Shameless People

“When you are offended by someone’s shameless behavior, ask yourself, ‘Can there be a world without shameless people?’ No, it is not possible.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 9.42

People will always hate.

They will always try to knock you down to make themselves feel or look better.

Whether it is out of anger, jealousy, or fear.

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 12.4

It is your choice to be offended or not. If you take it personally you are complicit in their behavior .

Don’t want to be offended by it, don’t be.

You have to have the courage to be you. Sometimes that’s hard.

“‘What will happen to me?’ No one can tell you that. But with courage, you can say yourself, ‘I’m not sure, but I will get through it with my soul intact. I will make the best of it. I will not be afraid.’” RyanHoliday, Courage is Calling

As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

You need to have an undying belief in yourself.

That doesn’t mean arrogance. It means that you know you can make it out the other side of any situation.

People will turn on you. Decisions that looked good in the moment will go south. What will you do?

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese proverb

Don’t let anyone tell you, you are done. A setback is just the next move in a game of chess.

Are you willing to make the next move?

Gratitude

“With awareness, you can find

something to be grateful for

in each moment.

With practice, you will see

an abundance of things

to be grateful for.”

– Holstee, Gratitude Guide

There is always something to be grateful for no matter what is going on.

Just look around. Be present.

Be aware of what you have.

Be aware of the people in your life that make it meaningful.

Be grateful for the mundane things in your life.

“…I didn’t say we can be grateful for everything. I said we can be grateful in every moment…” – Brother David Steindl-Rast, Holstee, Gratitude Guide

It is so easy to get caught in a rut of self pity.

Will you waste this moment being angry over some slight, perceived or otherwise?

All things come to an end. Everything is fleeting.

You will never get this moment back.

Don’t just endure them. Embrace them.

Every moment is a learning experience.

Be grateful for every moment, even if things may not exactly be going your way.

Life can be hard, but it also can be beautiful.

Justice or Forgiveness

Do you believe in justice or forgiveness?

I believe in both.

But I think justice needs to be defined first.

Justice requires us to do the right thing, even when it is hard and unpopular.

Justice also means doing the most good for the most people.

Without justice, there would be lawlessness.

After justice, there must be forgiveness.

Forgiveness is for both people, the wrongdoer and the wronged.

Hate and revenge are heavy burdens to bear.

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.” – Nelson Mandela

Forgiveness allows a person to let go of their hate and need for revenge and unburden themselves.

Now that sounds great, but it is easier said than done.

You don’t have to forget what happened to forgive.

Forgiveness allows you to let go of what happened and move on in positive direction.

Some things are hard to forgive, but we have to try so that we can be free.

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” – Paul Boose

Small Calculated Risks

Life is all about taking risks. Much of people’s anxiety is over; will these risks work out in the long run?

Taking a big risk in life is scary because we aren’t sure how it will work out.

Will it ruin you?

No one said you have to take big, life-altering risks all at once. Sometimes these risks are necessary.

But what if you took small calculated risks that get you to the same place?

Much of our anxiety is because we try to predict what will happen.

The bigger the risk the more variables. The harder it is to predict.

We, as humans, are horrible at predicting the future. So the bigger the risk the more vague the outcome will be.

We try to predict the future, but there are so many things outside of our control it is a lesson in futility.

Also, black swan events can come along and change everything. The idea of the black swan event was popularized by Nicholas Nassim Taleb in the book of the same name.

We can steal ourselves against the events in two ways, hedge our bets, so we are prepared to take advantage of the outcome or take small calculated risks that don’t expose us to as much risk.

If you are taking smaller risks, then the stakes become easier to manage and you get to the same endpoint.

You will also be more willing to continue on the path to the big goal, just in smaller steps.

Rest

I have a hard time resting. I have a hard time sitting still.

I have monkey mind.

When I get a quiet moment, my mind jumps from past mistakes to future headaches.

I have a hard time being present.

“But sometimes, the harder choice, the greater exercise in restraint, is to rest. It’s to manage the load instead of throw it on your shoulders (or knees) without thinking.” – Ryan Holiday, Discipline Is Destiny, p. 76-77

Distractions are everywhere. Email, text messages, phone calls, and social media posts. All vying for our attention.

In a world with so many distractions, how do we find a quiet moment to rest?

First put your phone down, that text, email, Tweet can wait.

The Stoics didn’t believe that you should do nothing.

The Stoics felt that your leisure time should be filled by reading and learning.

I enjoy filling my mind with new ideas. It excites me. It gets my mind off of the troubles in this world.

It also reminds you that what is going on today is no different than what has gone on for centuries.

We all need to take a minute to just let our minds and bodies rest. The world will still be out there after you do.

Slave

“Doesn’t it seem to you that acting against one’s will, under protest and compulsion, is tantamount to being a slave?” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 4.1.11

We are all a slave to something: work, drink, drugs, sex, social media. The list can be endless.

We are a slave if we act against our own will, if we are listening to others and not living our own lives.

“All our decisions, impulses, desires, or aversions come from within us. No evil can force its way here.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8.28

Why do we seek approval of others?

We have to live with ourselves. Only our opinion really matters; however, we are more concerned with others opinions.

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 12.4

Are you ready to die for your beliefs, your lifestyle? Would you die for what someone else thinks of you?

“Apropos of which, Diogenes says somewhere that one way to guarantee freedom is to be ready to die.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 4.1.30

In today’s day and age we may not have to go to those extremes, but the message still carries.

If you are not willing to die for what you do every day, for what you believe in, you are a slave. A slave to someone else’s opinion, a slave to outside forces.

Worry about what you think. Do what you know is right. Have integrity. That will make you free.

Pain and Anguish

“External things are not your problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8.47

Pain, stress, and anguish, are all negative emotions that come from how you perceive things.

If you don’t want to be harmed by something, you don’t have to be.

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option to accept the event with humility, to treat this person as he should be treated, and to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7.54.

No one has control over my thoughts and reactions but me.

I can choose to be serene and content.

I can choose to move on and never look back.

That’s much easier than it sounds.

We want to be right. We want other people to know we’re right.

But where does that get us?

Nowhere.

Keep going forward. Learn from your mistakes. Move on.

Accept people for who they are. Give them grace for their mistakes because at some point you made the same ones.

Winning the War

For most people winning the battle is more important than winning the war.

Too many people are too impatient to look at the big picture.

On the way to their goals what do they sacrifice?

Themselves, their peers?

Are you strong enough to fight through voices that tell you that you’re wrong?

How do you move forward?

You tell yourself your wrong and you move on.

That’s what great leaders do. They adjust the playing field.

If you don’t adjust you don’t grow.

As a leader if you’re stagnant then you breed mediocrity.

As a leader every obstacle is the way.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius

Lead by example by being humble

In the end change is scary but fear can be beautiful.

Setbacks

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou

Everything that happens changes you.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Life is like the river. After something happens you are not the same person.

That doesn’t mean what happens to you should bring you down, but it should change you.

You should learn from it.

“A rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8.35

Setbacks should be used as fuel, fuel to get better, fuel to achieve your goal.

Giving up is not an option.

Life will never get easier. It will keep dragging you down if you let it.

However, if you focus on what you can control, you can move forward.

Even in the most horrifying circumstances, if you focus on what is in your control, it doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it tolerable.

Epictetus was a slave for most of his life. He had is leg permanently destroyed by a cruel owner, but he didn’t let that circumstance reduce him.

“They (the gods) made you responsible only for what is in your power – the proper use of impressions. So why take on the burden of matters which you cannot answer for? You are only making unnecessary problems for yourself.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:12:34-35

Now that is easier said than done considering the evil that human beings can do to one another.

Two prime examples are the horrific conditions that Viktor Frankl and Admiral James Stockdale had to endure.

Viktor Frankl was imprisoned in Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz. He lost his whole family to the horror. He however did not let it reduce him.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

James Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam and spent seven years as a prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton prison camp.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — Admiral James Stockdale.

Very few of us will have to suffer the horror that these men endured. Could you?

Many of us melt when we are hit with the slightest setback.

How do we soldier on?

We take it one day at at time. If it’s bad we focus on ten minutes at a time. If it’s really bad focus on the next minute.

Focus on what you control. We do not control what happens to us. We only control how we react.

