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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Write It In A Card

Write It In A Card

Three summers ago, one of the students with whom I worked in a service organization was elected to a high leadership position.  This was incredibly exciting and special for all of us invested in this young leader.  After the convention, he posted online a very sweet tribute to me and his other advisor with a photo of the three of us and some very kind words.  Of course I liked this in both senses – with a click on Facebook and in my heart because it made me feel good to read his genuine words about how we had helped him.  In the end, 112 people liked his post.

 

However, there was a time in the past that something like this would have really embarrassed me and where I would have simply thought, “Write it in a card.”  (Or a letter, or a note.)  I remember yearbook ads and program ads in high school and beyond where parents arranged photos and words as tributes to their children.  I never wanted my parents to do this for me.  When I saw these ads, I used to think why couldn’t these parents just write their kids nice cards?  I think part of why I thought this because I am a big card person.  (I was raised this way.)  I like to give them and receive them – and I like their permanency.  You can put them on your bookshelf or bulletin board and then maybe later move them to a memory box where even later you can dig them out at any time, hold them in your hand and read through all of these touching, sincere and sweet words someone wrote about and to you.  I like this.  I also think I felt this way because sometimes I wondered for whom those ads and tributes were intended.  Of course they were for their children – and there’s no question that it was because they loved them very much and were proud of them.  I think though they also wanted everyone else to know and see it…because otherwise they likely would have written it in a card or a note…

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Not the best photo of me, but it is funny timing that my mom sent this to me – in a card – last week. Look at the cards displayed on the windowsill behind me, showing me their importance at age 5.

 

Back to my example above: what about the fact that the photo and kind words were really only meant for 2 people yet 110 others were involved with it by seeing it, reading it and liking it (to say nothing of the others who may have seen it but did not click “like”)?  Doesn’t this seem a little mixed up?  What is the real intention behind these online tributes – or the ads that are still being created in yearbooks, programs or similar all across the country?  Even at the school I lead, up until a few years ago, class ads graced the pages of our auction catalog: classes of parents arranging photos and words to honor their teachers.  Is this necessary?  (No! We stopped it and no longer do it…)  In the case of the student’s tribute to his advisors, I believe this was genuine, and it was for us as well as a way to say something like, “I didn’t do this alone and I am proud that these two people helped me.”  And that means something to me (and presumably to some of the 112 people who liked it).

 

I think ultimately though the fact that this did not embarrass me is not a good sign – in the sense that times have changed, and in this case, maybe not for the better.  Sometimes it makes sense to share sentiment with others – the person for whom it’s intended as well as those close to him or her.  Sometimes it inspires others, and that’s always good.  Sometimes there are other reasons why it makes sense to share it with the world (and by “the world,” I mean your world).  Other times though, it’s private and could best delivered in a card, note or letter – or even in an email, text or message – individually to the person you’re honoring or thinking about or remembering.  I think we have to be careful in our culture of sharing and posting and liking that we are doing so for the right reasons – and not just because it’s easy or convenient or a quick way to get attention.  And, if someone does not even have social media, why do we need to post a tribute there for that person?  When I see that, my question now is often reframed to: “Are you also writing that in a card to that person?”  I hope the answer is yes because someday that person will want to read it again and remember the feeling of the heartfelt words.  And, at the very least, that person not on social media should know how you feel and that you took the time to express it. (Reach out!)



After this student posted this about me, I took a screen shot and printed it for my bulletin board.  So many wonderful words are posted online – or even texted – regularly but if you don’t pause to copy / paste / screenshot / print / save, sometimes these beautiful words and sentiment can get lost.  

 

Reach Out

Reach Out

When my aunt left one job for another, she told me she was so surprised by who reached out to her and who did not.  When a friend recently got a new position, she told me she could not believe – or understand – why hardly anyone said anything to her after the announcement.  When I had a bad experience in front of many people, I was kind of shocked by how few people checked in with me the next day.

