Isn’t it funny how impatient we are? When I think about my leadership path, I’ve definitely been doing this work for some time. But when I look at this most recent journey of writing and sharing on a broader platform, I have really just begun. Six months ago I went to our state’s education leadership conference. I’m a frequent speaker around our state at various conferences, but at this particular event I ended up speaking five times in three days. Each were unique opportunities, about different topics, before different groups and alongside different people. That week was a watershed moment for me.
I shared in an earlier blog that during that week I went to my old church in Austin and heard a message that absolutely grabbed my soul. It was out of Deuteronomy and the text was “you’ve stayed at the mountain long enough.” And before any of my Gunter friends become concerned that this is a blog about me leaving, it was the exact opposite. You see, I kind of always felt that in order to broaden my sphere of influence, that at some point, I would need to move to a larger school community. But on that morning the message that rang loud and clear was “you do not have to leave in order to raise your level of leadership!” And oh, by the way, “it’s time.”
Our pastor shared that you can’t leave your comfort zone until you realize you have one – and I began realizing that my current zone was pretty comfy! He shared this quote by Oswald Chambers, that “God engineers our circumstances as He did those of His son. All we have to do is follow where He places us. The majority of us are busy trying to place ourselves.” Just one more time for those in the back – “the majority of us are busy trying to place ourselves.” All of that time and energy I spent wondering / questioning: Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I still effective here? How will I know if I’m supposed to move somewhere else? What does my future hold? Just stop. Stop trying to place yourself and just be faithful to what is before you.
He talked about things that I have literally spoken before in these blogs. It’s not about feeling fearful – we will all face fear. Courage is not the lack of fear; it’s the willingness to make the step of faith even through the fear. He closed by asking if we were willing to follow where God leads; because He may lead you to the land of giants. I sat there stunned, with tears in my eyes, knowing that it was indeed time to leave my mountain of comfort.
What came next was a question of whether I was willing to be obedient to step out of my comfort zone, to be bold and brave, and to expand my leadership in a broader way. And once my answer was yes, it became a series of tiny steps: some exciting and some extremely uncomfortable. Contrary to popular belief, big things don’t always happen with a leap; big things can happen when we continue to take the next best step, over and over again.
The first thing I needed to do was to give voice to my big thoughts and dreams. One of my sister superintendents, and best friends, was the first person to whom I uttered the very scary words: “I want to write a book.” She responded with an enthusiasm that I will forever cherish. The steps continued with giving a Ted-like Talk at a women’s conference, setting up a website, and beginning to blog. My formula has been simple: Be authentic and speak truth. Be thoughtful, purposeful and practical. Encourage and empower others. I have been writing for 100 days. To me, it seems like forever. And I have to keep reminding myself, “Jill, it has only been three months. Take a breath.”
Writing has opened up so many opportunities. Some perhaps expected, and some a total surprise. Writing is a solitary act. It is me and a keyboard. My thoughts. My questions. And the doubts… Is what I’m saying worthwhile? Will anyone be offended or think that I’m talking about a specific situation? Will people think less of me as a leader if I share this particular struggle? You write; you revise; you write some more. And at some point you finally gain enough courage to hit “publish.”
So in that solitary act of writing, the surprise has come when I realize up close and personal that there are real people reading on the other end. Like when I was stopped while running errands in a nearby town by someone who knew me – not because I was superintendent of the neighboring town, but because of what I have been sharing on Twitter. Or the person who introduced themselves to me at a workshop in the metroplex to say thanks for being so vulnerable in my writing. Or the personal notes I have received online from people I know, and those who I do not, whose lives have been touched by my words. Each time I am surprised, and incredibly humbled, that my words have impact. But all of our words have impact on one another; it is just a matter of whether we have the courage to say them.
One of the things that has been new (and awesome) in this world is engaging with that audience. It has been a gift to engage with readers and to have the privilege to encourage them to take their next best step. That aspect has also lent itself to being online more often than my norm. In this new online world I have found myself bombarded with data: How many followers I have; how many readers I have; how well the various platforms are engaging with readers; how many likes, retweets, impressions there are for each post. The list goes on…
My confession is that it is very difficult to not care about those numbers. Realistically those numbers matter in terms of getting published down the road. But the human side tries to take over and compare, contrast, over-analyze and doubt. And that sets me up with these futile thoughts like, “if I could only get ___ amount of followers / readers / etc., I’d be satisfied.” As. If.
What I’ve learned is that it will never be enough. I don’t know, maybe if you’re Brene Brown with a half million+ followers – maybe that’s enough! LOL. But for our regular world, there’s a part of our human selves where it will never be enough – because once you reach one level you’ll immediately strive to the next. That is our human nature. I am learning this in a very visceral way on social media at the age of 45 for the first time. My daughter who is not even 14 already knows this. She lives this. And that is a plight of so many of your young people who have grown up in a social media world. Where our days were defined by anecdotal collections of who we were friends with, who we thought got together with over the weekend and maybe even how many paper notes we were passed during the school day; their lives are measured (by their little human selves) by how many friends and followers they have on each of their social media platforms, how often their phones light up, and having it shared publicly what social gatherings they were apart of, and which ones they were not.
One of my favorite leaders out there is a basketball coach named Buzz Williams, whose brave and bold style of leadership has moved teams into greatness in astounding ways. He shared a video online about his “one word” for this year and I clicked, excited to hear this thoughts… So you can imagine my surprise when his word was “dead.” He went on to talk about how this world is non-stop in its chatter. Whether it is the actual media or social media or the human beings around us, everyone has an opinion. And no longer do we question whether it’s appropriate to share – it’s already public before we think about whether or not we should have even thought it to begin with. He shared that “I’ve spent too much time paying attention to the opinion of others… I want to be dead to Twitter’s opinion of Virginia Tech Basketball… I want to be dead to comparing myself to other people. I want to be dead to the noise around me that gets into my head and gets into my soul and messes me up… I want to be dead to the things that don’t help us.”
There are so many incredible benefits to our online communities. I have grown and made more bold moves personally in the last six months than I have in the last six years – and I owe much of that to literally seeing people in my PLN (professional learning network) doing the work. But we have to find a way to allow ourselves to engage with the world but not become fixated / overtaken / overwhelmed / even obsessed – with how the world receives us. And we need to teach our kids to do the same.
Our worth is inherent as human beings. Our job is to love others and pour into the people around us, knowing that we cannot do that until we first love ourselves. And our purpose can be effective whether our sphere of influence is 5, 500 or 5 million.
This blog has been in the works (both in my title list and in a draft-state) for weeks, and the title was originally “Never Enough.” Let me go ahead and change that to “You are Enough.” Step out of your comfort zone, be faithful to what is before you, continue to take the next best step, give voice to your greatest hopes and dreams, let go of the world’s perception, and keep doing great things! Because YOU are Enough!