Be Good

“Not time for reading. For controlling your arrogance, yes. For overcoming pain and pleasure, yes. For outgrowing ambition, yes. For not feeling anger at stupid and unpleasant people – even for caring about them – for that yes.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8:8

Marcus Aurelius was great. Was he perfect? No. Was he great every day? No. What makes him great was he was consistently good.

That’s what this quote reflects. He’s looking back on times where he was not good and reminding himself to be good.

Be good today. You don’t have to be great. Just good.

Consistency is what makes greatness. A string of good days is enough.

When you stumble, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and be good the next time.

No one is perfect. To ask someone to be great all the time is a lesson in futility.

Look at anyone who is considered “great” they all stumbled.

Winston Churchill, without his leadership in World War II, would have been considered a failure.

“He destroyed his credibility through his advocacy of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in World War I, policies on Ireland, mismanagement of the British economy during the interwar period, stubborn defense of the Nazi-sympathizing Edward VIII when he was forced from the throne, and most of all by his vitriolic and (even by the standards of the era) astonishingly bigoted opposition to Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence.” – Gautam Mukunda, Churchill the Failure: The Paradoxical Truth About the Best and Worst Leaders

Churchill picked himself up and kept trying to be good. He didn’t always accomplish that, but he never stopped trying.

No one can be great every day. Good is even hard.

We look back on great politicians, athletes, and public figures and think they walked on water every day.

They all stumbled, but they kept going. They were good more often than they were great.

But they were good consistently.

What Are You Worth

“You are the only one who knows yourself – which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:2:11

What is your price?

We all have a price. Depending on circumstances the price may change.

Should we look down on a prostitute?

Would you do the same under the circumstances?

I don’t think anyone could say truthfully without walking in their shoes.

You may not sell your body, but you are willing to sell yourself for jobs, friends, etc.

Are you any better?

“Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:2:33

Most people would find selling their body disgusting but they are willing to sell their integrity for nothing.

Which is worse?

“‘But the tyrant will chain…?’ What will he chain? Your leg? ‘He will chop off…?’ What? Your head? What he will never chain or chop off is your integrity.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book 1:18:17

Life will present you with opportunities to sell your integrity. Are you willing to do that for short term gains?

To what end?

Will you be able to look yourself in the mirror every day?

If you have to make certain decisions to survive, who will judge you?

If you can look yourself in the mirror and know you made the best decision you could then what others think about you doesn’t matter.

Focus on what you can control. Other people’s perceptions of what you have done is not something you can control.

If they haven’t walked in your shoes then their opinion doesn’t matter.

But when you are making those decisions don’t sell your integrity cheap.

Do what you have to do but make sure you can look your self in the mirror afterwards.

Storms

“Life will send storms

you cannot prepare for.

Some will approach slowly and

others will appear without warning.

Move through each moment

with care and persistence.

Meaning and beauty are

waiting for you

on the other side.”

Holstee, Resilience Guide

Storms in life like storms in weather eventually end. Some are worse than others.

However if they don’t take your life, no matter how bad they were, the Sun eventually comes out.

Endure whatever they throw at you with grit and a smile.

Without the rain the flowers won’t grow. Without strife we don’t grow.

We can come out better on the other side. That is being antifragile.

Not just recover from adversity, but be better because of it.

You do that by learning from the what caused the storm and from its aftermath.

The learning is the meaning and beauty waiting on the other side of a storm.

Justice

Justice is the hardest of the four Stoic virtues.

Justice means doing the right thing even when it is hard and unpopular.

Justice requires you to live up to the other three virtues.

Justice requires the wisdom to know what the right thing is in any situation.

“The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.” – Aristotle

Justice requires the courage to do the right thing in the face of people who disagree with you and may even hate you for it.

“Courage is of no value unless accompanied by justice; yet if all men became just, there would be no need for courage.” – Agesilaus the Second

Justice requires the discipline to do the right thing again and again.

“[A] man has it in his power to be just, if he have but the will to be so.” – Plutarch, Lives: Life of Cato the Younger

We need to be just because it is the right thing no matter what others do or if we get praise.

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.” – Marcus Aurelius.

Justice is the reward in its own right. Don’t worry about what others think. What you think and do is all that matters.

Be strict with yourself and tolerant of others.

Wisdom

Wisdom is a journey not a destination.

It comes from seeking knowledge not facts. It comes from developing skills

Wisdom comes from opening your mind to new ideas. Even ideas that seem contrary to your worldview.

Epicureanism is supposedly diametrically opposed to Stoicism. However Seneca quotes Epicurus repeatedly.

“I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good.” – Seneca

Wisdom is about seeking the truth. The truth is the truth.

Even if you disagree you should try to understand what they have to say.

You don’t have to agree with everything but maybe something they say makes you expand your perspective.

Isn’t that what wisdom is truly about?

“Don’t get into this binary thing where you’re looking at Fox or CNN. Read the other side. Some of your fellow citizens have good reasons to believe something different than you do. I try to think sometimes about where are they right? Not are they wrong. You’ll become a better thinker. And you earn peoples’ respect.” – Jaime Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase

Life is about the search for the truth.

“It is the search for the truth, not possession of the truth which is the way of philosophy. Its questions are more relevant than its answers, and every answer becomes a new question.” – Karl Jaspers

If we want to seek true wisdom we need to lead with questions and not answers.

Answers are an endpoint. Questions are a beginning. Questions lead to more questions.

Questions lead you on the journey.

Discipline

Discipline is about doing the right thing even if it is hard and unpopular.

“You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.” – Marcus Aurelius

Discipline is about doing the right thing today. Not telling yourself you will do better tomorrow.

Today may be hard but tomorrow will be harder if you don’t do the right thing now.

“Everyone must choose one of the two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” – Unknown

Discipline is about doing the small things every day to improve.

When you have a bad day you pick yourself up and do better tomorrow.

Life is hard don’t make it harder by making the wrong choices today.

The End

It is a shame when things come to an end, but that is the natural progression.

We outgrow people. People move away. People die. Jobs end by termination, resignation, and retirement.

The only thing that we are all guaranteed in life is that we will die.

When something ends it can be difficult. It can be heartbreaking.

“Nothing can happen to you that is not required by Nature.” – Marcus Aurelius

The sun will still come up tomorrow.

We need to take it into perspective. How can we learn and grow from ends, even death?

“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” – Marcus Aurelius

None of us are special. That is one thing we can take away from ends.

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.”- Marcus Aurelius

When we are gone all of those accolades we chased will be quickly forgotten. We need to be the best person we can be every day so that we can make an impact in someone’s life.

No one says you can’t mourn an end. A lost friendship, a death of a friend or loved one, a lost job. But what comes next?

You need to pick yourself up off the floor and get back to the work of being a human.

Live your life.

Responsibilities

Always remember that you have a responsibility to keep your word with others and especially yourself.

I made a promise to myself that I would write a blog post every week this year. I try to write a little each day.

Unfortunately this week got away from me. Today, Sunday, is the first time I have taken the time to write anything.

I’m not happy that I let myself neglect my writing practice. I’m not happy that in the busyness of life I found it just easier to skip it each day, telling myself I’ll have time tomorrow.

However that’s over, and I can’t change what I did or didn’t do last week. I can only change this moment.

“The wise man is like a dog leashed to a cart, running alongside and smoothly keeping pace with it, while a foolish man is like a dog that struggles against the leash but finds himself dragged alongside the cart anyway. Either we accept what happens, run alongside smoothly, and try to make the best with it, or, we complain about the situation, get miserable, and get dragged behind anyway because we cannot change it.” – Zeno

I have accepted the responsibility to get a blog post out this week. I won’t complain. I am just happy I kept my promise to myself.

Next week I will return to my discussion of the four Stoic virtues. I will discuss discipline, which I need to find a little more of in my writing practice. But life is a continuous journey.

Courage

Oxford Languages dictionary defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one and strength in the face of pain or grief.

The Stoics would define courage as living your life virtuously by holding on to your principles no matter what you are facing.

“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

We have faced many challenges in education recently. A pandemic, civil unrest, a charged political climate. All have come to our doorstep.

Each one of these has challenged what we do and how we do it.

The one thing that should never change is why we do it. The students.

What we do and how we do it can and should change as new and better ideas come along.