 
I feel like I could write a book about this.  My recent blog post – The Right Words at the Right Time – tells you why I think it matters to reach out – why it matters to always be the one who says, “I will miss you” or “It won’t be the same without you” when someone is leaving; why it matters to say, “That is so great for you that you are in a new role now. Congratulations!” when a colleague gets a new job; or why it matters to check with a friend who has weathered a hard situation by saying “I wanted to make sure you’re doing okay.”

 
And now, there are so many ways to do this that make it easier if it’s uncomfortable in person or by phone.  There’s email, texting, social media to say nothing of a handwritten note.  (That’s a blog post for another time!)

 
But, why don’t people do it when it is so easy?

 
I am going to make my guesses based on my own experiences:

  1. People do care, but they are not good at showing it. Another way to say this is that if people do not show you they care, it does not mean they don’t care.  It is not easy to accept this, but I think it’s true.
  2. People are distracted and busy with regular life. It’s easy to forget to take the time to reach out.  Reaching out means we have to think about others more than we think about ourselves and sometimes that is hard for people.
  3. People don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is not easy.  People do not rush towards what is uncomfortable or hard.  Without even realizing it, people prioritize feeling comfortable and having things feel easy over reaching out to others.
  4. People have no understanding of how much their words or gestures could make an impact on others.
  5. People think that others are reaching out and generally underestimate the value of their words or gestures (i.e., they may think, “Others are reaching out so it’s okay if I don’t.”)

 

So, what can you do?

  1. Show you care consistently and as a priority. Increase your awareness to be intentional on a consistent basis with the people who matter to you.
  2. Think about others are much as you can, and if you do get distracted, reach out when you finally can with no hesitation that some time has passed. It will always matter.
  3. Remember that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay for things to be hard.  We can do hard things. When things are happening, people aren’t looking for their friends, family or those who care about them to solve any problems.  Mostly they are looking for people to show up and be empathetic.  As Oprah once said, “All people want is for you to show up and say, ‘I don’t know what to say but I’m here.’”
  4. Understand that your words, your gestures AND YOU matter so much.
  5. Reach out even when you know others are doing the same. There is no capacity on caring words or generous feelings, on support and love, or on kindness.  We can all benefit from this even if we are receiving a lot at one time.

 
I would love that the next time my aunt changes jobs, her story is, “It was so awesome that everyone reached out to me before I left” or for my friend who gets a new position to say, “So many people let me know how positive they thought this was and were happy for me.”  Or, when something stressful happens, for people to connect with me after, reminding me people are feeling for me.

It matters.

Reach out.

 

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A small example of reaching out – it always matters to let others know we are thinking of them whether it’s a simple gesture like this (“I saw this and thought of you!”) or something of more consequence

The Right Words at the Right Time

The Right Words at the Right Time
I once was on the phone with a friend who told me it’s important to him to matter to people.  I found myself thinking, “Yeah, me too,” in my mind when he said it.  Later, when reflecting on this conversation, I realized that while it is important for me to matter to people – I definitely want to – I think what is more important to me is that I communicate and act in such a way that all the people who matter to me know it.

 

And this aligns with another concept about which I’m often thinking: the right words at the right time – a phrase inspired by a Marlo Thomas book from the early 2000s.

 

I think there are so many examples of the right words at the right time.  It’s the colleague who takes the time – whether in person, or by quick text, or by longer handwritten note, or by email – to congratulate another employee on a new position.  It’s the family member who took the time to comment on a Facebook photo, “Your grandmother would be so proud of you.” She had no idea that just a couple days earlier I was telling a story about my grandmother and what incredible timing that comment was – and how much it meant to me.  It’s the friends who share links or quotes or whatever else with me, and say “This made me think of you” or “I know you will love this.”  It’s the friend who sends me an email after a horrific situation and says, “I have been mulling and mulling over what I wanted to say to you about last night, and I think I’m struggling because no words seem quite right.”

 

That’s just it.  The words almost always are exactly quite right because they’re being shared at all.  All of these examples – and countless others I could offer – are all the same thing.  It’s people saying “I’m thinking of you.  You matter.”  Those may not be the words used, but that’s the message I receive loud and clear.  And, to me, that’s an example of grace.  And I’m grateful for it whenever it happens.

