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.

Be Careful What You Wish For

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This weekend is the very last weekend of the summer *stifles sobs*.  On Monday, I will be greeted with 150 smiling faces in rotation, all filled with as much trepidation and anticipation as mine will be.

This year, it’s going to be different for me because I chose to move schools after the whole being laid off thing got taken back just as quick as a toddler grabs back a toy he’s offered to someone else after he’s changed his mind.  I had the choice to go back to my old school, but instead of sticking somewhere where I was well-known and had built my reputation as a good teacher, I decided to branch out and move to a high school a) because I’ve always wanted to teach high school and b) I felt like I had already reached the peak (or close enough to it) at my old school and I was ready for a new challenge.

Oofda.  Did I ever get a challenge.  Firstly, I discovered that I would be teaching 7th and 8th grade (not quite the high school experience I was envisioning) along with some 9th grade classes.  That’s right.  Three preps.  Considering that last year I taught 8th across the board, that in and of itself was enough to make me think that perhaps I should opted for comfort over novelty.

Secondly, not only will I have three preps, but the middle school classes are designed to prepare the students to enter the IB Diploma Programme in 11th and 12th grade that has just started at this high school, which means that they need to have TOP-NOTCH instruction in an inquiry based setting.

Now, in my previous schools, if you were able to get the kids to behave and respect you and also learn something along the way, that was enough to get you through (not to mention middle school is less rigorous than high school).  I have my relationship building tools with my kids down pat, but I have not yet had a chance to really test my actual TEACHING capabilities with kids who are, shocker, eager to learn.

Of course, I wouldn’t be teaching if I thought that my kids didn’t learn from me.  But my focus has always been on more of the social-emotional piece for my kids, because that’s where I saw the most need.  Now, on top of preparing for three different classes each day, I need to make sure that my lessons are interesting, high-level, and relevant.

ON TOP OF the academic side, there is the reality that I have no real support system at this school.  I chose this school specifically because my old principal worked there as well as several old coworkers who moved there during the last couple years, and because of the IB programme; being trained in that will be invaluable for my own skill set and my ability to move anywhere should I chose to ever leave California (doubtful, but possible).

However, all of my old coworkers have since formed new bonds or tighter bonds with their fellow middle school cohorts, and I left our first day of meetings feeling a bit adrift in the sea of it all.

Now, at this point, I could either curl up in a ball and wish my hardest to turn back time and go back to comfort and familiarity, OR I could narrow my eyes, set my shoulders, and prepare to knock this shit out of the park.

When it comes down to it, challenges are the spice of life.  Think about it.  Every single thing that is good is challenging at first.  Learning to walk?  There’s a reason diapers are so fluffy.  Marriage?  There’s a reason counselors make bank.  Parenting?  It’s a wonder that we’re still alive as a species.

Challenges make you grow.  They make you question things.  They make you stretch yourself in ways that you never thought possible and then stretch a little more.  You may chose your challenges or have your challenges thrust upon you, but the outcome is still the same: you get better.

An unchallenged life is truly an unlived life.  Think back on all the times you have grown and changed as a person.  Usually, it was the direct result of a challenge to your security, belief system, or familiarity with something, and when you look back you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The thing is, you WILL get what you ask for if the Universe knows you are ready (and sometimes even if it knows you’re not).  Most of the time we have no idea what we’re really asking for until it comes to us and then we realize that we have called something into reality that we aren’t quite sure we actually want, but by that time it’s too late.

Most of the time, however, these unexpected manifestations help us hone what we really want, and build up strength to get through the tough times of life.  I wanted nothing more than to get married young, and boy, did I get what I wished for even though it was quite possibly the worst decision of my entire life.

Yet, I’m thankful for this challenge that I overcame, because there have been so many times I’m able to share my experience with someone who is going through almost the exact same thing, and it is so gratifying to be able to see them relax and know that I truly understand what they’re going through.

If your life is on autopilot, choose a challenge for yourself or open yourself up to the Universe providing one for you.  While the temptation to stay in the cocoon is quite strong, remember that no one looks twice at a brown lump hanging from a twig, yet a butterfly can capture the attention of even the most hardened of hearts.  You are that butterfly.  All you have to do is narrow your eyes, set your teeth, and never stop pushing until your wings are free.