Why we do it that’s where the courage comes along.

We are constantly challenged by outside forces to question why we got into education.

Angry parents, unruly students, unfunded mandates, the list is endless.

We have to have the courage to filter out the noise and focus on what we can control.

We can control showing up every day and giving everything we have for our students.

We can control having the courage to make the right choices for students even when they are hard and unpopular.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt

Our students must be more important than our fear.

Do we have the courage to give every student what they need to be successful?

Do we have the courage to take the challenges we have faced and “rise to more exalted heights?”

If we want a better world than we have today, we have to.

Premeditatio Malorum

Premeditatio Malorum means the premeditation of the evils and troubles that might lie ahead.

Now that may seem contrary to Seneca’s idea that “we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

Premeditatio Malorum is about being prepared, not worrying.

“Today it is you who threaten me with these terrors; but I have always threatened myself with them, and have prepared myself as a man to meet man’s destiny. If an evil has been pondered beforehand, the blow is gentle when it comes.” – Seneca

I have no issue sitting down and thinking about what might happen and preparing. It’s the letting it go, knowing I have a plan in place, that’s the part I struggle with.

I perseverate on what on the worst case scenario, and I become anxious about it.

That is the running narrative in my head.

I need to learn to focus on the plan and not the troubles themselves.

That is how you balance Seneca’s two ideas.

Think about what bad could happen and plan for it. Don’t make the evils and troubles worse than they might be in your imagination.

Know that you can handle anything that is thrown at you. Because you are ready.

“You can read Seneca a hundred times and think you’re now prepared for calamity, but that’s just knowledge disguised as understanding.” – Lawrence Yeo, More to That blog

It doesn’t matter what you know if you can’t put it into action when you need to.

Think of what might happen, prepare for it, don’t imagine that it will be worse than it could be, and let it go.

Amor Fati

Amor Fati means love one’s fate.

Friedrich Nietzsche created the idea.

“That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When life is going good Amor Fati is easy. All’s good. No reason to regret anything. Loving life.

When life starts throwing challenges at you that’s when Amor Fati becomes difficult.

But if you read Nietzsche’s quote carefully he doesn’t say love your fate when it’s easy. He says “one wants nothing to be different.”

Everything happens for a reason. We may not be able to see or comprehend it at the time, but the reason is there.

Bad things will happen. That’s inevitable. Why try to pretend they won’t?

We would all love life to go our way all the time. That’s not reality.

“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” – Epictetus

As much as we try, we do not control what happens to us. We only control our response to what happens.

Why be miserable? It is what it is, and it will be what it will be.

Life is too short not to love that you are alive.

Every day is a gift. Even the bad ones.

Perfection

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen from the Holstee Welcome Guide

Stop worrying about being perfect and start worrying about being you.

“Excellence not perfection.” – Adam Grant

Stop being so hard on yourself when you make mistakes or things don’t go your way.

The only way not to make mistakes is to never do anything new.

If you don’t try anything new, then how do you grow, how do you learn, how do experience new things?

The short answer is you don’t. The price of life is learning to fail, learn, and move on.

Keep pushing but become ok with getting it wrong often.

Where you are now is where you are meant to be. Success comes from hard work and grit.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep smiling.

It’s not easy, but in the long run it’s worth it.

The Space

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

In that space before we respond we need to take an inventory of our emotions. Acknowledge what they are and take a moment to consider how they will affect our response.

We don’t need to respond immediately. Sometimes, many times, it’s better not to respond immediately.

It’s often better to process how what the other person has said makes you feel. How they made you feel, will be the pivotal thing that colors your response.

Anger, resentment, jealousy will make you do and say things you may not do or say normally. Allowing them to determine your response can destroy the path forward in the conversation.

This idea of using the space to respond appropriately is something I need to work on.

I am too eager to respond especially if someone has made me angry, jealous, or resentful.

I want them to know I’m right, even when I know I’m not.

I need to work on getting it right rather than being right.

Sometimes I feel anger, jealousy, or resentment because I know deep down they are right, and I don’t want to admit it.

“Am I hear to learn something or to prove something?“ – Holstee, Reflections newsletter

Get it right rather than be right.

Past > Present?

You can’t change the past, but the past changes the present.

Something that happened in the past that you didn’t understand or couldn’t see the meaning becomes more clear as the present unfolds.

“We must abandon completely the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we’re in and reverse our thinking and see that the past always flows back from the present. That now is the creative point of life. So you see, it’s like the idea of forgiving somebody. You change the meaning of the past by doing that …” – Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind, from Reflections from Holstee newsletter

Even things that were horrible in the past take on new meaning if you grow and learn from them in the present.

That person that did the unforgivable must be forgiven for the present to take the shape that you want.

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” – Buddha

The past does inform the present. That is why we need to be present in each moment. The present becomes the past.

Since we can’t change the past the only influence we have is being present in each moment.

Everything Has It’s Season

Do your job. Do it well

Don’t worry about the next task or the next job.

Do what needs to be done now and do it with all of your ability.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” -Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Be happy where you are until it is time to move on.

Be happy with the journey.

“We need more confidence without the need for evidence.” – The Daily Coach newsletter

Life is hard enough without trying to live in a time machine, trying to fix the past and predict how everything will turn out in the future. Both are lessons in futility.

Savor the moment. Because what comes next will come no matter what.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Choose wisely.

We can only control how we react to what happens. We can be present and enjoy this moment.

Savor every moment.

Anxiety

Anxiety is fear of the future.

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Nine times out of ten what you fear most never comes to fruition.

Yet your brain in the moment just can’t come to that conclusion. The more you try not to think about it the more anxiety you feel.

So how do you overcome anxiety?

Be present. Focus on what you are doing in that moment.

Let this moment push the fear aside.

If and when you get to the moment you fear then you can be present and deal with it.

However most of the time the moment that you fear never comes or isn’t as bad as you imagined.

And you have wasted all of that time worrying about something that never actually happens.

Be present. Life will come as it comes. You can only control your reaction to what happens.

It’s a Phase

I was listening to Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic podcast from May 25. It began with Ryan talking about everything in life is a phase.

Good, bad, or indifferent. Whatever you are going through will end eventually. Even if it means the end of you.

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining. Your will mean it’s end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your best interest to do so.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book X.3

When you are going through something it may seem unbearable at the time. Then years later you look back, and you made it through and learned something from it.

What if you had that perspective when you were going through it?

Everything that happens to you is endurable. It may not seem like it in the moment. It may be painful but as I said in an earlier blog post: Pain = Growth.

Don’t get caught complaining even to yourself. What you are going through is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by feeling sorry for yourself.

There is always something to learn and something positive to take away from every situation. No matter how hard or painful.

The most painful experiences make us better.

“It’s not what happens to you but how you react that matters.” – Epictetus

Showing Up

The Reflections from Holstee email Finding Creative Inspiration (Part 1) begins with a video from a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. “In the video, Elizabeth talks about an old and rather mystical idea, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, of a ‘genius’ that comes to us and creates through us. This genius is unpredictable, and it may or may not come to us. But we improve our chances of experiencing it just by showing up.”

Everything begins by showing up

If you don’t show up you can’t be in the game. If you don’t show up your opinion doesn’t matter.

But showing up isn’t enough.

Then you have to do the work.

You have to have the perseverance to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably be thrown in your way. You have to have the passion to keep going.

Angela Duckworth defines grit as perseverance and passion for long term goals.

Showing up is the start. Do you have the grit to continue?

The Reflections from Holstee email Finding Creative Inspiration (Part 2) talks about the resistance we all feel when we show up. “There is always something that inevitably comes up. Are they real needs or are they subconscious resistance to doing the work?”

If what you are doing is important you will find the time to accomplish it.

If it is not important why are you doing it?

The world is full of distractions. Our lives are constant fights for our attention.

We must find the space and quiet to show up, then the willpower to ignore the distractions.

“Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternately exerting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life: persist and resist.” – Epictetus

Epictetus is taking about a different kind of resistance.

Persist in showing up and doing good work. Resist all the “urgent” matters that try to grab your attention.

What I believe in

Courage – do what’s right especially when it’s hard and unpopular.

Have high expectations for everyone including myself.

Justice – every child should have what they need to succeed. Fair is not equal.