 

I think we all get busy though, and it is hard to follow through with letting people know they matter and with sharing our thoughts.  On the very morning I first started writing this, a friend texted to let me know she appreciated a card I had sent a couple of months earlier.  She realized she had not said anything, and she wanted me to know how much she valued it.  My response was a smile and a heart emoji, and that about sums it up.  When we reach out, when we share our feelings with other people, it makes us smile, it touches our hearts and it reminds us that we matter – and that we have cultivated lives full of people who matter to us.  I was glad to know she liked the card, and I was glad she reached out to me to tell me.

 

Last year, when I was on a vacation and only accessing email and social media through my iPhone, I saw an article I knew a friend would like.  I emailed it to myself so I could remember to print it out and send it to him when I was home.  (This is an older friend who doesn’t use email regularly.)  Although I had the best of intentions and I prioritize this kind of reaching out, I totally forgot about it.  It was not until months later that I was going through my email and I found the link.  Oops.  I still printed it out, wrote a note and mailed it to him though.  I wished I had remembered it sooner, but the offering was the same: this reminded me of you, I am thinking of you, I thought this would make you smile – and there’s no time limit on those expressions.  Just like my friend who texted me about the card I sent.

 

My life is busy, and I sometimes get distracted.  This is true for all of us.  I focus back though, eventually, and I don’t disregard what I wanted to do only because a little time went by.  I still do it.  That’s the important part.

 

So I think how people matter to other people is in large part through the right words at the right time.  And those words – and gestures – that are shared every day in small moments, in person, by mail, online, through texting.  We matter to people – and we let people know they matter to us – every time we say and we act in a way that says, “I am thinking of you.”  And, when we do, we never know if that’s just what the other person needed to hear, if it was indeed the right words at the right time, or if it was a more fleeting uplift.  Either way, I think it’s one of the best investments of our time we can make, and it matters – and it’s often how we matter to other people.

 


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A favorite example of a friend reaching out from 2012 – a note mailed to me on scrap paper because she knows I REALLY  appreciate reusing and recycling.  😊

Admitting Mistakes

Admitting Mistakes

Last spring, I was having dinner with a friend who asked me, “Nicole, when should leaders admit they’ve made a mistake?”

I could barely get the words out fast enough.

“All the time!”

“Whenever possible!”

She went on to tell me about her boss, who not only never acknowledged when she could have done better or when something was done wrong, but she also never complimented anyone either.

This is a toxic combination which will create a culture of people who are disgruntled and distrustful.  This will create an atmosphere where no one is at their best.

I thought about me.  I feel like I constantly own things – sometimes things that were not even mine to own – but that’s what taking responsibility is all about.  That’s what leadership is all about.  If I feel good when staff do the right thing – which, fortunately for me, is very often – then I have to accept, show grace and take responsibility when they do the wrong thing.

Leaders can’t only take credit when things are positive; leaders have to own all of it – the imperfect, the bad, the disappointing.  Of course you hope hard times pass quickly, but you have to see them through.  To me, that’s the way it works.  There is simply no other way.

Brené Brown talks about the original definition of courage in her TEDxHouston talk.  She says:

“Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language – it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” – and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so…, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.” 

If you’re leading with courage, you are showing up all the time.  You are showing up when things are positive, when things could be better, when things are imperfect, when things are real.  And by doing this, you encourage others to do the same.  If you show yourself to others, others show themselves to you.  That’s something I know for sure.

I vividly remember the first time a boss swore in front of me.  Someone had done something she wished he hadn’t, and in the privacy of her office, only to me, she exclaimed that this person was a “f***ing a**hole!”  I think my first reaction was laughter, followed by shock that she shared this with me.  It made me see her differently.  She was a real person.  This was a real reaction.  And she trusted me with it.  This was definitely someone I wanted to show my real self too as well.

And that’s how it goes.

When should leaders show who they are?  Whenever possible.  All the time.

When should leaders admit when they’ve made a mistake?  Whenever possible.  All the time.