And then, friends….you are free to FLY.

 

Things My Students Taught Me

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In the last couple of days, I’ve had to face the truth that I may have to find a job outside of teaching.  There are limited positions available in along the coast, and I refuse to move somewhere that I don’t want to live.  While the hunt for the perfect fit is not yet over, I am steeling myself to face the worst if the stars do not align.

The reality of doing something else for a living is heartbreaking.  I absolutely love what I do.  The ability to have a career where I am able to get a taste of pretty much every other job on the planet is a beautiful experience.  The best thing is, while I’m teaching my students, they’re really teaching me.

My students taught me the power of laughter.  Humor is such an underutilized tool.  I have had far greater success with my students gently nudging them to do the right thing with a well-timed joke or an exaggerated sigh of exasperation that they know is fake.  My favorite times are when a students makes me bust out laughing in the middle of class because they did or said something completely off the wall, which inevitably causes the class to send out gales of laughter too.

Laughing at something together creates a powerful bond.  It actually takes quite a bit of vulnerability to truly let out a giant belly laugh over a joke or a certain circumstance.  Laughter is also the best way to ease hurt, and if you can make your students laugh or even bravely put on a smile through their tears, you are helping them more than you realize.

My students taught me the power of mutual respect.  I go to great lengths to show my students that they are respected in my classroom.  I ask them to do things instead of order them.  I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, even when the compliance is not enthusiastic.  I make sure I listen to student’s concerns fully, even when my eyes are mentally rolling so far back in my head they are in danger of becoming lost in my gray matter.  99.9% of the time, I know that I have my students’ respect.  It those times when I indulge in my own bad mood or snap at a student in frustration that their respect for me becomes diminished.

Knowing that you’re respected in any given situation is an empowering feeling.  No matter how many times a student shows disrespect, holding out any token of respect causes them to shift their mindset and usually ends up in changed behavior and a mumbled apology.  No matter how tempting tit for tat may be, clinging to the higher standard of dignity as an adult in any situation is immensely gratifying and highly useful.

My students taught me the power of simple gestures.  Many, many times when I’m feeling down, a student has given me a picture that they have drawn, or stopped to say a personal goodbye at the end of class, or randomly told me that they think I’m a great teacher.  Small things.  Simple things.  Free things.  But it truly is the little efforts that make a huge difference.

So many times we move along our paths without taking advantage of the opportunities offered along the way.  Is someone visibly harried and stressed out?  Compliment them.  Is there someone who is usually a ‘background person’ in your life with whom you don’t interact much?  Stop and say hello, maybe make some conversation.  Did you buy two chocolate bars but really only want a bite?  Split them with a friend.  Don’t listen to the voices that tell you nobody will care or notice your efforts; trust me, they will.

My students taught me the power of listening.  Teachers like to talk.  That is our job.  Yet this becomes a problem when the words flowing out of our mouths cut off the words trying to get to our ears.  Whenever I take the time to bring an unruly student aside to chat with them, they inevitably articulate some problem or issue either outside or inside of class that is affecting their behavior.  Even if I cannot resolve the problem for them, my simple act of listening usually does the trick to change their demeanor.

Most of the time, our actions are simply bids for attention.  Some people may need the attention just to validate their existence.  Others need it to get through their struggles.  Whichever way you slice it, taking the time out to listen is always a deposit in the bank of that relationship.  Feeling listened to is a deep human need, and those who are able to provide that service freely and without expectation are rare and valued individuals.

My students taught me the power of love.  As a teacher, I want nothing less than for my students to suddenly awaken to the fact that they actually love to read, they can’t wait to write the next essay, and they can hardly contain their exuberance for the next class discussion.  As much as that would be my dream come true, the reality is that there are some students who will never ever reach that point while they are with you.  Sometimes, they are not hungering for knowledge, but simply starving for love.

Giving your love to someone without stipulations is a powerful thing.  The more trouble a student causes, they more they desperately need that affirmation, that feeling of security, and that knowledge that your love is a constant.  Love does not have to manifest into like; many students/people are unlikable.  Yet there is not one who is completely devoid of anything to love.