Relationships are key. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Everyone should have a say in their environment.

Stop believing we know what is right about how every child learns. Ask them. Open our minds to new possibilities.

Wisdom – to have the humility to know that I don’t know everything and the confidence to continue to learn.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” – Unknown

Learn with students and from everyone you come into contact with.

It is less about being right. It’s more about learning and considering different views.

“Am I hear to learn something or to prove something?“ – Holstee, Reflections newsletter

We should spend more time asking questions than pretending like we have all the answers.

We all need to rethink our beliefs regularly.

Discipline – to have control over my emotions and actions and to live my life according to these ideals.

“Excellence not perfection” – Adam Grant, Think Again Podcast.

Life is hard. You have to keep grinding every day no matter what.

“The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius

Nobody Is Perfect

Even the greats have flaws.

We have to be more willing to look at ourselves for our accomplishments and for our mistakes.

Resting on your laurels because you succeeded is easy and lazy.

What can you learn from when you haven’t been at our best?

Taking a hard look at ourselves because we screwed up is hard.

But that is our path to growth.

“We learn from failure, not from success!” – Bram Stoker

Short Term Memory

“What has happened in our recent past drives our emotional response much more than how we are doing overall.” – Annie Duke, Thinking In Bets

Good or bad whatever happens right now colors our thoughts. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had three weeks of bliss.

Life could be going swimmingly. Then something bad happens. All the good disappears from our mind. Life sucks.

The reverse is also true. Life can be a shit show. Then something miraculous happens. All the bad disappears, and life is great again.

An old adage in sports says you have to have a short memory. No matter what happened the last game you have to move on win or lose.

You can’t be too high or too low because the next opponent is coming.

Same thing in life. Things are never as bad or as good as they may seem at any moment. You need to have a short memory.

Tomorrow is coming. Whether you want it to or not.

“Yesterday don’t mean shit. What’s over is over. Nothing between. Yesterday don’t mean shit. Tomorrow is the day you have to face.” – Pantera, Reinventing the Steel

You have to learn from your mistakes and move on.

You can’t change what you have done in the past, but you can change the person you become in the future.

Compassion

There is so much hostility in the world right now.

We could all use a little more compassion towards others and ourselves.

Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, which really isn’t helpful.

Empathy is a start. At least you are trying to understand what someone is going through.

Compassion is when you feel sympathy and empathy, AND you are actively doing something about it.

Most people, when confronted with someone who is generally concerned and wants to help, will at the very least lose some of their hostility.

“When we focus on others, we find motivation that is difficult to marshal for ourselves alone.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Option B, p. 97

Most people are more hostile in their own mind towards themselves than they would ever be to others. One mistake can elicit a torrent of negative thoughts.

“[Self-compassion] does not mean shirking responsibility for our past. It’s about making sure we don’t beat ourselves up so badly that we damage our future … Instead of thinking ‘if only I weren’t,’ we can think ‘if only I hadn’t’” – Sheryl Sandberg, Option B, p. 60-61

Self-compassion does not mean lowering your standards or making the same mistakes over and over. It means giving yourself a break when you do make a mistake.

Give yourself the grace you need to learn from your mistakes and move forward in a positive direction. The same grace you give other people.

Longing

Longing for what?

Days gone by? That may or may not have been so great.

Or a future of greatness? That may or may not come true.

Too much of the first brings on depression of things you cannot change.

Too much of the second brings on anxiety of things you cannot control.

You need to let go of who you were so that you can become who you want to be.

Longing is not a bad thing. It can be the driver to make your life better.

It can be the driver to create the goals that move you forward in life.

Long to be better each day. Long to be more humble. Long to be more empathetic. Long to be more wise. Long to be more understanding.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be, be one.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, X.16

Focus on making your life better, by being better. Not on external factors that you cannot control.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus, Enchidrion, 1

Growth

I have been working on myself using stoicism.

Step 1 focusing on what I can control.

I cannot control how anyone treats me. I can only control how I respond. No one can harm me without my permission.

Be present in the moment. The past is over. The future is unknowable.

Learn from the past but do not beat myself up over mistakes. Preparing for but not worrying about how the future will work out.

Taking calculated risks that could pay big dividends in the future, but trying not to predict how that risk will turn out.

We humans are horrible at predictions. Too many variables, to control for them all. Make the best decision you can with the information you have and let it ride.

Having courage to do what’s right. Fighting for justice for all. Practicing temperance. Striving for wisdom.

I have made progress but there is a long way to go. The journey will never end.

When Is It Enough

“For men in a state of freedom had thatch for their shelter, while slavery dwells beneath marble and gold.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter XC

We are all chasing more “marble and gold” but in that chase we are less free. The simpler life is freeing.

We are tethered to devices that make us accessible 24/7/365. We can’t spend 5 minutes with our own thoughts without reaching for our phones.

We complicate our own lives. Rather than living simply we chase things that are unnecessary: likes, comments, etc.

The shot of dopamine is too enticing.

“We were born into a world in which things were ready to our hands; it is we who have made everything difficult to come by through our own disdain for what is easily come by.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter XC

We complicate our own lives. Rather than being happy with what we have, we want more.

More what?

“[T]o want simply what is enough nowadays suggest to people primitiveness and squalor.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter XC

We need to learn to be happy with what we have, not always searching for what we don’t.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals or aspirations. We need to learn to be patient and to be satisfied with what we have now.

You are enough. You don’t need to impress people. You don’t need to have a million followers.

If you are pursuing your best life that is enough. Set goals for your self. Take calculated risks. Some will pan out others won’t.

That’s ok. Life is about trying new things, growing from our mistakes. It’s about being the best version of yourself.

Just as you are, you are enough.

Complaints

Complaining has become so engrained in our culture it is almost second nature.

The difference between complaining and pointing out problems is your willingness to do something about it.

Many people are unwilling to do the hard work to fix what is broken. It is just easier to complain and hope that someone else will come along and fix it.

“Don’t be overheard complaining … Not even to yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius

But if no one is willing to step up, how will anything change?

It takes courage to be willing to put yourself out there to change something for the better. It is the natural reaction of every human being to resist change.

Change is hard. Change is scary. The status quo is comfortable. But what if the status quo is not working?

In our society it hasn’t just become status quo to complain but to attack anyone willing to step up to fix a problem. We have become close minded to the possibility that we may not have all the answers.

When did it become passé to help a friend, a neighbor, hell, even a stranger. Now we’d rather just complain about THEIR problems behind their back.

How do we turn this ship around?

We need to become more compassionate, more forgiving of the mistakes of others.

Use the energy you use to complain to find a solution. Every problem has a solution. It may not be quick. It may not be easy. But it’s out there if you look for it.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly …and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Meaning

What is meaning?

The Oxford Language definition is important or worthwhile quality; purpose.

Where do you find meaning in your life? Where do you find purpose?

“What matters therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 108.

Do we ever truly find meaning? Or does meaning change over time?

What has meaning today may not have meaning tomorrow.

“In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only answer by being responsible.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 109.

What are you responsible for? Who are you responsible to?

Life has meaning when you are responsible to something greater than yourself. Everything I do is for my wife and children. How I carry myself. The job I do at work.

I do my job as I hope that the administrators and teachers in my children’s school are doing there’s.

I always remember that every student is someone’s child. Someone loves and cares for that child. It is my responsibility to give them everything I can to improve their lives.

“Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.” – W. H. Auden

Meaning can change from day to day, moment to moment. What has your attention in this moment?

Our attention is dragged in a million different directions. Make sure what you allow to capture your attention is worth the meaning you give to it or suffer the consequences.

Book Review: 10 Perspectives on Learning in Education

Originally published https://www.middleweb.com/46694/ed-leaders-share-ideas-for-going-forward/

Edited by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker and Jeffrey Zoul
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2020 – Learn more)

The past two years have been difficult to say the least. It doesn’t matter what your position is in your school district. You have probably not only questioned your own abilities, you have questioned your future in education. I know both of those doubts have crept into my own thinking.

An unfortunate byproduct of this doubt is that the core mission of educators has been lost over the last two years. Survival, both personal and professional, has been top of mind.

It’s now time to reclaim our why. Why do you do what you do every day for students? 10 Perspectives on Learning in Education is the book that may help you accomplish that mission.

