Making Peace and Moving on

“I’ll make peace with the fact you couldn’t hear the video and move on…O.K. moving on,” said Hitendra Wadhwa recently working with the inaugural districts of The Holdsworth Center. His time with us focused on personal leadership, not around presentation skills, but that statement resonated with me as much as anything else.

How often are we thrown off course by some unforeseen hiccup or unavoidable obstacle? To set the scene, there was an audio issue with a video which was part of his presentation. Who hasn’t been there?

Upon realizing that a portion of us couldn’t hear the video and quickly realizing that replaying it would interrupt his flow, he verbally made peace with it and moved on. He didn’t apologize to the audience, he forgave himself. And we won because he was his most-present self for the rest of the workshop. There was no looking back. No lamenting on some technical snafu.

Authenticity and presence are so rare that we talk about it long after the encounter.

Here’s a video to learn more from Dr. Wadwha:

Everything else he shared was incredible, but that honest moment of self-awareness and self-forgiveness resonated with me the most.

Thanks for listening.

We Are Who We Are When We Are

I said goodbye to a neighbor recently.

He was a complex man. Air Force veteran, Austin Police Department legend, father, husband, and stroke survivor. I never knew him before the stroke. But I often heard stories from his former partners, friends and others who talked about the man he was before.

The same conversations took place at his memorial service and I wish I would have stepped up that afternoon to share my thoughts on the man he was when I knew him. It would have gone like this:

I didn’t know him before his stroke. I never knew him as an active police officer. But I knew my neighbor. I knew the man who often walked with my toddlers to the mailbox and hung out with them and their mom when she was staying at home and playing out front of the house during those monotonous days of child rearing. I knew the man who would always walk across the street and offer to help if he saw me working in my yard. He may not have been able to physically help, but he always offered. I knew the man who continued to contribute to society well passed when others might have given up. The reach of his influence may have contracted, but he still added great value to the those he interacted with on a daily basis and for that, I want to thank him and thank his family. And my only regret is I never took him up his offer to “break him out” and take him to the Hoffbrau for a steak – and he asked often.

I don’t know why I didn’t share my thoughts at the service and can work through that in another post. But, the greater point is that everyone has an impact. I don’t believe his family knows the impact he had on my family during that period of our lives. And my impression was that they believed his value to society was diminished when he suffered the stroke because they were comparing him to the person they knew before that event.

Let’s move past comparisons. We are who we are when we are. Not who we might become because of our “potential.” We are never a “shell of our former selves.” Let’s give grace and acceptance.

We are who we are when we are.

Thanks for listening.

Inch and Miles – Book Recommendation

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I was just out of high school when I read my first John Wooden book. His simple beginnings and the clarity he provides through his Pyramid of Success consistently stick with me more than any other definition of success.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable”

-Coach John Wooden

His work continues to circle back into my life at important times and the latest instance was last week teaching third graders at Anderson Mill Elementary. The campus has an apprenticeship program where various professionals come in to work with the class while their teachers collaborate on upcoming lessons and assessments. Over the last four years, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Wooden’s message through his children’s book Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success.

When Lincoln and Harrison were born we read the poems to them each evening before bed and each block on the pyramid serves as an effective benchmark to refer to when we are working on skills, like self-control, determination, or cooperation.

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I can’t recommend this book enough as a foundational bedrock to help our kids discover that success isn’t having trophies or toys, but rather trying to be the best you can be!

Mouse Books Just Make Me Feel Good

I like to think I’m someone who would rather read Oscar Wilde or Mark Train while waiting in line at Starbucks than mindlessly scrolling my Instagram feed. If given the choice between two pockets, which will I choose? My left back pocket contains a time-tested, classic work of literature. My right front pocket contains a Google Pixel where I can encounter new likes, notifications, follows, and a portal to the world.

I so badly want to think I’m someone who reaches for The Happy Prince or The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass rather than my phone. And that’s why I pulled out the debit card when I came across Mouse Books Kickstarter. I contributed $50 so that means I’ll get these little classics in the mail throughout the next year. I loved Mouse Books advertising campaign because they gave me an identity. I want to be someone who reads Mouse Books.

