Growth Opportunities (Alt. Title: F*CKING UP)

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Last week was a WEEK.  I had a mix-up with my car servicing on Tuesday, my car got broken into on Wednesday AND I got a parking ticket that same night, and to top it off I got a talking-to at work on Thursday.  Needless to say, I was pretty much a mess by the time Friday rolled around.

However, even though almost everything that happened to me cost me quite a bit of money, the thing that upset me the most was getting talked to at work.

A bit of backstory:  I transferred to my current school this year because I wanted to move up to a high school and I wanted to get IB trained.  I ended up getting assigned 7th, 8th, and 9th grade (not really the high school grade levels I was envisioning) and getting misinformation that I WAS going to be trained, but then ultimately being told that I was not.  While I have fallen in love with my kids, I have been pretty grumpy about not being trained in IB since I had made up my mind that that’s what I wanted to do, had asked (and been told yes) several times, and was watching one of my friends prepare to go to training even though I had asked to be put in her position initially.

Needless to say, I am not a quiet person, and so whenever the subject came up I tended to voice my disappointment.  This came across as negative to a member of my department, who discussed it with my AP, who then came and discussed it with me.

Now, I am the first to get pissed off when I am approached about something that I don’t feel is right.  However, the reason I got so upset is because I knew that this person was actually correct.  I HAD been negative.  I HAD been dwelling.  I HAD made my friend feel bad (who had had no hand in assigning training).  I was in the wrong.

This, my friends, is the absolute worst realization ever.  I was wrong.  I fucked up.  I deserved to get a talking-to.

I was a wreck for the rest of the day after that discussion.  The silver lining that came out of it was my kids were super concerned about me, and I even got a note from one of them telling me how awesome I was and how sorry she was that I was “in pain” (#thesweetest).

Unfortunately, I can’t go back in the past and unsay everything I said.  I can’t go into people’s brains and change whatever impression they may have of me now.  I can, however, look at this whole experience as a growth opportunity, and take steps to learn and apply as much as I can.

First, I need to change what I can change.  I cannot change the already spoken words, but I can definitely change my attitude and my words that I choose to release in the future.  I also already made sure that I apologized to my friend so that I could undo some of the damage my careless words caused.  Realizing when you’re wrong sucks SO BAD, but the more important thing is making sure that you go forward armed with the new knowledge and not burdened by it.

Second, I need to apply the lesson to other areas of my life.  In this particular instance, I was dwelling on something that I couldn’t change.  Are there other areas of my life in which I’m dwelling?  Do I know that something is hopeless or not really in the cards and yet I am still ruminating on it and keeping it in my mind?  If so, I know that the potential results of that are at the least not promising and the most, disastrous.

Finally, I need to be thankful for the fuckup.  This, for me, is the absolute hardest one out of the three.  I pride myself on my ability to navigate life with grace and wisdom.  And most of the time, I do a fairly decent job.  However, this means that rather than a myriad of little stumblings, I have a handful of epic whoppers that bring me to my knees.  And yet, these catastrophic episodes of tumbling to the ground teach me so. freaking. much.  I can’t waste too much time crying about them, because they are a virtual goldmine of information that I can use to twirl my way through the next span of time (until I once again crash to the ground).

In reality, not one of us will get through life without some sort of fuck-up.  And truthfully, the bigger the fuck-up, the more valuable the lesson AND the more likely it is that you are trying to do something great.  If you stay in your comfort zone, you will not make mistakes that often.  Which feels great-who doesn’t like to be the master of something?  But the longer you stay in your area of expertise, the less likely it is that you will keep accomplishing at the rate that you had been previously.

Now, I’m not advocating for you to go try to screw up royally on purpose.  But I AM encouraging you to spread your wings and take a risk or two.  Don’t beat yourself up when you fail–that is my lesson that I’m still learning.  I tell my students all the time that “It’s ok to fail, but it’s not ok not to try”.  Honestly, I need to take my own advice.

Try something difficult.  Try something new.  Try SOMETHING.  And when you fail (and you will fail), be grateful for the lesson that it brings.  Adjust.  Grow.  And then, TRY AGAIN.