The voices of education thought leaders

This motivating book is a collection of essays from some of the brightest educational leaders today. They provide insights into different aspects of why it is important to be an educator, what it means to be an educator, and how to be a better educator.

There are discussions on learning how to lead, learning asleaders, becoming more emotionally intelligent, supporting standards based learning, taking a design-thinking approach, and making learning about connections, to name a few.

Insights I gleaned from these essays

Todd Whitaker, “Learning to Lead” – Whitaker is one of the most prolific and effective writers among educational leaders today. His writing is down to earth, understandable, and insightful in how to be a better teacher and leader. This essay provides awareness into how to start your leadership journey. “Having the strength to do what is right while you are in the minority is leadership” (p.7).

Jeffrey Zoul, “Schools that Unlearn” – Zoul discusses what needs to be done for continuous school improvement. In many cases doing new things is not enough; we need to stop doing things that are ingrained in school cultures but are no longer providing the desired result – mazimizing the support we give our students. “As Russell Ackoff says, ‘The only thing that’s harder than starting something new, is stopping something old’” (p.16).

Sanée Bell, “Learn How to Tune into your Emotional Intelligence” – Education is about relationships, relationships, relationships. To create a relationship with another person, you must be able to understand where they are coming from. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with them. It means that when you are crafting a solution or a new program, you take their perspective into account. “Be patient and look for the lasting impact instead of the temporary fix” (p.50).

Garnet Hillman, “Shifting the Focus to Standards-Based Learning” – Students should know what they are learning and why they are learning it. The ultimate goal of a lesson shouldn’t be a mystery. Standards-based learning provides students with this insight. It makes assessment an integral part of the learning process, not just the end result. “Assessment and learning go hand in hand with one not possible without the other” (p. 66).

Derek McCoy, “Learning by Connecting with Others” – Learning is a social process, or at least it should be. In too many classrooms, learning is a one-way street, from teacher to student. To improve our schools, learning needs to become a conversation, where teachers learn as much from students as students learn from teachers. “Learning happens from social interactions. Learning comes from defending, questioning, and explaining” (p. 129).

Refocusing on students’ learning

This book, published during the first pandemic year, doesn’t supply all of the answers for how we should move forward in education after an unprecedented shock wave. But it’s a good jumping off point for regaining our focus. It provides the reader with information and insight that may spark something that they would like to explore further or a project that they should start to make things better.

We must always remember why we do what we do: the students. We must refocus our attention away from survival back to improving the educational experience of all students. Hopefully these essays will provide some of the motivation to continue that mission. I know they did that for me.

Single-mindedness of Purpose

Having a goal is important, but the execution for attaining that goal is more important. Can you keep your eye on the prize? Can you avoid the distractions of every day life to do the work that will get you your goal?

“Single-mindedness of purpose, total concentration on the goal, and the use of these qualities against people less focused, people in a state of distraction – such an arrow will find its mark every time and overwhelm the enemy.” – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

It is easier to spread ourselves thin and not focus on what needs to be done to accomplish our goal. We identify goals, plural, that distract us from the hard work needed to accomplish what we really want.

“The fool flits from one person to another, believing that he will survive by spreading himself out. It is a corollary of the law of concentration, however, that much energy is saved, and more power is attained, by affixing yourself to a single, appropriate source of power.” – Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Can you overcome the disappointment when you’re goal is delayed? It’s never denied unless you give up. Can you suppress your ego to learn why the goal is delayed?

“Persist and resist.” – Epictetus

If you do not you will be stuck where you are not accomplishing what you desire.

Pain = Growth

Does anyone ever grow when things are going well? I guess we all grow a little every day no matter if there are good times or bad times. It is very easy to become complacent when things are working out well.

When you are a child, you touch something hot, you immediately pull away. You learn very quickly that you don’t want to touch that again. Simplistically that is growth.

No one likes to be in pain. It seems however that our largest growth comes when we are at our lowest, in the most pain. These feelings motivate us to make changes to escape the situation or the feeling.

“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” – Nicholas Nassim Taleb

There’s a lot of growth in that quote.

“Fear into prudence” You don’t stop or turn around. You keep going with a little more caution. Always moving forward with a little more knowledge each time.

“It’s ok to be a little afraid. It just means you’re about to learn something.” -Thibaut

“Pain into transformation.” If we are the same person as when we experienced the pain we are likely to experience it again. No one wants to be in pain so we change to not experience that pain again. That’s growth.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” – Haroki Murakami

“Mistakes into initiation” Use an error to begin something new. A mistake will always cause pain, the pain of regret. It also can be a beginning, a beginning of a new way forward.

“I learn from my mistakes. It’s a very painful way to learn, but without pain, the old saying is, there’s no gain.” – Johnny Cash

“Desire into undertaking” Wanting something is wonderful. But wanting something alone won’t get what you want. You have to take the desire and make it happen. A little at a time. One foot in front of the other.

“You can have anything you want, if you want it badly enough.” – Abraham Lincoln

Pain can be devastating, or it can be motivating. You can let it crush you, or you can let it strengthen you. Which way forward is your choice.

(Un)Precedented Times

How often over the last three years have we heard these are unprecedented times? Every day, multiple times a day. Part of the issue is we see ourselves as special. We are the only ones who have gone through times like these.

The Trump-Biden election was unprecedented. It seemed a lot like Bush-Gore, Hayes-Tilden (which is the subject of a wonderful book, To Rescue The Republic by Brett Baier, about Grant’s role in a smooth transition of power after the contested election), and Adams-Jefferson.

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic. There have been pandemics all throughout recorded history: the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Bubonic Plague (or Black Death) in the Middle Ages, the Antonine plague during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

These facts don’t mean that these events aren’t traumatic. The civil unrest. The loss of life. These past three years have been trying to say the least.

However we are not special. These times are very much precedented. We are just more easily lead to believe we are special by social media and cable news.

We need to realize that by thinking we are special we are letting the situation control us. We are acting as if we are helpless.

We are not. We may not be able to control what happens to us. We can control how we react to what happens to us.

“It’s not what happens to you but how you react that matters.” -Epictetus

By complaining about unprecedented times we are relinquishing control of our response to outside forces we have no control over.

These times are difficult no doubt about it, but if we look back at history there were times just like these that can serve as a template for how we can respond to the difficult things around us. Do not relinquish control to outside forces.

Placeholder

Remember when your ego begins to takeover no matter your station in life or position in the hierarchy you are just a placeholder. Everyone is replaceable. Someone is always ready to fill your shoes.

“Knowing that he was only a placeholder helped Marcus [Aurelius] prevent his position from going to his head.” -Ryan Holiday, Lives of the Stoics, p. 291.

Does that mean we shouldn’t take our positions seriously? No. It means like Marcus Aurelius we shouldn’t let it go to our head.

We should do our job to the best of our ability, not for recognition but because it is our duty. We should be humble. It is humbling to realize, if we leave, someone will be right behind you to fill your role.

When it is time to leave, and there will always be a time to leave, you should leave your position better off than when you arrived.

Quiet Leadership

“I learned from Maximus to do my duties quietly and without complaining, while being dignified and charming” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 1.15.

What happened to leading from the front with humility? Not always looking for recognition. Never complaining about how hard you have it. Dealing with issues without looking for recognition or a pat on the back.

Now it seems every leader has to puff out their chest or announce every minor accomplishment on social media. It’s like the football player that has to celebrate every first down. Act like you’ve been there before.

In the classic Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses a Level 5 leader. A Level 5 leader has the combination of humility and indomitable will. Leaders who do whatever needs to be done to complete the job and don’t look for the credit.

In Think Again, Adam Grant describes confident humility, as “having faith in our capability while appreciating that we may not have the right solution or even addressing the right problem.” Leaders who believe in themselves but look to others for help in solving difficult problems.

Puffing out your chest with every accomplishment may feed your ego but will it inspire people to follow you? Maybe for a while but eventually they will get tired of you taking all the credit.

I am not saying leaders can’t celebrate the accomplishments of their team. The key word there is team. No one in leadership ever accomplished anything alone. Make it about those around you, not you.

Chicken Little Syndrome

If you remember the story, an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head. She believes the sky is falling. She runs around the farm frantically.

