I love my job; like, L.O.V.E. love my job! I was in San Antonio this past week and got to visit with a precious friend who is a missionary overseas. We were catching up on all aspects of life and she asked me this very question… What do you love about your job? So. Many. Things. I love that there is purpose inherently in what I do – I don’t have to make connections; it is visible each and every day as I see young people (and not so young people) learning, growing and becoming better versions of themselves. I love that I get to set the tone and foster a positive culture within our school community. I love that I get to work with incredible campus leaders and up and coming leaders. I love that I get to partner with superintendents across the state to do better and be better for kids. I love that I have 7 of the most committed, kid-focused board members who are all working towards our shared vision. I love being able to be a small part of making school GREAT for kids. I. Love. My. Job.
I share with people all the time, though, that I love my job 95% of the time, but there is this other 5%… the 5% that no one likes to talk about, but is ever-present in the work we do as school leaders (probably in the work that everyone does). The 95% of what I do is SO great… but the 5% can be absolutely horrible. The 5% is…
- the tragedy that impacts the school community;
- the aftermath when any human in the building (young or not as young) makes a poor choice;
- the negative viral social media post;
- the desire to do more for your awesome staff but not having the funds to make it happen;
- the inability to defend yourself in situations because it you are unable (and it would be inappropriate) to share confidential information;
- the pressure you face when you have to go on camera or on stage;
- the weight (let me just pause there for a moment)… the weight; of knowing that the livelihood of hundreds of people rest in your decision-making and leadership.
Okay – can I change my 95/5 ratio??? HAHA! The truth is I’ve had seasons where it is has been a solid 95/5 and seasons where it’s been more like 75/25. But my point is, we all have to deal with that hopefully small percentage of our work (lives) when things are really, really hard. So how do we do that?
There are four words that sustain me through these times. As a woman of faith, I wish I could say they are from deep spiritual truth or even some profound philosophical tenet. But in the end, the words I cling to are this too shall pass. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that during the first 18 months of the superintendency I had moments where I contemplated getting out. And I think one of the biggest reasons for that is that I didn’t understand this truth – that this too shall pass. (Almost) everything is a little better in the morning; and the next morning; and the next week; and the next week after that. So when I have a 5% day, or week, or season – I remember that things will get better.
In difficult situations, I try to gain better perspective. There is no greater tool to deescalate your own emotions when confronted with an upset ________ (parent, student, staff member, board member, community member), than to truly try to see and understand their perspective. When we can place the anger of someone who is confronting us in the big context of life, we can often see and understand their frustration. They may not be addressing it in the most appropriate way, but that perspective can soften our normal defense mechanisms and allow for a path forward. Part of that is also truly gaining a better perspective of the problem at hand. The goal is not just to de-escalate; it’s to truly understand if there really is a problem and then to partner with them to find the best answers and solutions.
Along the same lines, I try to seek common ground and lead towards the best solution. The best solution is often better then your solution. Be open to finding a place to meet so long as it doesn’t compromise what’s best for kids or your integrity. It is easy to say “set the policy and uphold the policy,” but often life is not black and white. Every situation is different – there are different contexts; different levels of information available; different histories involved. One of my mentors, the late Dr. James Smith, used to say “if the decision was easy, it would have been made before ending up on my desk.”
Often our job as leaders is to work in the grey. Another favorite mentor, Dr. Jenny Preston, would add “if it is grey, withdraw from the decision and let your intuition mull it over before stepping back into the action of making the decision.” When confronted with something messy, don’t go for the quick solution; instead, seek every piece of information, try to understand the situation from every angle and lead towards the best solution.
This next one is tough, especially for people who loathe confrontation as much as I do (and by the way, who loves confrontation anyways?!?), but we have to understand that as leaders, dealing with difficult (even ugly) situations is part of the job. Don’t avoid problems. As leaders, dealing with difficult situations is part of the job, and avoiding them will only make it worse. In the same breath, do not delegate away something that is appropriate for you to lead through. That’s why you get paid what you do. Own it and lead through it.
The last is a given, as we are all leaders, but don’t forget to lead. Often when challenging situations are occurring we are in reactionary mode but that is when our leadership is needed the most. Sometimes we’re called on to make really difficult decisions in stressful situations with often limited information. Hindsight is 20/20, but it is not a viable lens for operating in the present. Lead your best way. Use hindsight as a learning tool for the future but not as a unfair and destructive weapon against yourself!
So I’ll be honest – I’ve had this post done for a week now and I’ve just been sitting on it; feeling like I was missing something. And I think this is it. Sometimes… Sometimes – perhaps the answer is to make a change. I feel each of us have been called into this great work with a purpose for making school an incredible place for students to learn and grow, but sometimes there are circumstances that prohibit you from doing that. Maybe it is a leader in the organization or the school community that is a road block, or maybe you just come to a place where you discern that your vision is no longer in alignment with the school community.
The decision is never easy, nor rarely clear. You may decide to stay and continue to serve all of the people (young and old) well; or you may decide to take the leap to serve elsewhere. Neither is “right” or “wrong.” Or maybe your change is a life change that is completely outside the realm of work but absolutely impact your work and lives. The bottom line is that life is too short for us not to love what we do and how we live. The work is hard, no doubt. But when you find that your ratio is tipping the other direction or the seasons or hard times extend to months and years, be brave enough to have an honest conversation with yourself about what change is needed and be bold enough to start taking steps towards that end.
What about you? In those dark days where you wish you could find a rock and crawl under it (did I just say that out loud?!?), what truths sustain you through those times? What strategies do you use to approach difficult situations?
The 5% is part of it. We get to do AMAZING things for kids and teachers and our school communities, but it isn’t without cost. Keep doing the GREAT work and remember that hard times is part of what we do. Breathe; know that this too shall pass; and thrive through it!