You have to own everything when you lead, and in doing so, you’ll show up for the people you’re leading – and encourage them to do the same for you.

 

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Grace

Grace

I think grace is a concept that is really hard to pin down.   What does it really mean?  It is kindness?  Is it a connection to God?  Is it a synonym for poise?  I think it’s used in all these ways – and many more too.

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak last September in D.C. and one of the unplanned messages of her talk – which came from someone wanting to give her a gift – was about receiving grace whenever it’s offered.

She said otherwise the energy flow is broken.

I think if you view grace like that – it’s something to receive, it’s something to which you should be open, it’s something that you should see as a gift – it doesn’t matter how you define it.  It can be God, it can be love, it can be kindness, it can be thoughtfulness or it can be something else – or maybe some combination of all of the above.  I know a lot of people think many of these are the same thing, and some people don’t, and it’s okay whatever you believe.  I think it’s almost refreshing to have a concept like grace that is so open to interpretation that it’s both personal and universal without any controversy either way.

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A moment of grace at Camp Sunshine 2014

This idea of accepting grace has been in my head for a year now, and what I know for sure is that it does not matter how you define it.  All that matters is that you know it when you see it and that you are open to it at every opportunity.  What matters is that your first instinct becomes to accept it and welcome it rather than shut it down and think you should not have it.  Sadly, that’s many of our gut reactions on this.

Two months ago now – eleven months after I first started thinking about this – I had an experience where I had a feeling grace was going to be offered to me.  I was not expecting it (that’s really important to note), but I practiced in my mind what I was going to say in case it was offered.  I wanted to be gracious.  I wanted to be open.  I wanted to practice what I preach (and a couple weeks earlier, I had been vocal in preaching it with friends).  I did NOT want to interrupt the energy flow.

And, despite all of these good intentions – and even a rehearsal in my thoughts – I was not as open to it as I should have been.  I had to stop and self-correct in the middle of my response.  I said the thing that I think is the worst thing to say when grace is being offered to you: “You don’t have to do this.”  And of course the response was – because I’ve said it myself when I’ve been the one trying to offer grace: “I know I don’t have to, but I want to.”

And that’s it. Right there, that’s grace.

And I don’t want to interrupt that.  And I don’t want it interrupted when I’m trying to give it.

So, that’s the challenge.  Recognize the gift of grace.  Recognize that it’s an ongoing possibility no matter the place or group.  Recognize that to accept grace, you may have to let go of something else.  Recognize that grace is (among so much more) a hug or a kind word or a generous offer or a treat of ice cream – or in my example above – a complimentary oil change!

You can see and have grace everywhere if you’re open to it.  Recognize that the more we pause, breathe and create space between our reactions that the light dawns on us faster.  And with that light comes the grace.  And then we’re more open and more grateful – and I think also more apt to offer grace too.

And that’s definitely an energy flow I want to encourage.



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Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen

This one is a personal story.

In the summer of 2001, I discovered Anna Quindlen.  I remember it very clearly because it was the summer I graduated from college and the same summer I was interning at Kiwanis International for Key Club Convention.  One night, I was alone in my hotel room in Indianapolis, flipping through channels on the television.  (I feel like when you’re alone in a hotel room, you sometimes find channels you don’t always see when you’re at home.)   I found Book TV on CPSAN, and I paused to listen to an interesting woman talking about things that resonated.   Turns out it was Anna Quindlen.  I had never heard of her, but I liked what she was saying.

It was awhile after that before I started reading her work, but when I did, I was drawn in immediately.  I appreciated her strong voice, the way she was real with her words and feelings, and her views on feminism.  In short, she was quality, and I wanted to get involved.  I set out to read to read all of her work.

(I could say then that I admired her – and I definitely still do.  I can say now that my goal to someday write a column or a book (or have this blog) was inspired first from reading her work and hearing her express her thoughts.  Others have since made an impact on my vision, but she was the first.)