She meets others along the way and convinces them the sky is falling. They must tell the king. Even though many question whether the sky is falling they continue on. Until they follow Chicken Little into being dinner for Mr. Fox.

Nowadays the sky always seems to be falling. It seems to be the default attitude of many. They convince others the sky is falling.

No one questions. People blindly follow, just like the others in the story of Chicken Little. Then when the crisis doesn’t happen. The Chicken Littles find a new crisis to cluck about.

“If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters – don’t wish to seem knowledgeable.” – Epictetus, Enchidrion, 13a.

We don’t need to be aware of every “crisis.” Some things are best ignored. Not everything is a crisis.

Some “crises” are not worth our time. If it is something that you are passionate about then learn about it deeply. Don’t blindly follow the social media influencer or cable news show that wants your attention by saying something shocking.

Go to the source. Read deeply about it. On the issue listen and/or read people who you disagree with. You may still not agree with them but you may learn something new.

You may find out the “crisis” you were so concerned about is no crisis at all. It is easy just to listen to sound bites or Tweets or Facebook posts and not really delve into the facts.

It is hard to dig into an issue completely. The alternative is much worse. Blindly following someone who “clucks” the loudest may mean you end up as someone else’s dinner.

Mistakes

“All men make mistakes, only wise men learn from their mistakes” -Winston Churchill.

Learning only comes from failure. We learn very little when things are going our way. We have to be uncomfortable to see any reason to change. Nothing can make you as uncomfortable as making a mistake.

“Forgive yourself of your faults and your mistakes and move on” – Les Brown

Once you have taken your mistake and learned from it, you have to let it go. There is a delicate balance between remembering your mistake so you don’t do it again and beating yourself up over it.

Self-forgiveness is difficult. We have a constant tape running in our head. Most times we are our own worst critics.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche.

When you screw up fall back on your why. Why do you do what you do? That is the North Star that will guide you back to your path.

The Colosseum

Social media can be like a blood sport. Survival of the fittest. One person attacking another. With hundreds, thousands, millions looking on.

People saying things to each other that they would never say in person. And the onlookers egg them on or respond in kind. Each follower giving the proverbial thumbs up or thumbs down to express their opinion.

“Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically poised to, but better than the mob” – Seneca, Letter V, Letters from a Stoic.

Why has it become OK to do something on social media to hurt another human being just to appeal to the mob? Aren’t we better than the mob that watched the games at the Colosseum? Where has our civility gone? As I discussed in an earlier post where is civil discourse?

Social media has become an echo chamber where people find others who believe what they believe. When you only listen to those on your side you don’t learn anything new. Everyone should actively seek out those you disagree with. That’s when you learn something new.

If used differently social media can open your eyes to a whole, new world. While it may be entertaining to follow people who disparage others, the entertainment value is fleeting. While it may feel good to only follow those people who share your views, how will you ever challenge your own thinking? It is better to follow people who can teach you something.

“[R]efrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement, by doing certain things which are calculated to give rise to comment on your appearance or way of living generally.” – Seneca, Letter V, Letters from a Stoic.

Social media has brought a world of learning to your fingertips. You can learn anything from anyone. But to do so you have to be purposeful. You can’t just mindlessly scroll through your timeline. You have to actively search for individuals who challenge your worldview, those who open you up to new ideas.

Be judicious in who you follow. If someone is going to get followers at others expense than are they worthy of your time?

Priority

Priority – a thing that is regarded as more important than another.

Can you have priorities? No. One thing will always be more important than another. You have to identify a priority. Priorities are an impossibility.

As we move into the New Year people all over the world are making resolutions, setting goals or identifying priorities But with priorities you are stretched too thin. What is most important to you?

In Greg McKeown’s essentialism 21 day challenge he asks that you ask yourself each day: “What is the most important thing I need to do today?” He wants you to identify what is your priority for the day. Shouldn’t we ask that same question for the week? The month? The year?

We should identify one priority, at work, at home, to work on. Keep working on that one priority until you have accomplished it.

My priority personally is to publish a blog once a week. If I want to be a writer, I need to write every day with the priority of publishing it for the world to read.

My priority professionally is to continue to study Stoicism and how it can help educational leaders deal with the hard times we are all going through right now. Many of my blog posts will be about this subject.

The hard part will be staying focused with the myriad distractions that come with every day life. Having a priority doesn’t mean that you can’t work on other things. It just means that the priority must take precedence.

I will keep you posted on how each priority is going.

“Don’t set your heart on so many things.” – Epictetus

Book Review: Developing the Leader within You by John Maxwell

The past two years have been difficult to say the least. It doesn’t matter what your position is in your school district, your leadership has been challenged. You have probably not only questioned your own abilities. You have questioned your future in education. I know both of those doubts have crept into my own thinking. In times like these you need a reminder of why you do what you do and how best to accomplish your mission as a leader

Developing the Leader within You was that reminder for me. Whether you are an aspiring leader, a leader with a few years under your belt, or have held leadership positions for decades, this book can provide you with a renewed perspective on why you do what you do and how to do it better. John Maxwell takes the perspectives of leaders from all walks of life and provides his own fresh insights to inspire you to not just manage your organization but lead your people.

The underlying premise of the book is that influence is the cornerstone of leadership. You cannot be a leader without followers. You cannot have followers if you don’t have influence. To gain influence you must “communicate effectively. This leads to recognition and recognition in turn leads to influence” (p. 5). The chapters in the book provide you with the awareness into the ideas that help you grow your influence with your followers.

These ideas resonated with me the most:

  • Priorities – During the pandemic our priorities have been skewed to fighting fires rather than furthering our mission. This chapter was a great reminder that we have to set our own priorities and not let them be influenced by outside forces. “All good leaders have learned to say no to the good in order to say yes to the best” (p. 32).
  • Integrity – We have all had to make difficult, often unpopular decisions, during the pandemic. Integrity is what leads us all to make those difficult decision for the greater good, even in the face of severe criticism. “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he would never be found out. – Thomas Macauley” (p. 43).
  • Creating Positive Change – Things have changed over the last two years. We were forced into making changes that we may not have made without the situation at hand. One of the biggest issues in education is the snail’s pace at which positive change occurs. We have to learn from the recent past to continue moving education forward without being forced to by our circumstances. “Elbert Hubbard said that the greatest mistake a person can make is to be afraid of making one” (p. 58).
  • Problem Solving – There has never been a more important skill right now. Problems are thrust upon us on a daily basis. Problems that demand solutions. As leaders it is our responsibility to empower others to solve problems for themselves. “Problems should be solved at the lowest level possible, because that is where they appear” (p. 91).
  • Attitude – There is an old saying that attitude will determine your altitude. Moping, whining, crying out about the unfairness of things will not solve the problem at hand. It will only make you feel worse, and you still have to deal with whatever you are going through. “God chooses what we go through. We choose how we go through it” (p. 105).

This book gave me a renewed understanding of why I do what I do and how I can do it better. I got into education to make a difference in the lives of young people. They, more than any of us, have struggled to find their footing through these challenging times. We must always remember that every decision that we make has a direct impact on the students. Therefore it is imperative that we recapture our why and push forward with helping our children become good citizens of this challenging world.

Originally published American Association of School Personnel Administrators Blog

Civil Discourse

Where has civility gone in our society? You don’t have to agree with what’s going on, but why are you screaming about it. Discourse is slowly dying in this country.

I have no problem with people being passionate about their beliefs. However there is a way of being passionate and civil that seems to be lost on many of us.

If you’re going to be rude, I am unlikely to listen to you. If you scream at me, call me names because I don’t agree with you, I will turn you off. So even if you have valid points they are not making it into my brain for me to even consider.

As Adam Grant discusses in his book, Think Again, we spend too much time being a preacher, a prosecutor, or a politician. We preach to protect and promote our ideas. We prosecute when we see a flaw in someone’s argument and want to prove them wrong. We politic to win others over to our side. In all three of those cases what are we not doing? Listening.

The first thing we all need to do is listen, really listen. We need to listen before we respond. We need to listen with empathy. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Does that always change our opinion or response? Not always, but maybe, just maybe the other person says something you agree with. Then what.

Then you must modify your opinion. Very few things in life are set in stone. Adam Grant describes this as thinking like a scientist. A scientist is willing to take in new information and modify their opinion based on that new information.

