Fall apart; fall together

This post is going to be pretty personal.  Perhaps too personal for some.  I often talk about embracing the humanity of the Internet  and the importance of transparency so I think that I would almost be hypocritical if I did not write this. It is extremely easy to always discuss success in our blogs, but in reality, if I do not share the struggles as well, am I truly helping.  This is about one of those struggles. What I am about to share may have little to do with education, but for me, it has everything to do with learning.

A few months ago, things were different in me.  I had seemingly lost focus, but in reality, I had really focused on the wrong thing.  People that were close to me saw that something was different and I was starting to lose myself.  From being the person that was extremely happy all of the time, I had changed significantly. And when things seemingly were getting pretty bad, they all of sudden got much worse.

In fact, everything to me, seemed like it fell apart. I had crashed and I had burned. My family was extremely worried and my closest friends didn’t know what to do.   They were there as much as possible, yet you could feel that they were trying to say the one perfect thing that they hoped would knock me out of it.  Even people on Twitter were noticing that something was off.  As much as they tried for weeks, nothing was working.  Personally things were tough, which was leading things to be tough professionally.  I likened it to a car; if one cylinder was not working, the whole car suffered.  I remember someone very close to me saying, “You need to deal with this.  Don’t just do things to push aside.  Give yourself permission to actually hurt.” I did just that and I had honestly have never felt so low. Then came a few little things that changed everything.

After a few days off work, I had come back and although I was getting better, I was not myself.  I was ‘off’ and as a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, anyone could have seen it.  Although I tried to smile, it was empty.  When I wanted time to go fast, it went slow, and vice versa.  I wanted the days to be over so I could just get back to bed. Then my boss called me into his office and my heart raced as I am nervous by default.  I never liked being in the principal’s office as a kid and this gave me that exact same feeling.  As I sat there preparing myself for the worst possible outcome, I was shocked by what happened.  I was asked to be the opening keynote for our own school division’s opening day in the fall.  And this wasn’t just the decision of one, but the decision of many who believe in me to do a good job with this day even though they were watching me struggle.  It was an honour that I would have never thought would have come my way and especially not at this moment in my life.  It lifted my spirits in a way that I would have never imagined.

Sometimes you start to believe in yourself when someone shows they believe in you first.

Although this was an awesome moment, it was not the only thing that helped.  As I left a quiet afternoon at Starbucks, I cried in my car as soon as I walked out.  At that moment, I said that this is the last time I am going to cry about this and I knew I needed to do something different.  For everyone that was there for me, I had to give back.  I drove straight to the Edmonton Humane Society and decided to spend some time with animals that were waiting for a good home and use my network to promote the adoption of these animals.  I have never really cared about the number of Twitter followers that I have, but I also knew that with the extent of the network that I had created, I should try to leverage it to help an organization that had done so much for my life.  I started tweeting pictures of dogs that were up for adoption (I could adopt all of them but two dogs in the house is already a lot!) and hoping that people would see them and come adopt.  At the least, they would be more aware of the organization that does so much good for others. When I was at my lowest, people were there for me.  Giving back was something I needed to do.  It changed everything. There were so many things that I have learned from this experience. I learned about how the “real world” can really work.  With all of this talk about the “no-zero policy” in Edmonton right now and how “in the real world, your boss…blah blah blah”, I know how I want my real world to be.  I want to work in an organization with leaders that genuinely care about the people that are a part of it, not just focus on numbers and results.  Schools need to be like that. Organizations need to be like that.

I have been more dedicated to our school division now more than ever because of the care that was shown for me, as well as the belief from others in what I can do. I need to continuously work to embody these qualities in my own leadership. I have also learned about the importance of those closest to me and how I need to appreciate them more.  I have always  been busy and will continue to be busy, yet the times I have spent with my friends and family, I have tried to be more “in the moment” and appreciate them.  I have learned to take more interest in their lives and to try and support them as much as possible.  I have more appreciation for my family and friends now than I ever had.  When I was at my lowest, they showed they loved me the most. I watched and listened to this video over and over again and these words stuck out to me:

“Pain is temporary.  It may last for a minute, for an hour, for a day, or even a year.  But eventually it will subside and something else will take it’s place.  If I quit however, it will last forever.”

