Be More Dog – Inspired by Jennifer Hogan

This video was featured in a recent blog post by Jennifer Hogan.  My blog is inspired by hers (and this video).

This is my story about how personal challenge led to personal and professional growth:

More than five years ago, I was in an unhappy marriage with a myriad of problems. Some too personal to discuss. I was miserable. I was co-dependent. I was insecure. I was nervous. I was unhappy. We were broke. We struggled to pay the bills and feed my kids. I was often alone. I was not “me”. I lost my voice and my ability to speak up and do what was right for my family. Then two things happened.

During the last year of my troubled marriage, I used a technique which ultimately led to big changes for me. Through journaling, I was able to take my life back. The journaling was simple. I wrote what I felt every day. When I looked back (over the course of nearly a year), I could see that I was unhappy, not satisfied, and being taken advantage of.   I wrote it all down, one day at a time. If it weren’t for the journaling, a “real time” snapshot of what was occurring, I never would have seen the evidence to support that my change had occurred and his hadn’t and that the divide between us had overcome my marriage and my family.

At the same time, I was working as a School Superintendent. The pressures of that position are more than I can describe in this post and if you have never walked the walk, the role can be indescribable. I knew that district wasn’t the right fit for me. I knew I belonged somewhere else. I prayed and worked and although I was struggling personally, I was growing. Growing because I finally had the courage to get out of a bad marriage and growing because I found the strength to find “a better fit” in a new position.

I am still Superintendent of Schools but I am in a different district and through teacher collaboration, understanding the needs of the community, working with a talented administrative team, innovation, and professional development, we have accomplished some wonderful things. Here are the most important things I learned about “being more dog”.

1. Communicate. I wrote how I felt. I let it all out on the pages of my journal.  It doesn’t matter who you communicate to.  Just do it.

2. Reflect. Like anyone who struggles to grow, I took the time to reflect. I honestly looked back and realized what was happening and knew things had to change. That “aha” moment was big for me.

3. Get some perspective. Sometimes we cannot see challenges until they smack us in the face or we take a serious step back. I needed to do both in order to grow.

4. Take action. I did what I had to do to take care of my children and although it was frightening, I did it with a confidence and strength I did not know I had at the time.

5. Rely on family and friends. As I look back during the most challenging times in my life, I had family, friends, mentors, and colleagues by my side.  At times, they were Directors of Curriculum who advised my professional reading which promoted growth or a Business Administrator, seasoned for many decades in the experiences of school business.  Or my mother and brother, who were both always there for me.

6. Don’t look back. I knew the decision I made was right for me and I pursued personal and professional growth with vigor.  I learned to delegate tasks appropriately and how to lead a team of talented administrators.  I learned to be inspired by others and to always praise the teachers in my district who work tirelessly to inspire and educate students.

7. Re-create yourself. It takes time, but I have continued to grow, read, think, hope and remain inspired by others.  “We cannot become what we wish to be by remaining who we are” is an anonymous quote that hangs in my office.  It is always okay to move toward something with intention.  Remember to always be present and move with purpose.  Ask “why” and then “why not”?

8.  Growth is not a destination.  It is a journey. I continue to work toward personal and professional growth because it matters, to me and to others. Keep moving forward. I am in awe of the leaders around me.

Believe it or not, I was a dog once before, when I was in High School and College. Carefree, ambitious, happy! I was going to be a TEACHER! What could be better? Like a dog, I sniffed the ground happily with my tail in the air,  unconcerned about where that scent would take me.  I was excited and loved learning.  I was inspired by others and loved my work.  My inner dog has been re-kindled.  I am back to being a teacher, back to being inspired, back to taking ownership for things I can control, back to leading the change, back to doing what is right for students, and providing loving guidance to my children during this exciting, miraculous journey.



Growth through Challenge

I recently discovered what it was like to experience growth through a challenge. It’s not that this doesn’t happen every day because life is filled with challenges and I don’t often let the challenges of my position get me down, but this one felt different to me because it felt more like an obstacle.

Then I begin to ponder and think about what the difference really was between an obstacle and a challenge. I think sometimes we think of obstacles as things that are in our way and that we cannot move or change them. A challenge is something we think we can overcome and in the process will make us grow. It is like when we challenge ourselves to complete a 5k, then a half-marathon.  We know that there will be growth through achieving both and that pushing ourselves (eventually) to the half-marathon provides tremendous growth both mentally and physically . I discovered this week that both the challenge and the obstacle can force growth upon the individual.

I think for me the difference was that I thought the obstacle was always going to be in my way and I would never find a way to get around it or move it. Even though that obstacle is still there, what I have changed is my approach to getting around that obstacle.  Think about it…if something is an obstacle it is defined as “something that obstructs or hinders progress”.  A challenge is defined as “a call to take part in a contest or competition, especially a duel” or “an objection or query as to the truth of something, often with an implicit demand for proof.” Even when I reflected on the definitions for both challenge and obstacle, the difference was very clear to me.  In the first example which implies a dual there would be a winner and a loser…a fierce competition until one person comes out the victor.  The second definition speaks of proof which is so ingrained in our heads.  I think of  when we  utilize data to inform instruction, provide specific, measurable, feedback for teachers, or identify evidence in student progress. When considering the very definition of obstacle I knew that I was going to have to find a way to get around what was facing me.

This week I learned that it was okay to feel uncomfortable while progress is happening or to feel out of sorts  when navigating around that obstacle.  But when there’s no progress it’s just frustrating and feels like an effort in futility. Discomfort and challenge are acceptable when there is growth. Without growth, however is merely frustration.

To combat this I learned that I had to do two things.

1. Step away from the problem and get a fresh perspective.   For me, that meant finding some time to “turn it off” and think about some other things, then go back to the initial obstacle.  This process provides the space we need for growth and clarity.

2. Completely and 100% change my focus and mindset to positivity! We all face challenges that we feel will overcome us but the best way for me to overcome those challenges is to recalibrate my way of thinking and utilize positive strategies to get back where I need to be mentally.  Just like great coaches know how to motivate their players and great teachers know how to inspire their students, I needed to know how to motivate myself…and I did.  By listening to music, reading, reflecting, re-identifying my role, and realizing that others look to me to “set the tone”, I found the strength to think of ways around the obstacle and apply strategies with success.

I’m not saying that obstacle isn’t there because it still is but in this case I found a way to get around the obstacle and utilize self-reflective strategies to move my goals forward.     I hope when that obstacle is in my way again, I continue to find the courage to find ways around it and/or remain open-minded about my personal growth through challenges and obstacles.