Overall, my students have illuminated to me over and over the deep need that every individual has for human connection.  Those attachments range from deep, soul-connecting conversations to shallow mentions of the latest fashions, but at the core, all of our interactions are building small threads person-to-person in our network, which web out to create the unique fabric of our lives.

As much as possible, take the opportunity to make your connections full, deep, and rich.  Give of yourself so that you may receive of others.  Take a step back and allow everybody to teach you something, regardless of their role in your life.  Be the first one to show vulnerability.  Trust.

My students may leave my class knowing how to write an essay, but I will leave knowing just a little bit more of my purpose in the world.  And that, my friends, is more valuable than any Harvard education.

 

Best Foot Forward

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I just ended a week full of presenting my best self.  Interviews are no joke: dressing to impress, trying to recall all of your vast work experience to fit into one perfectly worded response to the rapid-fire questions coming across the conference table, and anxiously waiting to hear back from the one job you really want (and, of course, hearing back from the job you’re only so-so about two hours after you leave).

Finding a job is serious business.  If you’re good at the initial first impression game, you have lots of offers, even if your qualifications are sub-par.  If you can’t interview well, sometimes you are passed by for someone with more flair.  Knowing how to play the game is crucial if you really want to get ahead.

These observations instantly reminded me of dating.  Finding a partner is one big interview process that can be intriguing and exciting but also exhausting and disheartening.  And the exact same parameters for success apply.

When you’re dating, you make sure you make up your face perfectly and wear the top that shows off just enough cleavage to be interesting, but not enough to be slutty.  You try to come up with clever and witty responses to their questions, and you anxiously wait by the phone for them to text (but sadly, usually only getting 5 in a row from that one guy from that one bar who won’t leave you the hell alone).

This begs the question:  what’s the difference between someone who gets the job, and someone who is sent the polite “thank you but no thanks” e-mail?  What differentiates between someone whose call is eagerly awaited and someone whose very name on the screen initiates an eyeroll and a screenshot?

Marketing matters.  The candidate who comes across as knowledgeable, friendly, and confident, even if she is shaking in her proverbial boots, is the person who will receive the offer.  Likewise, the guy who goes after what they want without any hesitation and puts out the vibe that they know the other person will like them will usually get the giggle, sideways glances, and beaming smiles from the girl they are pursuing.

However, this is a double-edge sword in both scenarios.  Sometimes confidence can cross the line into arrogance.  No one, either in the professional and dating worlds, wants to be around an egomaniac.  Trying to downplay things, though, can be equally as off-putting.  While reaching the Goldilocks sweet spot can be tough, it is the attitude that wins the offer letter AND the 2 second text response.

Authenticity matters.  Even if people aren’t  as in tune with their inner psyche as they should be, we usually can tell when something is off.  As humans, we want to know that we are surrounded by trustworthy human beings both on the job and in our romantic relationships.  Authenticity means being true to your likes and dislikes, what you need, and not being afraid to show your whole self.

Nonetheless, this again needs to be tempered with common sense.  Just because you prefer casual dress at the workplace doesn’t mean you should show up to an interview in jeans.  Likewise, just because you enjoy frozen TV dinners more than fine dining doesn’t mean you should take your date to Chipotle the first time around.  Our BEST authentic self should be what we present, not our ’20 years in the same job’ self or ‘thrifty, cutting corners’ self.

Preparation Matters.  Believe it or not, there are some people who show up to an interview with no idea of what the company stands for or what makes it unique.  Likewise, there are people who ask for a first ‘date’, only to end up dilly-dallying around because they made no plans beforehand.  Interviewers want to know that you have done your homework and that you actually want to work THERE versus ANYWHERE.  Girls want to know that you care enough about the date to take the time to set up a dinner reservation.  Doing your homework may not guarantee an A on the test, but it will give you a hell of a better shot than just winging it.

Ultimately, you can market yourself impeccably, be true to yourself, prepare to the Nth degree, and still not get a callback or a second date.  Sometimes, there was a superior candidate.  Other times, it just wasn’t the right fit.  While either scenario sucks, it’s also a relief to know that you are still free to find the perfect fit for YOU, whether it be a job with more flexibility or a partner who just gets you.