Six Things to Do Instead of Watching TV

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately.  Mostly about how I don’t have enough of it.  There are so, so many things that I want to do and I usually cannot find the time to cram them all in.

Which is why it boggles my mind when I hear some people talk about how much TV they watch, and relay tales of binge watching their Saturday away or catching up on the latest scandal on CNN as their evening’s activities.  Don’t get me wrong, I find nothing the matter with watching an occasional movie or couple episodes of Big Bang Theory here or there.  But I. personally, could NEVER make it an actual daily or even weekly practice.

TV is entertaining, no doubt.  And I’m sure if I let myself, I could really get into Game of Thrones, or follow the Orange is the New Black saga with bated breath, or find a couple of new releases to patronize each weekend.  But in all honesty, entertainment, especially mindless entertainment, is not productive.  And when seeking entertainment becomes the main focus of your free time, you are losing out on so many awesome points of life!

But some people have become so accustomed to watching TV that they have no idea that there is a whole entire world beyond their 60″ Plasma, or that they themselves could create the type of life they so envy on the silver screen.

Instead of pressing play, you could:

Go on a walk.  Especially with your significant other, kids, or friend.  The fresh air is addicting, and you can have so many good conversations if you go with the people that you love.  There have been so many great discussions that I’ve had with my friends as we meander the sidewalks or trails, and you come back refreshed and energized rather lethargic and blahhhh.  Not to mention the obvious perk of burning rather than consuming calories.

Read a book.  Even when a novel is entertaining you, it is making your brain process information, put ideas together, and decipher the meaning of new words.  It is the best form of entertainment because it is relaxing yet still mind-expanding, especially if you skip the fiction and go straight for the self-improvement reads.  Some great fiction reads are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Help, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  If you lean toward the non-fiction side (which you should at least every once in a while), I would recommend The Power of Habit, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and You are a Badass.

Join a club of some type.  One thing that I have recently started up in the past year has been beach football.  I have never played an organized sport in my life, but there is a league in my town and I, on a whim, decided to join.  I love it!  Joining something that fits a new or old interest not only keeps your zest for life alive, but it is an amazing avenue for meeting new people.

Learn to play an instrument or learn a new craft.  Making music is an innately human way of expressing emotion.  Even if you are not musically inclined, setting aside time to struggle and eventually master a new skill is not something to be sneezed at.  When the mind is stretched it expands, and the more things you add to your toolbox the more valuable you become.

Create a second (or third, or fourth) stream of income.  Think about it.  You could either spend 1-4 hours a night wasting your time with episodes of Friends you have seen hundreds of times, or you could put your time and effort into something that could actually pay off.  Enjoy crafting?  Start an Etsy shop.  Have a particular set of hard to master skills?  Market them.  Have a business idea?  Actually start it.  If it’s something you actually enjoy doing, the same amount of time will pass while giving you way more options in terms of money and connections.

Call a friend.  How many times have to thought to ourselves “oh, I wonder how so-and-so is doing?  We should catch up!”  and then simply never followed through?  Connections with other people are extremely valuable both for sanity and for creating a vast network of resources from which you can draw whenever necessary-IF you put the time in to create those reserves.

The trouble with the majority of options outside of the black box is that they take a least a minimal amount of effort.  So many people like to think of their hours of diversion after a long day of work as a reward, when the truth is that real rewards come out of real effort.

Constant entertainment is taking the easy way out in life, and it makes you accustomed to the road less bumpy.  Yet there WILL be parts of life that are not entertaining, and if you simply fall into the habit of putting blinders on and ignoring it because your reality muscles are in a state of atrophy, those bumps can prove to be disastrous rather than merely annoying.  The most beautiful waterfalls are at the end of the unbeaten trail, and the best life experiences are best actually lived by you.

So the next time you are tempted to press play, put the remote down and step away from the boob tube into a realm of endless possibilities.  Stop watching other people portray scripted exploits, relationships, and feats of grandeur, and go out and create your own!  Life is meant to be lived, not watched.

My Top 5 Takeaways from #BlogHer17

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The past couple of days, I’ve been in Orlando, Florida at the BlogHer conference.  It was INCREDIBLE.  It was the first time I’ve ever been to a conference of any sort, and I was blown away by all of the passion, information, and people that I encountered on my two day stint.

