A long time ago, I worked in the correspondence department of a mutual fund transfer company in Kansas City. It was a satisfying job. Each day I would boot up my computer and a list of projects (letters to write) would pop into my queue. One letter at a time, I would work my way through the list. Occasionally, a new item or two would be added, but on most days the additions were minimal. When the queue was empty, I was done. No need to think about work until the next day — all the loose ends were neatly wrapped up.
Being a junior high school educator/administrator is a different animal.
I’ve never actually flown an airplane, but I feel like each day at work is analogous to flying a twin-engine plane with only one engine. It’s challenging to keep the plane in the air and there is a lot of praying that the second engine doesn’t go out. Throw in a flock of geese on the horizon (or a gaggle of junior high kids in the cockpit) and you have a pretty accurate picture of how I feel trying to navigate a day at work. That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that I rarely allow myself the grace to land the plane. I’m constantly trying to keep it in the air — at school, at home, on the weekend, and yes…even on fall break.
I know all of the sound advice on living a balanced life. I’ve read books, articles, and been given suggestions.
Do your best and let things go.
Focus on what you can control.
Don’t try to please everyone.
Do one thing at a time.
Take care of yourself.
All of these are wonderful ideas if you are willing to follow them. On many days, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to talk people off the proverbial “ledge.” With absolutely no intention of arrogance, I’ll even say I am good at it. The problem is that while I am trying to talk people down, I am standing on the same ledge. But, I’m good at doing this because I have searched for the answers for myself. I’ve read the books, articles, and been given the advice. I know what to say. I just struggle to apply it in my own life.
This past week, I sent out the following tweet, and it seemed to resonate:
You see, I have a boundary problem. The edges between “Jeff as a principal” and “Jeff as a person” have been blurred to the extent that I have a difficult time seeing any separation. (Just as a quick aside, when others introduce me to someone, it often goes something like this, “This is Jeff, he is the principal at Willis Junior High School.”) It’s extremely difficult for me to rest because I have attached too much meaning to my role as a principal and it seems difficult to step out of that.
But I am more than a principal. I am a father. A husband. A son. A brother. An uncle. A Christian. A wannabe fisherman and photographer. A hiker. A traveler. A “Walter Mitty.” A Kansas State fanatic. A writer. An advocate. A storyteller. A friend. A Jedi, in my own mind.
The way I treat people is important. Being a good father, husband, son, and brother is important. My integrity is important. Demonstrating kindness, care and concern for kids and colleagues is important. Advocating for those less fortunate than I am is important. I can bring ALL of those things to my profession, but I hope that those things would also define me as a person — even if I wasn’t a principal.
The point of this post isn’t to solicit pity or diminish the role our professions play in our lives. Instead, I encourage you to take some time regularly to reflect on who you are — at your core. If you didn’t have your profession, what would define you?
Our district is currently on fall break. If you are an educator on break, give yourself permission to get away from work. When you have the chance to sharpen the edges of the roles and interests that define you, make the investment. Chances are the activities that stimulate your passions, allow for rejuvenation, and provide energy are also vital to making you effective at your job. When you have an opportunity to rest. Do it. It’s necessary.
This week, I will try to “land the plane.” I will spend time with my family. I will call my friend. I will go for a hike and fish (something entirely different than catching fish). I’ll write and take a few pictures. I’ll trust that in the end, those things will make me a better person and therefore, a better principal.
We are more than our professions.
P.S. Next time you introduce me to someone, feel free to say, “This is Jeff. Just Jeff.”