If there is one question I am asked most often, it is “how do you do ‘this?'” In other words, how am I able to lead full time and still have the time to write and speak, etc. The reality is that people tend to look at people’s lives and see that one big accomplishment (like for me, writing a book). But I have never seen it as one big thing. From my view, I just took one tiny step followed by another small step that would put me on the trajectory of where I wanted to be and then took my next best step… and so on. People ask me about how I do “this” – but “this” is an overflow of everything that came before this.
The concept of overflow can be found as far back as the scriptures, where in Psalm 23 it was said “my cup runneth over.” Interestingly, we don’t think about that part of Psalm 23 as the much more common “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” or the even more famous “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” But the final portion of that psalm says this: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
When we are truly aligning our vision and mission; our purpose and our passion, the outcome will inevitably lead to overflow throughout our lives. So I wanted to dig in to this concept of overflow with a couple of thoughts…
1. There is no overflow if there is nothing going in. Super simple concept to understand; challenging feat to maintain and evolve. I think about these questions – How are you being fed? What steps are you taking to ensure that you are consistently growing? Who are you surrounding yourself with that is challenging you? And this becomes harder the higher up your leadership as you become focused on designing the learning for others. For me, it’s things like choosing a book each semester to read and discuss with our leadership team; it is joining Twitter Chats like #LeadLAP; or becoming part of a progressive group of peers like Texas’ Future Ready Superintendent Leadership Network. Just this past spring, I knew I needed growth in a particular area of my leadership so when a twitter colleague Dr. VaShawn Smith offered to lead a book study group on Radical Candor I said yes. It can look a million different ways but regardless of the path, growth takes intentionality and commitment.
2. It takes a lot of work and energy and trial and failure and TIME for the overflow to start. One of my favorite science experiments our 5th grade Science teacher has our students do is to hypothesize how many drops of water can fit on a penny before it spills over and then have them test their theory.
If you’re like me, I would guess maybe 3 or 4 drops. Can you believe that our students routinely get 35-40 drops of water on one penny before it spills over? And if they’re really diligent and take their time they can get upwards to 70-80. WOW! The same concept is true as we grow into our own leadership – it takes a lot of work and energy and trial and failure and TIME for us to mature in our leadership.
I was asked to talk with a group last week and part of what they wanted me to talk about was being an “influencer.” Honestly, I’m pretty ill-equipped to do a talk on that topic. Sure, I chatted about a few specifics (building your platform, growing your network, sharing your content and branding) – but truth be told, influence is really a natural by-product of our investment in the people, organization and work that we do. And that doesn’t happen overnight. Keep putting in the work and know that at some point, just like the water drops on the penny, your influence is going to experience tremendous overflow.
3. You can’t guide the overflow. Just like when a glass overflows, you cannot predict nor dictate where or how the water will spread, the same is true for us. Your impact is so much larger than what you can see or know. It is literally unstoppable. (And let’s also be honest that the same is true for our poor choices and practices. It is hard to stop the damages.)
One of our district leaders was at the dentist office this past week and she sent me this pic of someone she didn’t know reading Thrive Through The Five and I thought that was the coolest thing. And every time I open my blog I am astounded at how far my words reach. When we purposely pursue our passions, the overflow of our impact will be endless.
4. The overflow, by it’s very nature, is bigger than the container. One of the lines of the psalm I shared earlier talked about a table being prepared for us. I would ask you, “what table has been prepared for you?” I shared in an earlier post that the singular question that changed my journey was from Jen Hatmaker who simply asked “is your yes even on the table?” So many of us are doing so many things. It becomes second nature for us to think that we can’t do anymore. To that I would encourage you to stop saying no to things before they even present themselves as opportunities. The truth is that whatever we pour into will ultimately result in overflow in our lives. And the bigger the expanse in which we use our gifts, the larger our impact will be.
One of my favorite authors and leaders is Jon Gordon. In fact, I’m getting ready to interview him next month for a piece in AASA School Administrator magazine. I had these grand plans of pulling questions from each of my favorite books, but as I re-opened The Power of Positive Leadership (my personal favorite), every page was marked up with great lead-ins for questions that I know will help leaders across the country. One concept that I love from Jon Gordon is the one word. In contrast to the list of resolutions we make and don’t keep, his suggestion is to choose just one word each year to help determine and maintain our focus throughout the entire year. The only problem is that EVERY year I choose the same word – impact.
That is what the overflow is – influence and impact. It is the outward manifestation of our inward passions when they are intentionally and purposefully carried out. So take your seat at the table and get ready to let your impact overflow to everyone and everything around you.