There was so much amazing knowledge that was shared, and so many insights I gleaned from my observations and conversations.  Overall, though, I want to share with you the top 5 takeaways I gathered from my 48 hours at #BlogHer17

Takeaway #1: You Serve Best by Doing What You Love

As I was listing to all of the keynote speakers, it was evident that they had SO MUCH passion behind their individual projects.  While each of the speakers had lofty aspirations they wanted to reach, and they all wanted to make an impact on the world, they were doing it in so many different ways.   Likewise, when I dove into conversation with other bloggers, there was so much variety in what people were targeting in their blogs.

If you look at what everybody else is doing, it is so easy to lose focus on what we originally set out to do.  One of the great quotes that I heard is “we envy what we don’t know”.  I have found this to be true with me recently, as I am trying to solidify what impact I want to make in the world and how I want to do that outside of my teaching arena.  I look at all the things others are doing and think “aw man, I should be doing that!” or “I should be doing this!”

In reality, we need to bring our focus back to us and what WE love.  If we have passion, that passion will be infectious.  However, if that true joy in what we’re doing is lacking, it will never end up being successful anyways.

Takeaway #2:  Don’t Be Married To An Outcome

There were several speakers who touched on this idea.  The notion that we are going to go from A to B to C without any forks in the road or hills to climb is laughable.  Oftentimes we decide on a path and continue to slog through the mud, come hell or high water, even when stepping stones to higher, drier ground appear before us.  There were many examples at the conference of people who started out doing one thing and then pivoted and did something completely different than what they originally envisioned.

This idea of letting life lead you needs to be balanced with drive and ambition, of course, but if you find that you aren’t enjoying something as much as you used to, or you discover something else that gives you more fulfillment, it is 100% ok to change direction.

Takeaway #3:  Pressure is a Privilege

A couple of people discussed this idea that they avoided success because it meant that there would be a lot more pressure put upon them to perform.  If you are the best tennis player in the world, people simply expect you to win, which can be daunting.  However, being successful and having that pressure put upon you is a privilege in that it validates your achievements and gives you a platform from which to amplify your message.

Not having any pressure to accomplish anything is dangerous; it leads to complacency and a cycle of accepting the status quo.  If you feel that pressure to get better, go to the next level, or advance your brand or business, be thankful: It means that you are making headway and an impact.

Takeaway #4:  Celebrate The Power of Others

There were so many women (and a handful of men) at this conference who were doing so many amazing things, big and small.  There were several keynote speakers who blew me away with their social change efforts, and a handful of open-mic night participants that moved me to tears.  It was incredible to feel the constant energy, and it completely fueled my fire to do big things.

Someone else doing amazing things in no way dilutes your ability to reach success, too.  If everyone helps each other up, all participating parties benefit.  There are so many authentically awe-inspiring things that are going on in the world around you-get involved with other people’s success, and it can only augment yours.

Takeaway #5: Dream Big

Many times we imagine what could happen if our wildest dreams came true, and then we tamp our thoughts back down into the firm cold ground of ‘reality’.  There were so many people who presented their accomplishments, and all of them conveyed them in a way that made it seem like it wasn’t an act of luck or happenstance that these things came to fruition but simply putting in the time or taking advantage of opportunities that cropped up along the way.

Our dreams are worth holding on to.  There is no point in chasing a ‘realistic’ dream; than it ceases to be a dream at all.  If you have aspirations that seem crazy, don’t let that dissuade you.  Keep those goals in the forefront of your mind and actually believe that you can achieve them.  We only have one life, and it is better to spend it working towards a bigger vision that squander it on the mundane.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, BlogHer was an amazing, mindset-shifting event that had a profound impact on my mindset and awareness.  While I still need time to process all of the information that I received, I am beyond thankful for the opportunity of going!

I highly encourage you to search up conferences related to your passions and professions.  Not only will you return with renewed purpose, you will connect with others who are like-minded and maybe, just maybe, you will have one encounter that alters your course for good.  In the infamous words of Shia LeBeouf, “Just DO IT!”