Opportunities in life are just that: opportunities.  Just because one doesn’t take off the way you imagined or hoped doesn’t mean that you are forever doomed.  In most cases, people looking back on their lives at chances that didn’t work out for some reason (OTHER than lack of effort) feel that they were the recipient of something much better later on.

And so, whether you are searching for a job or searching for a soulmate, don’t tie yourself to one image of what you *think* you want.  Give your all and take every chance that you think might pan out, but don’t spiral into despair over a rejection letter or a flopped date.  In the end, if you play your cards right, the best things in the world will fall into your lap, and you will thank the stars for every experience that led you to that point.

Validation

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Today I had a very humbling realization:  I don’t always do the right thing.

Now, as much as I know, logically, that I can’t possible do the right thing every single time, there is a part of me that feels that I usually bat 1000 when it comes to human interactions.  I pride myself on my ability to integrate myself with others, and today I was slapped in the face with the reality that sometimes, I’m not only not good at person to person relations, there is the occasional interaction that I completely, utterly fuck up.

To elaborate, there are 18 teachers in my school, including me, who received possible non-reemploy notices for next year.  One of those teachers is 4 months pregnant, and she was devastated at the news.

Today after our staff meeting I gave her a hug and attempted to cheer her up by saying “look at it from the lens of possibility!  You’ll be ok!” to which she replied “shut up Hannah…just shut up”.

Now, my immediate inner reaction was to rear up on my high horse and and condemn her for such rude hostility.  How dare she not be inspired by my waves of positivity!  How could she not see that I was a vibrant fountain of constructive forward thought!  Fine, she could just wallow in her negativity.

When I mentioned this story to someone else (with the expectation, of course, that he would immediately agree that I was such a beacon of light and my coworker needed to recognize), he simply said “people don’t want to hear all that.”

This made me pause.

Why WOULDN’T someone who is feeling down and out want to hear about how things are going to get better and that they will come out on top?  Isn’t that better than agreeing with them that the world is crashing down around them?  Don’t people want to have someone point out all the good things when they are focusing on the bad?

And then I realized: people don’t want to hear anything until they know that their current feelings are validated.  Feeling validated is a basic need of every single human being, and any advice given before validation occurs will simply be seen as patronization.

This, of course, was a bitter pill to swallow.  Here I had been riding along on my high horse, thinking that I was magnanimously sprinkling goodwill flowers for everyone to enjoy, when really I was coming off as the smug little goody-two-shoes, pat-patting everyone on the head with a small “there there”.

Being the type of person who legitimately wants to help people, this realization kills me.  Being the type of person who will not accept less than perfection from myself, it also prompted thoughts about how I can truly, honestly legitimize someone’s feelings.  How can I change my approach so that I am ACTUALLY someone people can count on versus only being that person in my head?

In my view, it all comes down to one simple thing: listening.  When I was busy spouting my words of supposed wisdom, I was failing to actually listen to what my co-worker was going through.  This woman, a cornerstone of our school, is facing the possibility of bringing a baby girl into the world on only her husband’s income with no health insurance.  If you live in the boondocks, that’s no problem.  Here in California?  HA.

The bottom line is, her feelings are extremely real and valid, and no amount of positive fluff will change that.  There is an extreme difference between being legitimately there for someone versus using someone else’s issues to showcase your own thoughts and feelings.

Listening to someone, really listening, is usually the only thing that truly helps in any sort of rough situation.  Feelings are ever-changing and maddeningly, unaffected by logic.  Yet paradoxically, sometimes the only thing that can help change someone’s emotions is the simple acknowledgment that their state of mind is real and that it is okay.

When I think back on all of the times I’ve been upset and stayed upset for any length of time, it was simply due to the fact that I felt like my feelings were not heard.  When I have confirmation that my current reaction is acknowledged, usually, magically, my negativity dissipates.

Facing realizations about how you have screwed up sucks.  I always want to be the best version of myself, and when it’s pointed out to me that my approach to a situation was terrible, my prancing gelding suddenly turns into a rock that I am frantically trying to crawl under.

But if I know one thing about myself, it’s that I don’t give up.  And so, I turn my head onward with the torch of new realizations lighting my way.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time I come across someone in a state of internal agony, but I will try my damndest to make sure that it will be the last time I try to fill the space between us with my own useless words.