Pain is a part of life.  We have to learn from it. I remember feeling such a short time ago that things were hopeless.  Honestly, at this moment, they have never been better.  I have had some of the best days of my life and opportunities that I could have never dreamed of.  I am in better shape.  I am happier at my job.  I have also stopped and appreciated things like never before.  I sit with my dogs now and just look at them and am filled with love.  If I learned anything, it was not to go faster, but to be better. I have learned to not just dream anymore, but to full on pursue those dreams.  I have learned to refocus my efforts to be the leader that I need to be for those that I serve.  I was at my lowest and I was able to come out of it because others loved me and believed in me.  I need to continue to grow and be that person.  All of those people that stuck by me and helped me have motivated me to do the same for others. I end with these words by Will Smith (yup, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air) that motivate me to do more.

“If you are going to be here, there is a necessity to make a difference…I want to do good.  I want the world to be better because I was here.” Will Smith

The focus on being better has never been so clear.

40 thoughts on “Fall apart; fall together

  1. Patti Grayson

    I'm not a personal friend, but a dedicated follower for the last couple of years… and I'm glad to hear that whatever it was that managed to take you down, that you are rising above it, and bouncing back stronger than ever. It's encouraging to hear that your closest friends and colleagues were there for you! Am adding you to my prayer list that things continue to look up, and that you realize your value and impact – everywhere, but especially in the education world. Thanks for your transparency. All the best…

  2. Vicit

    Thank you for sharing. We have peaks and valleys – neither are forever and crossing both brings us to new places. We learn through the journeys.
    So often, people are embarrassed to talk about the low points, but the often bring the most profound changes. Appreciating simple joy of puppies snuggling on your bed is an important thing to be able to do. How sad it would be to not have learned the importance of looking for the good things. This is the most important thing I teach. Look around you – what an amazing world! (have you ever noticed how many shades of green there are on trees?). Cultivate a sense of wonder ( I've forgotten the name of the presenter who shared the video of New Zealanders experiencing snow for the first time. I'll find and tweet it)
    Thanks for all then learning you share, George. You are appreciated!

  3. @ktvee

    I have written and kept in draft mode for months, a post titled "The Year I Wanted To Quit." This morning, I read your post and I realize (although you've said it far more poingnantly than I did!) that it's about honesty. It's amazing how we can have these amazing opportunities and times when others think it should be the best times in our lives, and all along, our smiles are masks for what we are truly experiencing. I would have quit were it not for a few people in my life who reached out to me. I have that same feeling of wanting everyday to count, wanting to make a difference, and wanting to push through and make things happen. I am so grateful that I came across this post this morning. Thank you for the honesty, for sharing, and for the reminder to keep going.

  4. Laurie Renton

    Our first instinct, often, is to curl up within oneself when things become overwhelming and dark, essentially removing ourselves from the very people who truly COULD help us to find the path we've lost. It takes SUCH a strong person to be able to share these feelings with others … to be transparent … open and raw. You have inspired me in SO many ways as I've followed your journey on twitter, and through your amazing blog – your passion for sharing with others, and your inspirational leadership. The title of this post, its content, speak to me on SO many levels. Fall apart; fall together … the ebb and flow of life … thank goodness for resilience and the power of relationships! Thank you for sharing with such openness and vulnerability, George … I think so many of us can relate to this heartfelt topic – both personally and professionally – yet ANOTHER inspiring post.

  5. lmdsuarez

    It requires courage as a leader to share moments of personal doubt and uncertainty. How can we ask others to evolve as people and educators if we present a mask of "I've got everything under control and things are great"? Thank you for sharing your despair as it inspires others to do so also. I keep on returning to Brené Brown's video as it shows how we build stonger relationships by being vulnerable and truely present with others. After reading your story, it helped me to reexamine what is really important to me: family, friends, and work as a vocation to serve others.
    Albert Camus said, "On the farthest side of despair is hope". Thank you for blogging your authentic journey of learning and leadership.
    Take care,
    Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerabi

  6. Ann

    George, I too was moved by your post. It is catching me at my lowest moment and is a reminder to me of how to dig my way out. Too that by recognizing and appreciating those who matter and the moments we share I can find my way back. Thank you, another teacher redirected to a better path.