The folks behind Mouse Books created a vision of a version of myself I yearn to be. They tapped in. I’ve been carrying my book for a few weeks and wish I could say I’ve pulled it out more than my phone when idling about, but we are all a work in progress. Baby steps, I’ve read them. To inspire change, it is so important to give your people an ideal to live up to. Give them a beacon on a hill, a hero with whom to identify, and a better future.

Of course, my end goal is to be someone who connects with other people during idle times waiting in lines or for the train to arrive. I’m working on being better at going first and I’m working on taking the initiative to make those connections.

And as I’m working on “going first” I can report that I don’t get hypnotized into a Mouse Book the same way I get sucked into my phone. Other humans are more likely to initiate a conversation with me if I am reading something on paper than if I’m interacting with my device. Finally, they just make me feel good. The Mouse Book is the underdog in the war for our attention. But, it deserves our respect. Give it a shot

Informal and Powerful Learning at EdCamp Round Rock ISD

The power of the participant-driven learning model came clear recently at EdCamp Round Rock when I looked around the room at teachers from five different public school districts, a private school network, and even a future teacher still in college choosing to spend their Saturday morning together. That room contained classroom teachers from early elementary to high school. There were librarians, Instructional technology specialists, a few of us administrators, and even a school board member. The conversations revolved around personalized learning, tools to enhance Instruction, better ways to communicate with parents, etc.

 

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I venture though that even more powerful connections and conversations took place between sessions, during breakfast, or during the share-out sessions at the end. Click here to check out the tweets using our #EdCampRRock. I tweeted the below question after the event for folks to share some highlights:

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The power of getting diverse sets of voices and ideas in a room is never more clear than when we keep it informal. I was at the TASA MidWinter conference last week. Thousands of Texas school district administrators getting together to listen to presentations and get pitched to by vendors. The most valuable hour I had at the conference was sitting at a corner table with my compadres from Liberty Hill, Hutto, and Manor ISDs. We could do that at any time, but for some reason, we need a state-wide conference to make it happen. We need to do better.

EdCamps are an incredible start to providing the space for these authentic conversations. They are free to attend, and vendors can donate door prizes, but not attend in person. Stay tuned for more EdCamp opportunities here in Round Rock ISD and throughout the state of Texas.

Don’t forget to check out the shared notes from this past weekend’s event!

Can Enough Be Enough?

I’ve been eating a lot of Asian food lately. And along with the soups, rice, thinly cut meat and tea, comes the fortune cookie. Most are left behind on the table, but occasionally they find their way to my wallet or posted in my office. Perhaps it’s karma or luck, but it seems that certain restaurants produce better fortunes the same way that certain convenience stores sell more winning lottery tickets than others.

I finished enjoying some pork vermicelli the afternoon of this past December 22nd before heading off for winter vacation and cracked open the fortune below:

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He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

I realize that this is a statement and not necessarily a fortune, but it is a keeper nonetheless. And purposeful timing heading into Christmas and a season of excess. But enough doesn’t necessarily refer to material things or even emotions we perceive as negative. The idea of enough is much more complex. The ability to recognize happiness and know when self-satisfaction, aka enough, is reached must be liberating.

The idea relates to our work life: When have I prepared enough for the speech I’m delivering next week? When do I have enough commitment from my team before moving forward with a decision? When have I interviewed enough people to be confident I’m hiring the best person?

The idea relates to our personal life: How much money is enough? How much is enough free time? When have I spent enough time with my kids?

The idea relates to our health: When is my diet clean enough? When am I happy enough? When do I know enough about a certain topic?

The real question though is knowing when we are successful or happy. I suppose it all comes back to Coach Wooden’s definition of success:

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The hard part is keeping that self-satisfaction even if events following our decision that enough was enough do not play out the way we expected. When someone else tells us either directly or through their interpretation of a situation, that our enough was not enough do we let them control our happiness? It’s in those moments where we must remember that success does not necessarily depend on the outcome, but rather on our own perception of the outcome. We define our success and happiness, not the scoreboard, societal norms, or even our parents.