Shit happens.  Life can be a real freakin’ bitch sometimes, and people react to things in different ways.  And you know what?  If I think the way I react to things is ok, I have no right to judge how others react.  The only thing I can do is listen, squeeze their hand, hand them tissues, and then shut up and listen some more.

The Adventure of Uncertainty

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A couple of days ago, I received news that my school district was going through a potential reduction in force, i.e. layoffs.  I am a tenured teacher, but the numbers put me in the grey area of “might have a job next year, might not.”  Which, of course, is not the most welcome news to receive at 2:30pm on a Tuesday.

Initially, I had several moments of panic.  Wait!  I passed the two year gauntlet!  I am a valued member of my site!  I have an apartment and the best roommate ever and a whole life that I love!  This could all be gone by June?!

And then…

I had an inkling of excitement.

It was fleeting at first, like the tiny glow of an outdoor fire that just barely catches the spark.  But as I thought about it more and more, that tiny glimmer started to grow.

What if I DO lose my job?  Where can I go?  Oh my god–where WILL I go?  *sharp intake of breath* I could go….anywhere.

So many possibilities came flooding into my mind.  I could teach overseas!  I could pick an entirely different area of the country and teach there!  I could move to a different district in California!  I could *gasp* quit teaching all together and try my hand at something new!

The potential unpredictability of the future that had initially looked like a swirling black mass of chaos and despair was slowly coming in to focus as a possible avenue for adventure.  And that’s when I realized: uncertainty is where the fun comes from.

To underscore this point, I was listening to a podcast by Andy Frisella yesterday in which he got off on a tangent about relationships.  He mentioned that in the beginning, women don’t want flowers and endless ass-kissing, but instead they want to speculate about the relationship and have that ‘does he-doesn’t he?!’ feeling.  In short, they want to be the ones that wonder.

As a woman, my initial thought was ‘but..but flowers are nice.  I enjoy flowers.”

And then, I actually thought about it.  Every single guy that has approached me with a no-holds-barred, let me give you my COMPLETE ATTENTION ALL DAY EVERY DAY approach has caused me to shy away in disgust.  They left no room for confusion, and because of that, I wanted nothing to do with them.

The guy I’m dating now?  I tortured my girlfriends for WEEKS with text message screenshots and drawn out analysis of weekend visits and eventually came to the conclusion that he ‘just wasn’t in to me’ about 700 times before our current situation.  Long after my friends had written him off, the uncertainty of the relationship-the very cause of my angst-was what kept drawing me back.

Of course, you can’t live in the same uncertainty forever.  Being up in the air about your job or your relationship loses its luster quite quickly if it goes on for too long.  But in the beginning, the mystery is what makes life, life.  Even if one ambiguity is clarified, it gets replaced with another.  The moment you are ABSOLUTELY SURE about every single thing in your life is the moment that you stop living.

The infuriating and exhilarating paradigm of uncertainty is that it comes at the moment you are feeling the most settled.  When you feel like you have life finally  figured out, the universe says ‘surprise!’ and tips the apple cart over right in front of you just as you are blithely about to take the next step.

Life is meant to be lived, and if we don’t go out and chase adventure, sometimes it kicks in the door without an invitation.  When that happens, though, you can bet your bottom dollar that the wind whistling through your home will make you jump up a lot faster and make some moves much more quickly than you would have keeping the door tightly shut.

But that’s what’s so freakin’ fun: figuring out how to get to the next level when there are actual challenges and puzzles that you have to muddle through.  Walking on a sidewalk gets boring a heck of a lot faster that hiking through a windy ravine or a trekking up a steep mountain.  And life gets more interesting the more apples you have to sidestep in order to reach your destination.

If you are facing uncertainty in any aspect of your life, get excited!  Look at it from the lens of possibility, not the lens of despair.  Our comfort zones are our biggest obstacles to progression, and you should be thanking anything that happens to shake that up.

And so, I am embracing the instability of life, no matter where it comes from.  It may turn out that this time, the apple cart rights itself before spilling its load of Red Delicious across my path, but eventually, that cart will hit a pothole.  And when it does, I will gleefully figure out the best way to dance through the tumbling crimson orbs and come out on top.