We will never always agree, but that doesn’t mean we have to scream at each other. We do have an obligation to change our opinion if and when information is presented to us that shows we are wrong. To do that we need to listen. For others to want to listen to you at the very least you need to be civil.

Liked v. Respected

Liked – found agreeable, enjoyable, or satisfactory.

Respected – admired someone deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements

We all have a need to belong to a tribe, to be liked. Unfortunately no one will never be liked by everyone. Attempting to be liked has led many a person to do things counter to their values.

Life is not a popularity contest. Many of the decisions we have to make in life are going to be unpopular, especially in today’s day and age, where everything is so polarized. In every situation you have to do what your values tell you is right, even if it is not easy or popular. When you consistently do what is right, then people will respect you, even if they don’t necessarily like you.

I would rather be respected than liked.

Anger

I’m no raving lunatic. Don’t get me wrong. Especially in a professional setting I can hold it together. At some point though I can feel IT overtaking me. Once that happens I find it difficult to dial it back.

I don’t know when IT is going to happen. IT just happens. I wouldn’t say there is some special trigger. It can be anything. It can be an innocent comment that just hits me the wrong way.

Unfortunately at that moment I am prone to saying things that I regret. Then, after it’s all over, the guilt washes over me.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.” – Epictetus

How do I do better in the moment between stimulus and response? How do I stop anger from taking over me? Or how do I get better at controlling my anger and using it to my advantage?

Anger is an emotion like any other emotion. It is neither good nor bad. It can be unhealthy. It can also be unhealthy to hold it back and not express it. Anger has its place just like every other emotion.

“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.” – Epictetus

On The Daily Stoic podcast, Ryan Holliday interviewed the author Robert Greene. One of the topics they discussed was harnessing your anger.

Ryan Holliday used the example of coaches who get angry to invigorate their team through a difficult time in a game or season. As a former coach I have seen this done very well, and I have seen it done very poorly.

Robert Greene discussed how whether it goes well or poorly depends on if the coach has self-control and self-awareness. Can they step back and analyze their anger? Can they use it strategically to get the results they are after?

He goes on to say that only those people, that can pause in the moment between stimulus and response to analyze their emotions, are able to get the results they want. Only those that can channel their anger productively after analyzing why they’re angry will get the results they are after.

I am by no means there yet. However this is one of the things that I am really working on. I am sure if you ask my family, friends, and colleagues they may say it is not going so well, but I am a work in progress.

I must be more cognizant of the space between stimulus and response. Not everything needs an immediate reaction. I need to take the time to analyze my anger to see if it is justified and then if it is use it productively.

You can’t force children to learn.

“[Y]ou can’t force kids to learn. You can only inspire them to do so.” – David Perrell, Monday Musings, 8/17/20

Why do we continue to try to force children to learn?

We can blame state testing, but that is a cop out. It’s been going on since I was in HS. I grew up in an era where the only high stakes testing was the SAT.

I grew up hating English class. I disliked reading and writing. I came to realize that I hated reading and writing what the teacher wanted me to read and write.

I remember only one project in HS English. We had to do a poetry study. We could choose anyone we wanted. I chose Jim Morrison, partly out of being a smart ass. “I’m going to show her. No stuffy poets for me.” But also because I love music. There is not a day in my life that I don’t listen to music for at least 1 to 2 hours.

The book I used was Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison. What I realized during the project was that I really didn’t hate poetry. I hated the poets that we were required to read.

It was English for me, but it is another subject for someone else. The point is that unless we try to get students personally involved in the content they will shut us out in subjects that they don’t like.

Personalizing your course content is not easy. It requires much more planning, and is much more difficult to execute. But isn’t the payoff worth it?

We all feel our content is important, and it is. We all get upset when students blow off our work. If we want students to work within our content areas we have to help them see the usefulness of what we teach.

It is important that students learn how to think differently. Tackling a problem scientifically is different that tackling it mathematically or historically. The problems aren’t getting easier so being able to approach them from many different angles will be important to solving them.

So if students blow off your class because they are not interested then how are you helping them develop their problem solving skills?

. . . or worse, the end of the world as they knew it.

That is a line from Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way. How often has that been said throughout history? This statement is heard daily during 2020, but does that mean that “the end of the world as they knew it” is a bad thing?

There are many things in education that can and need to be changed. Fortunately pandemic teaching has brought many of these issues to the forefront. The question is do we have the courage to change them.

Change is never popular and is always difficult. It is especially difficult in “easy” times, times when things are humming along. These times lead us to the mantra “but that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

I don’t think any of us would label the times we are living in as easy. Hopefully educators at all levels have taken, are taking, and will take the time to reflect on what positive changes we can take out of pandemic teaching.

It could be meeting more students where they are rather than where we would like them to be. It could be moving towards standards based grading. It could be empowering students to have more control over what they learn and we teach.

Nothing will ever be the same, but that is just life in general. The changes brought on by the pandemic have been more abrupt than say some in the past, but the world is constantly evolving. We need to take this opportunity to create positive change.

Will we take “the end of the world as they knew it” and make the world better than it was before?

“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You Always Get What You’ve Always Gotten.” – Jessie Potter taken from Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward email newsletter 12/18/2020

If You Only Have Friends, You Aren’t Doing Anything New

“No Enemy” poem written by Charles Mackay.

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Anyone who does anything of substance creates enemies. Most people enjoy the status quo. It’s easy. It’s safe. It’s also never led to progress of any kind.

Progress comes from pushing the envelope. Progress comes from being uncomfortable. Both of these things can elicit a visceral negative reaction from people.

Education is all about the status quo. Many teachers are still teaching the way they were taught. To suggest any type of new pedagogy is often met with fear and trepidation, even if it is backed by research.

Such pushback to new ideas can lead to creating enemies. If all you want is friends in life then you will never do anything new. Now that doesn’t mean you have to be negative or aggressive with your ideas. It doesn’t mean you should attack others who disagree with you.

It does mean you have to be comfortable walking alone for a while. It means you have to be willing to hear negative things said about you. It means you have to be ok with having enemies.

Are you willing to create enemies to do what is right for your students?

Reasoned Choice

“You don’t have to get ready for the 2020-21 school year this weekend- just Monday. Make mistakes, learn a lot, regroup- then, Tuesday.” – Mark Savage, @MSavageWCPSS, Twitter

This quote rings just as true now as it did in August and September. The world of educating children in a COVID world changes on a dime. Who is quarantined? How do teachers teach or students learn from home when everyone else is in school? How can we make the best decision for the health and safety of students and staff on limited information? However we don’t have to have all the answers on Monday.

“A good person is invincible, for they don’t rush into contests in which they aren’t the strongest . . . For the only contest the good person enters is that of their own reasoned choice. How can such a person not be invincible?” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.6 5-7

We have to take the facts that we have and make the best decision for the most people. These decisions may not be the easiest decisions or the most popular decisions, but must be the most reasoned decisions. We must make the best decision for the most people. Reasoned choice.

We cannot control outside events. We can only control our reaction to what is put in our way. We can only control our decisions on how to deal with the obstacles thrown at us. Reasoned choice.

I think we can all agree. Kids need to be in school for social, emotional, and academic reasons. We are proving that with reasoned choice in the protocols we put in place in person school can be done safely even during a pandemic. We can do this not by being blown about by every negative news story, Tweet, or Facebook post. But by looking at what is actually going on in our schools and adjusting what we do if need be to keep student and staff healthy and safe.

Reasoned choice.

Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

This is the title of chapter 9 in George Couros’s book The Innovator’s Mindset. Many people feel that technology is the answer. The answer to inequity. The answer to reopening schools. I disagree. Technology is a tool. How we use technology is part of the answer.

“Giving kids iPads or allowing them to film homework assignments on YouTube prepares them for the high-technology economy about as much as playing with Hot Wheels would prepare them to thrive as auto mechanics. “ – Cal Newport, Deep Work

We have to get away from using iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc. as expensive replacements for the worksheets many teachers rely on. This is where the powerful learning comes in. We, as educators, have to design experiences that allow students to think critically, collaborate, and create. Even more powerful than that, let the students design the learning experiences.

