addition, Nicole has extensive experience working with high school student leaders through her community service work with Kiwanis International, and she spends a week each summer volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from all around the country. Nicole prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into a better version of herself. You can read more of Nicole McDermott’s written work on her blog.

38 Things I Know For Sure

Another year, another thing I know for sure!  Well, of course, it’s more than one, but, this year, it was easy to make the one addition.  (It’s something about which I’m very sure as I’ve been living it for almost two years now.)  Yay 38!


38 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.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Writing my original post in 2015 was inspired by Drew Dudley’s “38 Things I’ve Learned in 38 Years”

Nothing Wrong

Nothing Wrong

Recently I was (over)analyzing a situation at work, and my boss said, “But, you have to remember, regardless of what this person is doing, you are doing nothing wrong.”  He went on to further review the situation to illustrate that what he said was true: I had indeed done nothing wrong.  I was being me.  I was doing what I thought was the right thing.  I was working hard, and I was doing my job.  And, although this was secondary, yet very validating, he reminded me he thought I was doing the right thing too.


This concept has stayed in my head.  I think it’s my nature to think I did something wrong when an interaction or a situation goes awry.  And sometimes, this is true.  Almost always, I can do better.  (Almost always, we can all do better.)  And, I should be thinking about what I can do better.  I should reflect and think and want to keep improving.  And I do!


But, I shouldn’t overthink.  (Easier said than done for those who know me well!)


Thinking about my boss’s comment helps me.  It helps me a lot, especially when I am in a spiral of nervous thoughts, whether they have to do with work or not.   It frames the questions, “Did I do something wrong?  Did I play a part in or cause whatever situation or interaction that went poorly?”  These questions help me assess the situation more accurately than the spinning of my thoughts on top of each other do – and it helps me take responsibility when I could have done better.


It also helps me relax and be me.  And to remember that being me is not wrong.  It’s genuine, it’s real and it’s important.


I’ve been thinking a lot about something else that is indirectly related to my boss’s advice: how important it is to surround ourselves with people who champion us – and who we can champion too.  I feel grateful almost every day that my boss is one of these people because we know how it goes with bosses: whether they are great or not, we still have to spend a lot of time with them.  (There is only love.)  Fortunately, mine is really great.  And so this inspires me too.  It inspires me to want to be this kind of boss – and person – for others.  It inspires me to want to remind those around me of the same concept especially when they are upset and it can help them refocus.


So, in the first few days of the new year, I’m thinking about these two concepts.  I’m thinking about thinking less about the times when I’m doing nothing wrong and wanting to remind others of the same.  And I’m thinking about the need to actively ensure I’m spending time with people who see the best and the real parts of me and who help remind me when I forget – and in these same people to ensure I’m seeing the best and the real parts too.

There is Only Love

There is Only Love

Gretchen Rubin writes about this as one of her twelve commandments in her book, The Happiness Project.  “There is only love” means there is no focusing in on bad traits or actions, no choosing to go to the place of frustration.  It means there is only love.  She talks about this concept coming to her from a friend.  The friend worked for a challenging boss and this is how the friend coped.  This is how the friend survived the difficult situation: she did not engage with negativity surrounding the boss.  There was only love.

I have lived this situation (on the receiving end of NOT love), and I am quick to recognize it when others are going through it.

If we have a boss or a situation beyond our control (magic words) that bothers us, it does us absolutely no good to dwell on it, to discuss it constantly, to be up in arms about it, to be negative all the time about it.  That only hurts US.

There is only love.

If we change our mindset, we can change our perspective.  If something is really bothering you, leave, quit, go.

But, what if you can’t?  What if you need that person/situation/employment in your life?  What if it’s your in-law?  Your boss?  Your neighbor?  Your child’s teacher?  Then, change what you can control: your thoughts, your energy, your actions.

There is only love.


I am so confused by people who think they can control other people, or who think they can come into a situation and then quickly effect change in a place or organization that has had the same leadership or ideals for a long time.  It’s always possible to be part of effective change if we’re open and if we engage, but it’s not always possible to do it quickly, and it’s rarely possible to do it without respect for the longstanding leadership or traditions in place.  And it never lasts if your purpose is proving someone else was wrong rather than improving the community and organization.  That’s not real.  That’s not sustainable.  And that only hurts you.

It puzzles me to see people wasting their energy on this (even though, admittedly, I do get caught up in it sometimes – although not about my boss).  If you don’t like your boss, you have two options: quit and look for another job, or change the way you view the situation and realize you have no control over your boss.  Literally, no control.  So, why waste so much energy and effort disliking, despising, despairing over this person?  Wouldn’t it be better instead to invest that energy in yourself, in your job performance, in your community, in your family, in your friends, in your world?

It does absolutely no good to zero in on, to dwell on and to overthink things we cannot change, especially if it’s a person or a situation you encounter daily.  What do you accomplish when you do this?  How does it help you?

The correct answers are nothing and it doesn’t.

There is only love.

That helps you.  You accomplish something with love – even if it’s just increased peace of mind for you. It’s not always easy, but it is essential.