Shortly after I moved to Northern Virginia – this was probably 2002/2003 – I tried to find one of her books at the Fairfax County Public Library, and I was surprised it was not there.  First of all, I loved her, so of course that means everyone else should too!  But, more objectively, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her writing so surely all of her books should be in the library system – especially the library system in a county as renowned and regarded as Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.  (Well, I may not have thought that last part at the time because I was still new to Fairfax County, but I definitely do now after having lived here for fourteen years.)  AND the book I was trying to find was a collection of her New York Times columns that won her the Pulitzer Prize!

So, not to be deterred, I ordered a hardcover copy of Living Out Loud to read and then I donated it to the library.  They accepted it with ease, putting a stamp in it that said something like “Donated by a reader like you.”  It went into the system immediately.  I checked the book out a couple of times for good measure, but then I forgot about it.

I did not forget about Anna Quindlen though and have since read all of her non-fiction and fiction books.  When she had her Newsweek column, I followed it regularly.  I’ve seen her speak at least twice and have several of her non-fiction books signed.  She is definitely a favorite.

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2004 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

 

But, I had forgotten about that book I donated.

This past spring, I was trying to find a book by different author online in the library catalog and it was not there.  I was surprised – and a little annoyed – and I then remembered this situation.  Without really knowing what I was doing, I was suddenly searching for Living Out Loud in the catalog, and it was not there.  I searched again thinking I typed it wrong word or something.  Not there.  Sighing, I opened another window in Chrome and went right Amazon to order it.  They don’t sell Living Out Loud in hardcover anymore, but I bought the paperback, and when it arrived, I took it to the information desk at the Fairfax County Library branch closest to me and tried to donate it.  I did not realize the process for donating books had changed.

I was given a form and told that there is a lengthy consideration process from a selection committee.  I was also told that the library will not consider any donation that is not at least four copies of the same title because they do not like to have only one in the system.

So, I went home and ordered three more copies from Amazon.  And then I brought all four books to the library branch with the form.  They took them, and shortly after that, on May 15, 2016, I received an email about the donation.  When I saw the subject line, I got excited, but it turned out to be an exercise in patience waiting for me:

“Thank you for your interest in the Fairfax County Public Library. The Collection Services department received your gift copies of Living out loud.  The selection committee for gift materials will be happy to review the title for possible inclusion in the collection.  I will let you know the committee’s decision once they have met. 

We are very fortunate to receive a number of gifts from local authors and organizations, so please allow us several months to respond. Items must be approved by the Collection Services Department prior to addition to the FCPL collection.

If you have any questions about the process don’t hesitate to email me.

Thank you for thinking of the Fairfax County Public Library.”

I thought, “Several months?!” but pushed that aside to feel good that the books were in the queue to hopefully be processed.  I also appreciated the communication letting me know.

I go to the library frequently, and I wondered about the status of this a lot since May, but I tried to have trust in the process and not be bothered by how long it seemed to be taking.

Finally, on September 15, 2016, I received another update:

“Thank you for offering to donate four copies of the book, Living out loud, to the Fairfax County Public Library. 

After careful consideration we have decided to add this title to our collection.  The books will be cataloged and added to the circulating collection at four branches.

Thank you for thinking of the Fairfax County Public Library.”

YAY!

Finally!

(Also, really? All this for a Pulitzer Prize author whose other books are all in the system?!)

But, okay, okay, Fairfax County Public Library accepted the books and they are there now.

That is the important thing, and I’m glad.

But, really, the important thing is that someday, some other young person is going to discover this quality author.  And that young person will want to read everything she wrote and will expect the library to be able to assist.  And then, maybe because of the author’s books, that young person will be inspired to think about his or her own dreams.

And, as in my case, maybe years after discovery, will have a place to write about it all in a blog, which is a kind-of a very, very distant cousin to having a column.  😄

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Thank you, Anna Quindlen.


If you’re reading this and live in Fairfax County, Virginia, please consider checking out this book from the library.  (You can search it online here.)  I know one reason books are culled out of the system is because they are not checked out often enough.  I’d love not to have to donate this book for a third time. 😉

You can learn more about Anna Quindlen and her work here.