Accepting Criticism

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I’m currently sitting in Las Vegas with 4 hours to kill. My friend had a seminar to attend from 11-3, and since I didn’t have any other plans this weekend and don’t mind chilling on my own for a bit, I decided to tag along and get dropped off at the hotel early while he was attending his event.  Originally, I was planning to get some grading done, create some teaching resources for next week, and write a blog post. However, all of these grand plans came crashing down with the post-arrival realization that I couldn’t access the wifi without a room number, and I couldn’t get a room number until check-in time at 3 pm.

I texted my friend dramatically telling him my situation, and he responded that I could write a blog on Notepad (I have yet to install Word on my week-old computer). I dramatically responded that my blogging fire was feeling defeated right now, and he shot back “that’s all it takes to defeat you?”

Of course, this immediately rankled me because a) I’m not a quitter by any means, b) he didn’t give me the sympathy I was angling for, and c) I was being melodramatic with the conversation-of course I wasn’t going to sit and sulk and accomplish nothing for 4 hours. So, with an “I’ll show you!” attitude, I opened my computer and started writing this post on, yes, Notepad. After my initial butthurt reaction died down, however, I was happy he reminded me that I didn’t need Word to accomplish at least one thing that I wanted to get done. This whole exchange got me thinking about reactions: our reactions to others, their reactions to us, and if the reactions we want/give are actually the reactions we/others need.

Even if we don’t consciously admit it, we almost always have a reaction that we expect or want from other people whenever we ask a question or tell them about something we have positively or negatively experienced. When we don’t get the reaction that we desire, it usually causes negative feelings. However, sometimes the reaction we want is not the reaction that we need. For example, when I screw up on my diet or don’t exercise for a while, I have friends who tell me that “it’s ok” and “you can handle it, you always work hard” and other flattering comments. I have other friends, though, who point blank say “you screwed up” and “stop slacking”. Initially, the first comments are obviously the nicer ones to receive, because they assuage your ego and allow you to sidestep responsibility for your screw-ups. In the long run, though, the hard-ass comments are the ones that spur you to actually accomplish your goals. When someone tells me that I’m ok, it’s so easy to ease off the gas and coast for a bit, but if someone points out my failures, it drives me to step on the pedal and go faster.

It always sucks when someone refuses to pander to you. We are used to being “politically correct” in all situations, and it’s much easier to make someone feel good about themselves then to point out where they could improve. This is especially true with friends. We don’t want to cause any rifts or hard feelings in the relationship, so it’s easier to gloss over certain things that we notice rather than take the trouble to point them out. This results in each individual giving everyone else a thumbs up to their face and a grimace at their back. The result? Everyone stays pretty much the same, lying to themselves and others, and avoiding looking directly in the mirror because no one ever has the kajones to actually point out out the lettuce that’s firmly wedged between your two front teeth.

Of course, I am not advocating for everyone to drop all pretenses and be glaringly honest about everything all of the time; there is nothing to be gained by constant criticism and gleefully pointing out your friend’s every falter. There is value, however, in not allowing ourselves to fall into the “you’re doing fine” trap, and giving honest, firm observations from a place of love. The intention behind the feedback makes all of the difference. If you hear something that stings from a person that you know actually wants to help you, it makes it easier to swallow. If you receive criticism from someone you know couldn’t care less about your actual goals, it drives to you a defensive position, which doesn’t lend itself to growth.

This also brings up the factor of truly desiring direction versus kind of wanting input, but not really. Superficially, I love to hear that I’m doing well and that I should continue doing exactly what I’m doing. In reality, however, I am striving to optimize every part of my life, which cannot be accomplished without an outside, critical eye. I am not so egotistical as to believe that I magically know how to do everything the very best way, every single time. As much as I hate hearing that I am failing in this area or that area, that knowledge is invaluable for growth if I choose to accept it. As hard as it is to acknowledge correction, especially from people close to me, I know that digging in my heels and defending my position will not lead me to expand, unless I truly feel that their criticism is unfounded or given out of spite. The underlying desire for true success allows me to humble myself and admit when the other person is right, even when it’s not at all what I want to hear. The people who give lip service to their ambitions yet don’t want to change anything to make them a reality are the people who become angry at tough love and cannot swallow other peoples’ honest assessments.