  7. Karen Szymusiak

    I am so glad to hear that the sun will rise and set on a more positive and committed you. I appreciate your candidness. So many people will find their own courage and focus from your message – including me.

  8. Al Lowrie

    Al Lowrie here, George. I took an on-line course with your brother, Alec. I am a principal with EPS and hit a wall last year. The support of my family, my faith and some time away from constant decisions were indispensable. My dog Tiff, a Golden Doodle, forced me out walking everyday. Thanks for your honesty!

    Regular exercise with a personal trainer, changing my diet and not taking things so personal have been very helpful. My wife of 30 years and my family understood and stood by me as I navigated this 'temporary' pain.
    I enjoy the blogs. Thanks for keeping it real. Al

  9. gret

    What a moving post, George! I have tears in my eyes. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks for writing such an honest, heartfelt post.

  10. 19anne

    George, your post has a great deal to do with "education". Honesty, integrity and helping others, especially when they need it the most, is one way for all to learn. Thank you for keeping the topic of "education" about becoming better humans. Your words inspire!

  11. Tina

    George, this has been the most moving post that I have ever read. You write from a place where I can identify and your words have helped me immensely. The square peg in the round hole…the difference makers…affirming the personal side of teaching which isn't always easy.
    I am truly inspired by your honesty and thank you for sharing your most amazing and personal self-journey!

  12. Bill

    George and all folks who commented,
    Life is in fact a rollercoaster. Your transperancy and willingness to share your vulnerability is inspiring as well as admirable. As human beings we must appreciate the meaning of what it is we are put here on earth. Educator or not the sole purpose is to aide and assist others who are not able or in a position to help themselves. Keep this last point as your priority and sole focus and good things we happen. Remeber, on the other hand that bad things happen to good people, again as we are only human and do and be the best we can to contibute to society and mankind. I feel your pain brother but we must continue to improvise, overcome and adapt to all the obstacle in which continually pose themsleve beforre our paths… Yours in the fight!

  13. Pam Thompson

    Hi George. You have done an amazing service for those who suffer from depression. All too often when people (and, dare I say it, especially the male of the species?) feel this way they sweep it under the carpet and pretend all is OK. It takes courage to talk about such experiences and I admire your honesty and transparency.
    I'm so glad to hear that you have come through this in an even better place. You have such a lot to offer others, but you also deserve to give yourself some quality time and enjoy it too.

  14. Deb

    Bless you for speaking honestly, openly, and from the heart. Also bless the angels who recognized your pain and held out the golden lifelines that gently drew you back into the sunshine. Education is so much more than just curriculum, grades and the latest trends. It's also about the human spirit, empathy, and helping each other find our wings to soar. In our profession, we spend so much time giving and caring for others, but we must also remember to be gentle to ourselves.
    I follow your posts because of the honesty in your words. Continue to share your gifts, George!

  15. colleenkr

    Why is it that we are so hesitant to share our weaknesses for fear that we'll be judged harshly? Surprisingly, we make such deeper connections with other people when we give up trying to be perfect for a while. It takes great strength to admit our 'humanness', which seems so odd; shouldn't it be one of the easiest things we can do? Expectations, whether they be our own or our assumptions of others, can not only be detrimental but utterly empty and false. Enjoy the comments that have been written here by so many people who have shown an appreciation for your human, tender side. It is what makes you vulnerable, yes, but your revelations and your perseverance are what make you a formidable leader and teacher (and person!).

  16. Aviva (@grade1)

    What an absolutely lovely post, George! I'm so glad that I saw you tweet about it. I may have never met you in person, but I'm constantly inspired by what you do for people in your network, for the children in your school division, for the individuals in your school district, and for your friends and family. It makes me sad to know what a difficult time you were having, but it also makes me much happier to know that things are better now. Please know that there are so many of us out here that care about you and will do anything we can to support you when you need it. Take care, keep smiling, and keep doing the wonderful work that you are doing! I really do believe that you've helped change the face of education.


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  18. Maureen Devlin

    Wow! Thanks for your honesty and reflection. You were one of the first educators I began to follow on Twitter and blogs. You have brought me countless moments of challenge and inspiration in the past couple of years. I want to thank you for your leadership in education, and for your strength. We all face challenge in education, and hearing that a versatile, strong, passionate educator like you can whether the storm makes us all stronger. Thanks.