“And yet educators at schools where personalized learning is viewed as an overarching philosophy, rather than a digital panacea, say that adapting to the pandemic has been relatively painless, and that students are continuing to progress in their studies. The key difference between their approach and the popular narrative around personalized learning is that these educators have built their schools around the idea of student agency.” – Ainsley Harris, “Learning Gets Personal,” Fast Company, September 2020.

We have no choice but to give students more freedom in their learning. Students will be home either every day, three times per week, or every other day for at least the near future. We cannot assume that how we engaged students before will work now. In many cases what we were doing before wasn’t working any way.

We need to leverage the technology to make education better. We have to teach students to be creators. For that to happen our teachers need to be creators. It’s not enough that they move their PowerPoints to Google and provide a Form at the end of the lesson as an assessment. We need to fundamentally rethink what and how we educate our students.

We have an opportunity to remake education, so that our students now and in the future come out of this stronger, not weaker than before. Powerful Learning before technology.

Empowerment

All three of the ideas I have spoken about in my last three blog posts, passion, inquiry, and understanding, have brought me to this final idea of empowerment. Wouldn’t now be the right time to empower teachers and students to remake education into what it could and should be?

You might say: Now? The right time? With all the uncertainty? Well there never is a right time. We always wait until the right time, but it never comes. We push things off because it’s not the right time, and then guess what nothing ever happens. But isn’t now as good a time as any?

Uncertainty is the rule, not the exception. It’s how we respond to the uncertainty that matters. That is a major tenet of Stoicism. We need to make teachers and students feel safe in taking risks in adjusting their teaching and learning in response to this uncertainty.

Whether we are in schools or in remote learning, the only people who really know what is going on in any classroom are the teacher and the students. Shouldn’t we empower them to make the decisions that are best for them?

We must allow them to use their passions to make classrooms and learning relevant. Empower them to look at curriculum through their lens and make adjustments that personalize the learning to them.

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek via The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

We also must encourage our teachers and students to question everything. Powerful questions are what drives innovation in any industry. Teachers and students should be asking questions that further their own teaching and learning. They are at the ground level of what can be done to make our classrooms, either virtual or in person, better.

“You don’t have to hold a position of authority to ask a powerful question.” – Polly Le Barre via A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

If teachers and students are encouraged to us their passions and ask their own questions, they will develop a deeper understanding of whatever they are studying. They can use that understanding to push education forward toward what we envision: equity in opportunities for all children. They will also be happier in the process. What will you do this year to empower teachers and students to make education better?

“I encourage you to commit to empowering the people you serve to be part of the process of finding and solving problems.” – George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

Understanding

Inquiry and understanding go hand in hand. You can’t truly understand something without asking questions. Unfortunately in our day to day lives we are made to believe that we have to have all the answers. Or do we?

We have created an illusion in our society that you are a expert by having all the answers. Having all the answers limits progress. If you have all the answers then you aren’t asking the right questions.

Nothing could demonstrate that more than the situation we find ourselves in right now, trying to figure out what is the best way to start school in September. I am not sure there are right answers, but there are a lot of questions. Whatever decisions are made will be questioned in the future. Always remember hindsight is 20/20.

Is it really that different from any other year? Sure it is more pronounced due to the health risks, but shouldn’t we come into every year having more questions than answers? We are all aware that the educational system needs to be fixed but yet we continue doing the same old, same old.

I think the first step forward is focusing on inquiry. Our schools should be places where everyone, students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, feel comfortable asking questions about why and how things are done. By asking questions of each other we can build a common understanding.

We should be using our questions, especially student questions, to build a deeper understanding of our schools and ourselves. Teachers should help students find their own questions that will help them build their own understanding.

We are at a crossroads right now. We can continue to do the same thing we have done for the last 100 years with the only exception of doing it remotely. Or we can take this opportunity to ask questions of each other and create an understanding of what education can become for our 21st century learners.

Inquiry

Our lives are nothing but questions right now. When will we return to “normal?” If we don’t return to normal, what will the new “normal” look like? Will we be able to have students and teachers in schools in the fall? If we have to do distance learning how do we improve on what we did this spring?

Here’s the thing. This time of uncertainty is nothing new. We had just become comfortable and complacent. Our future is always nothing but questions and uncertainty.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present.” -Bill Keane

Rather than going through life with certainty we should attack each day with an open mind ready to learn. The best way to learn is to ask as many questions as possible. It doesn’t matter if you are an adult or a student

We need to embrace uncertainty. Rather than thinking we have all the answers we need to question everything. Life as we knew it is over. We will not get through this upheaval as individuals. We will need to lean on each other, and the best way to find out what someone else knows and how they can help you is to ask a question.

As we plan for September inquiry should be the centerpiece of what our schools look like going forward. Our classrooms should be places where we teach children to question everything, not just regurgitate facts. No one cares if you have the answers to old questions. They care if you can find things that need to be changed, ask questions that help to identify the best way forward, and then implement the changes that need to be made.

We have an opportunity to totally remake education in a positive way. I think we all have seen that our system needs to be more adaptable. We become more adaptable when we question everything rather than thinking we know everything.

Passion

I have a son, Brendon. Brendon is a curious kid and has been passionate about various things in his life. First it was the planets, then the Presidents, now it is football, specifically the NFL. He is also your typical iGen kid who only watches the occasional TV show but can’t get enough of YouTube.

Recently he has started to combine these two interests. He has created a YouTube channel where he looks at football from his own unique perspective. Below is a link to his video looking at the epic game between Miami and San Diego in 1982:

I realize that he is my son, but I was extremely impressed by the professional appearance of this video, and his knowledge of the historical significance of this game or the fact this game even existed, since it was before he was born. I think that the most impressive thing is that he did it all on his own. He didn’t learn it at school, and he certainly didn’t learn it from me.

What I am getting at is the power of passion to motivate people to learn. He spent his own time to find the programs and then to learn how to use them. He then markets himself on various social media, all on his own.

What could we get out of our students in school if we tapped into their passions? I am certain we wouldn’t hear, “Why do we have to learn this?” When we are self-motivated learning isn’t a chore. As a matter of fact we don’t even think about the fact that we are learning.

As the Director of Science and Engineering Technology, I helped create the STEM Academy. This Academy allows student who are passionate about STEM to follow those passions. Students can pick between science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science.

In their freshman and sophomore years, our teachers provide them a broad experience in STEM to refine their passions. In their junior year they refine these passions into a two-year research project. In their senior year, we will help them find an internship with a local business or research facility that will help them use their skills and passions in real world scenarios.

The STEM Academy is not for everyone. It is for those who have a passion for STEM. We do not have minimum grade requirements to enter. The only thing a student needs is to show us their passion for STEM in an essay that is included in their application. Students can come in and out of the program as their passions change. We want students who want to be there.

It is my hope that now that I have moved into a district office position that I can help create more of these academies using our STEM Academy template. I would love to see students who are passionate about the Humanities, the Arts, Business, Physical Education, etc. be able to follow those passions as well. What a glorious day it will be when students walk into school excited about learning because they care about the curriculum because the curriculum cares about them.

What is essential in education?

As we, in New York, now know that we are not going to see our students face to face until September at the earliest, I think it is the perfect time to reflect on what we do as educators. Distance learning will cause some fundamental changes in how we teach our students, but we have to ensure we are focusing on the positive changes to what we do, not just the fads.

In essentialism, Greg McKeown defines essentialism as, “less but better.” We do a lot in our classrooms, not all of it better. We have started to see politicians make grand pronouncements about what they think education should look like going forward. As Mr. McKeown states, “we can either make the hard choices for ourselves or allow others . . . to decide for us.”

My first draft of what I think are essential to education is this:

  • Passion – we have to help children identify what they are passionate about and use that to personalize their learning.
  • Empowerment – we have to empower students to take control of their own learning, which means we have to give up control.
  • Inquiry – we have to help students understand that life is about asking questions not about having all the answers. 
  • Understanding – we need to help students truly understand and be able to apply what they learn to novel situations.

That’s my short list. I realize that these are four very broad ideas. However, I think they are a good start. I would love to hear what you think about how pandemic learning can change what we do for the better. Please answer one or more of the questions below or make your own list of essentials in education in the comments.

How will distance learning change what we do permanently? What do you think is essential in education? What are the core values we should be using to guide what we do in classrooms across America?