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

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

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.

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

Disappointment

I have been told no, more than I have been told yes. Job interview after job interview. “No. I am sorry. We have someone else in mind.” Discouraging doesn’t even scratch the surface at times.

It is hard to not to think that it’s me. I wasn’t good enough for that job or this job. For some jobs, maybe I wasn’t good enough. It can be demoralizing. Doubts. Second guessing the interviews. What could I have done better? The answer most of the time is nothing.

But look at where I am. I would not be where I am if I hadn’t dusted myself off every time I was told no and kept interviewing. Failure?

“The only failure is not to try.” – George Clooney

“The same thing holds true for a positive outlook, however. Color your mind with the right thoughts, color them with what’s possible, and then whatever you’re trying to do—whether it’s trying to start a company or salvage a relationship or lose twenty pounds or quit drinking or make partner at your law firm—you’ll be able to manage it.” Daily Stoic newsletter, April 26, 2021

I believe I am ready for the next step in my career. It is my job then to keep a positive outlook and to color my mind with what’s possible. Will I continue to be told no? 100%. I will not allow those voices to then become my internal voice.

I will continue to be me. I will continue to let others know what I believe, not what I think they want to hear. One day the right opportunity will come along, and I will be ready.

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.

. . . 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

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.

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