Finally, our fortune under focus is actually the final line in a longer stanza from the Father of Taoism, Lao Tsu in his ancient Chinese text Tao Te Ching:

There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

A lofty goal from Mr. Tsu for sure! Perhaps a first step is simply recognizing which current desires are causing discontent. Then ask ourselves, “Why is enough not enough?” And so it goes.

Hungry? The best fortunes lately have been coming from Hao Hao in Round Rock, Texas. Enjoy the Hot and Sour soup.

Three Ideas I Got Wrong a Decade Ago

I love the question, “What big idea have you changed your mind about over the last ten years?” I’ve asked it in countless interviews professionally and enjoyed hearing people answer it in numerous books and podcasts.

When I think about my answer I think about where I was and who I was ten years ago. Where I was in 2007, was Deerpark Middle School in Round Rock ISD moving into my first leadership position as an Assistant Principal. Who I was, was nervous. All of a sudden I had to tell people what to do and hope they would do it! I remember the first time I had to give someone critical feedback about their work. I think it went well, but who knows. The experience was a blur and I hope I’ve grown that skill set since.

Back to the question at hand. Here are three key ways I’ve changed my mind about big ideas as a leader in my organization the last decade:

  1. It’s better to be transparent and vulnerable. This is always a work in progress. Earlier in my leadership journey, I was even more guarded than I am now – by design. I remember feeling that I needed to play the serious role at all times, never show any weakness, and never admit I was not the expert people were expecting me to be. Or at least I was telling myself they expected those things. But in reality, they wanted a real person. They wanted someone who struggled with the same things they did, has some insecurities and asked for help. I still struggle in this area of my leadership because I tend to be guarded and put on a strong front even when dealing with difficulty. The change though is that I am working to be more transparent and vulnerable rather than actively working in the other direction.
    • My advice to new leaders: Lean into your newness and own it. I would have been more successful in my first couple years if I asked for more help from the people I was leading. Your team wants you to succeed. Let them help you.
  2. My default answer should not be yes. Ten years ago I said yes to everything and cast judgment on those who did a better job of balancing work and home life. That mindset damaged my personal and even though I convinced myself at the time it was helping me professionally, it probably wasn’t.  Choose your projects carefully. If you are not completely excited about the opportunity, learn to say no in a nice way. When presented an opportunity ask yourself two things: Is this going to allow me to build a relationship with someone I value? Is this opportunity going to provide me a significant experience or increased exposure which might directly lead to personal growth? Then decide if the value of the potential relationship or experience is equal to or outweighs the time commitment.
    • My advice to new leaders: From day one, don’t be afraid to not say “yes” to everything. You don’t need to say “no” but rather redefine how you can contribute to a project. Maybe you won’t be at every meeting, but you would love to provide support the day of the event. Or, maybe you won’t co-lead a new workshop but would love to share some of your resources to help your colleague.
  3. I’m not as important as I think I am. I remember the first time I came to work with a fever as an Assistant Principal. I was convinced chaos would reign during passing periods, teachers would show movies all day, and nobody else knew how to get kids on a bus at the end of the day. We think we are indispensable as leaders/managers because it makes us feel more important than we really are. Yes, we are important and I still believe that there are fewer people who either can or want to do what we do. But, let’s all agree that we are not as critical to day-to-day operations as we like to tell ourselves.
    • My advice to new leaders: Don’t come to work sick and take a day off every now and then. It will be better for everyone and your team will respect you more if you  Banking sick days is not a badge of honor.

I hope I’m not the same person with the same ideas I had a decade ago. Ten years ago I had no kids and still had my Thyroid. If I still believed everything I believed when I turned 30, then I would be doing a disservice to those I work with every day and those I’m building a family with outside or work.

Thanks for listening.

Patience, FOF, FOMO, And A 9-Year-Old

My oldest son turned the corner to 18 recently. Nine years old seems so young, but considering the blur that was the last nine, it’s hard to believe the next will be any different. Should I be doing more? Less? Am I more worried about failing or not doing everything I can? Fear of Failure (FOF) or Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?

I look at him and can’t imagine loving anyone any deeper. He is me. I want so much for him. I see a game plan and at the same time, I recognize that even at nine he is he. Even now, it’s not my game plan. It’s his. The goal can’t be to give him the same experiences and thoughts I had as a kid. It’s not to turn him into a better version of myself.