  19. Carol McLaughlin

    Thank you for posting this. This is one problem I see in leaders with heart (which I hope I am)- we hold everyone else up and don't realize we have fallen down ourselves until it's really bad. I know I have experienced this. I felt like God has taught me this lesson over and over again that we are not in this world alone on purpose. We need each other. We need leaders like you to carve out paths we would never walk on our own but you, and others doing the same have to realize that you can lean on those behind you. There are many and they can support you. There are also those who went before you carving your path. They light the way and carved it to lighten your load. Yes, we fall together and we stand back up together. :) Praying continued happiness!

  20. Brenda

    Thanks for sharing. This year was my third year as principal and I went through a great deal of self doubt and discouragement also. I spent many a time in my car in tears for reasons I couldn't even understand. I wrote a blog post about feeling like giving up With a great deal of prayer and reading of great thoughts on leadership , as well as some frank discussions with other principal colleagues, I realized that I was doing some great things even though some of my staff were so resistant. Now I do what is best for my best teachers with my bottom line being the children and I am super confident. I am glad to know that I am not alone in struggles. Hope your journey continues to be positive in spite of the occasional setback that we all experience.

  21. Sarah Stewart

    Hi George, I have been thinking recently about the pros and cons of writing personal posts in a professional blog. I am a bit like you…wear my heart on my sleeve, but I am in the throes of looking for a new job, so have been wondering about the appropriateness of doing this. yes, I know, your situation is a little different. But you have written so beautifully, I can see how a personal statement can contribute as much to people's learning and reflection, as professional musings. Thank you so much…and take care of yourself. cheers Sarah

  22. @hendylou

    George, as I was reading your post my five-year-old was commenting on something she saw on tv (they said the word "communication")…She said "it's all about communicating. That's what I'm talking about at school, sending the right message. You never know who your message is going to reach, right mom?"
    And all in one moment things just come together sometimes, intis case, your words and hers.
    You truly never know who your message is going to reach, and through your candid reflection, your brave journey and your always-inspiring "communication", you continue to lead in ways you may never really realize. (And how cool is that!)

  23. Darren

    Hey George, thanks for sharing. I have always had a great respect for the work you do , the information you share, and ability to inspire others with technology. But after reading your blog post I have gained a whole new respect for your courage and your ability to share even when your down. Sir Winston Churchill once said
    "Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe"
    Take care

  24. Maggie

    Hi George, I have been in that place over the last year too and I am finally climbing out of it. Thanks for your post, for your honesty. I hope I can be as honest myself sometime soon.

  25. sherrie

    George, Thank you for sharing this. You continue to inspire me to not give up on my continuous journey to be a better educator and person, and today did that for me more than ever. I was reminded that I have (again) lost my focus on what matters. Thank you for being the second person in the last year to teach me that showing vulnerability and being transparent is a strength and not the weakness I was taught. (Thanks @BenHazzard for being the first).

  26. sousac

    It takes great courage and strength to open oneself up in such a way as to allow ones deepest emotions to be put out there, raw, exposed, and left open to critique. You have shown that courage and strength, George, and in doing so, you have shown what it takes to be a really good educator: a caring person whose heart is as large or even larger than their brain because while teaching takes brains, it is much more about building relationships with students and showing them how much you really care about them and their education. Your boss, and those others that were also involved in seeing to it that you were the one to give the opening keynote speech for your school division, all had the highest expectations of you and showed you how much they cared by showing you their faith in you and raising your confidence and self-esteem as they did. In other words, they used their hearts to help you through that dark place you found yourself in and by doing so, helped you to rise above it and go out there and help others– human beings and otherwise. Great educators use their hearts each and every day. All the very best, George.

    PS. I hope to see you again in Surrey very soon, George. Your workshop was fabulous and now I can't wait to learn how to create a digital portfolio!!!

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  34. AJ

    I have only just a found your blog and this is all I know of you, but I really needed to hear all that for myself right now. Thank you. Thank you for showing that we all go through self doubts and trials, and thank you for being willing to put it out there. So often we only share the good. So much power and courage in being honest. Things fall apart. It hurts like hell. And that is ok. Things come back together too. Xx

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