Saturday, August 22, 2015

Learning From an Icky Summer

I'll be honest, my summer was icky. Without going into the specifics, I can safely say this was the worst summer of my life. I wish I were exaggerating, but I am not.

Typically, I read fiction all summer, but this year I never connected with any of the books I tried. I turned instead to professional reading and I read quite a lot. Books, blogs, articles - all of these helped my inner nerdy teacher to heal and feel productive.

As I read, I kept a list of the basics of what I had learned on the back of an old receipt. It served as a bookmark and a way to record my thinking and learning - haphazard, perhaps, but effective. As I read and jotted, I was able to reflect and synthesize. Here are some of the things I learned:

Don't be isolated. As teachers, we like to close our door and do our thing. When things go wrong in life, we like to close the door and be alone. This is the wrong approach. I spent some time with colleagues this summer - at a TEDx event, showing up at summer school every day, engaging in Twitter chats, and talking over coffee. Listening and being together helped me to learn a lot. I spent time with family and friends - at the pool, neighborhood parties, even in hospital rooms and at funerals. Being with the people I love enabled me to smile, laugh, cry, laugh and learn. And it felt so great, even when it was awful.

Adapt and be flexible. If life were easy, we could always predict outcomes. Life is not predictable, so we need to be ready to change our thinking, our approach, our minds, our jobs and our plans. It isn't easy, but it is necessary to happiness, survival and success.

Be brave. Adaptation and flexibility require courage. Courage is rarely fun, but is almost always necessary. This summer, I drove in Manhattan during rush hour and got a tattoo. Having never done either, I was afraid at both events. But the result of both experiences was incredible. And worth the fear. Just imagine the possibilities.

Create value. Schools are just learning the importance of this idea. Because my summer was so bad, I had trouble focusing on the normal things. Instead, I found myself wondering "what is that person opposite me thinking?" This helped me to realize that often they were seeking some value added in the exchange. Which made me wonder how I could add value to the interaction. How powerful an idea is that?

Recognize the priorities of others. I live with an avid swimmer and a passionate tennis player. Their priorities are different from mine, but as their mom, I worked to fit their agendas into our days. This enabled me to experience the joy of swimming during a rain storm and playing tennis at some of the best courts in the area. Not only that, I was able to have support for my priorities when I really needed it. The balance we were able to maintain allowed all of us to pursue our passions.

Ask "What if?" I should have put this first on the list, because asking this question allowed all the other things to happen. It allowed me to find solutions that I had not considered before. Asking this allowed me to be flexible, to dream big, to learn from the expertise of others, to re-imagine life and to - as my kids would say - go big, or go home. When you are staring down the abyss, it is easy to ask "why me?" or "what the heck?" But asking "what if" allows for possibility, growth and opportunity.

In a small way, asking "What if" helped me to redeem the ickiness of this summer. It also led me to a new professional opportunity about which I am very excited. It allowed me to take risks, exchange ideas, to be dissatisfied a little. Ickiness is never fun. But it is always enlightening.

Reading, reflecting, learning..