I thought I was closer to figuring him out, and now we’re turning a new corner. Now the choice is to either lean in and allow this corner help build positive momentum and embrace the ambiguity the next nine years are sure to bring. Or we can resist and allow the corner to take longer and pull us apart.

He came to mind while recently listening to this Dharma talk from Jack Kornfield. He was sharing about the perfection of patience. Helping us to think about the growth of others and ways we can approach them with the same patience we yearn for ourselves. And of course, if you have ever listened to more than a few minutes from Jack you came out the other end better for it.

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He shared the parable: Frog and Toad Together: The Garden, by Arnold Lobel.

Toad learns how hard, but necessary it is to leave seeds alone if you want them to grow. You can’t yell, poke, and prod at seeds and expect them to grow of course. Make sure they have good soil, water, and sunlight. Beyond that, our interventions may get in the way rather than help. Maybe doing less is better. But how do we reconcile doing less with our insatiable thirst for more? Our need to do something in order to feel better about ourselves. When do interventions get in the way of personal development? It seems that so often our FOF leads to over-intervention. I fall prey to this need to intervene both at work and at home. At some point, our interventions turn selfish. At some point, are we intervening to make ourselves feel better that we did everything we possibly could rather than giving the other person the time and space to grow?

Perhaps it’s this need to act that elevates our FOF and FOMO and in the end often a feeling of discontent. Tara Brach and Jack recently forced me to confront both. Thank you so much. Tara has been my companion through many life passages and I encourage you to find a quiet hour sometime soon to listen to any of her talks or read her books.

Her recent talk on this topic is below, and the podcast is here.

Is it Fear of Failure and Fear of Missing Out? A fear of failure as a father and fear of missing out as a father and human. I think it’s both and neither. The older I get the more I realize it is everything at the same time.

Perhaps this struggle with FOF and FOMO is something new he and I can bond around. I see both in his eyes as he struggles with turning the corner from kid to pre-teen at the same time I’m working through the passage from my third to fourth decade. I’m not sure anything is more useful to help him learn over the next nine years than the ability to recognize these two emotions. Recognizing the anxiety these two emotions creates and cultivating the ability to work within it will carry much more weight and continue to pay dividends long after GPA or class ranks are long forgotten.

Thanks for listening.

Begin Again

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

It’s usually the focus in their eyes I notice first. They may be 22, they may be 52, but they are starting something new. Their heightened situational awareness causes them to engage with the world around them in ways that are often only tapped into by a beginner. I’m here to argue that beginners shouldn’t have all the fun.

It’s the start of another new school year here in Round Rock and I have the privilege of greeting a few hundred new employees around this time each year. It’s always a celebration, but this year I’m bringing increased authenticity to my enthusiasm.

I’ve always been happy to greet these new folks, but there was always a sense of sympathy for the work ahead of them starting something new. They are either entering a new profession and don’t yet know what they don’t know. Or, they are experienced but joining a new organization. They will need to learn the culture, make new work friends, establish their reputation, create new routines, and find a parking spot. They must feel so unsettled.

They are walking into a new building and the only thing they know for sure is that they will meet new people. They get to be whoever they want. We don’t know them yet so even if they were the fool in their last job, they get a new start with us.

Maybe it’s turning 40 soon, or maybe it’s reaching a certain level of comfort, but I’m finding my feelings for these beginners turn from sympathy to envy. And while we can’t turn back the clock, and may not want to find a new job, how can we tap into the mindset that comes from starting something new? From beginning again?

When Suzuki was speaking of Beginner’s Mind he reminded us:

For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

The hard part he goes on to say is not balancing our expert and beginner’s mind, it’s not a dualistic approach. The two ways of thinking do not balance each other. There is a finite amount of space for our mindset and the expert’s mind is in direct competition with the beginner’s mind. Satisfaction comes from learning, improving our craft, growing our skillset, without losing the beginner’s mind. Much easier said than done.

We must remain the learner…even when we are mentoring others. Because we are not really mentoring them. We are learning with them and just playing a different role. None of us really know what we are doing. We are just doing our best.

He goes on to tell us:

The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.