Overall, opening ourselves to the possibility of learning from all different sources allows us to evolve in ways that we never imagined. Any growth is uncomfortable; this means that we may have to admit things to ourselves that may be incredibly painful to face in order to go to the next level. There is never any real advancement, however, without some form of sacrifice, whether that be our time, our resources, or simply sacrificing our ego. Instead of focusing on what you are losing when faced with vexing realities, look at what possibilities are now open to you. If we choose to embrace the sunlight let in from the doors pried open by those with more knowledge than us rather than shying away from the sudden brightness that will temporarily hurt our eyes, we might just find a whole new world of exciting potential that has always lain just outside our self-imposed walls.

Intentional Adversity

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I listened to a snippet of a podcast today from Lewis Howes in which one theme was “we don’t grow when things are fabulous”.  In other words, we tend not to expand ourselves when things are already going pretty great.  It is only when we face hardship that we truly test our inner mettle and rise to or above the occasion.

We see examples of this all the time.  Jay Z grew up in the projects surrounded by drugs and crime, and is now worth over $500 million.  Oprah Winfrey was born in poverty and is now worth billions (BILLIONS!).  Even in nature, birds, snakes, and turtles must break out of their shell on their own in order to create the strength necessary to thrive in the wild.  There is no progress without adversity.

Of course, not all of us are ‘lucky’ enough to have such suffering early in life that creates that inner drive and hunger.  Which brings me to a question:  how can you progress if you, for all intents and purposes, face no difficulties?  How can you raise to greater and greater heights if you are at a fairly satisfactory middle ground?

If you are fortunate enough to have made it to average, you need to create your own adversity.  This means setting goals for yourself that will 100% cause you to struggle and fail and feel frustrated and cry and feel like it’s almost impossible.  There is no glory for the boy who performs his perfunctory 30 minute treadmill walk and 20 lb bicep curls.  The prestige come for the man who adds on the extra 25 lb plate and performs so many reps that he drops his weights to the floor with a snarl.  There is no recognition for the girl who perpetually moves through the assigned, stereotypical stages that history has laid out for her.  The kudos comes for the woman who chooses to achieve great things in her career while still being an amazing mother, ride or die friend, and kick-ass romantic partner.  Giving yourself hurdles to jump and mountains to climb means that you are forcing yourself to grow, expanding your mind, and most importantly, constantly reaching for more.

Of course, there are those who are perfectly content to stay in the middle lane, and why shouldn’t they be?  They have no reason to work hard.  Once the average existence is set in motion, there is a momentum that keeps things going at a comfortable speed, with only a slight push needed every once in a while.  Life is good.

But here’s the thing.

We only have one life.  Take a minute or 30 to really, truly think about that reality. One life. Singular.  Unique.  Specific.  Finite. One.

What are you going to do with yours?

I grew up reading the Bible, and while I am not religious now, I still value the wisdom that many of the stories have to offer.  There is one parable that is particularly relevant to this situation, where there are three servants who are each given one talent while their Master goes away.  The first two servants grew their talents in different ways and showed a profit upon his return, but the third played it safe, buried it, and presented the same talent on the day of reckoning.  How well do you think his one talent was received?

If you don’t take your one life that you are given and do everything in your power to make it as amazing as you can, how are you going to feel when you look back on your life?  How much better would it be to recall a life full of adversity, failure, and eventual success versus a life of 80-100 identical, average, complacent years?  No one tells stories about that one time they made a comfortable salary and repainted their white picket fence every three years.  Impressive stories, mind-blowing stories, glorious stories are made of times when you are so despondent that you cannot imagine sinking any lower, or so dizzyingly high that you feel absolutely invincible.

If life does not give you the opportunity to look failure in the eye and try anyway, create that chance for yourself.  Choose to put yourself out there.  Choose to be scared.  Choose to strive for things just out of your reach so that you can evolve upwards and pluck the highest, sun-kissed fruit for yourself and those you love.

But these are just words.

Triumph is only obtained when words become action.  This whole idea of intentional adversity is something that I have struggled with recently, and is the whole reason that I started this blog.  When things are pretty good, why would I want to go for more?  Why should I risk possible failure at something big when I already have a sure thing here and now? Why on earth would I face potential defeat just for a small chance at greatness?

The answer?

Why not?