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.