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 😊 

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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! 

https://www.stbaldricks.org/about-childhood-cancer

https://www.stbaldricks.org/filling-the-funding-gap/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2016/08/11/when-child-dies-from-cancer/iwIWm1wEKGy8vD1samJJCJ/story.html

www.thetruth365.org/cancer-facts/

www.thyca.org/download/document/287/NeckCheck


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.”  

Failure

Failure

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.

 

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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.” 

Generosity

Generosity

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. 😊

Empathy

Empathy

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.

Complaining

Complaining

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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