“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” Antoine De Daint-Exupery
But we don’t do that so much. We focus more and more on tasks, action items, to-do lists, and initiatives. And then, we wonder why such little motivation? such little passion? such little energy?
I had this amazingly brief yet powerful exchange the other with a great friend about grit, passion, perseverance. Honestly, waking up and having that unquenchable thirst. And that is what I’ve wrestled of late – this idea of motivation as it pertains to grit, passion, and perseverance. We talk about motivation as something that is given instead of something that emerges when the conditions are created. Quite honestly, that’s scary as hell especially for teacher to consider. If I don’t control motivation, I’m dead.
And that’s the crap right? We have to move away from thinking we control motivation to we create conditions that hopefully create sparks. How do we do it? I don’t know but I think there is a starting point that all can do:
But first, all of this is rooted in these ideas that I think are needed to create an environment ripe for motivation:
- leaders need to create conditions for agility, autonomy, curiosity, innovation with execution, and passion.
- leaders need to embody a #livelaughlove mindset: the power of love, joy, and adventure.
- leaders need to encourage the falling in love with the journey more (or at least equally) than anguishing over a specific outcome.
What wakes you up? I’m not talking about wake walking (e.g. just going through the motions without much effort or attachment). I’m speaking about what has you charged to get out of bed and get after it. I’m speaking about what stimulates your mind, lives in your mind, and eats away at your mind 24/7.
Try This: On a post-it note, tell me about a time you were lost in complete flow, time stood still you were so deeply engaged. On the backside of that post-it, tell me the conditions that helped you get into that state of flow.
Heart, Mind, and Body
Now, imagine three interlocking circles (Venn Diagram style, baby). Circle one represents the heart, circle two represents the body, and circle three represents the brain. Take your post it note that gives your flow moment and place it where within the circle that best represents where you were engaged: heart, mind, body, heart-mind, heart-body, mind-body, heart-mind-body.
For most, those deep moments of flow where we are at our highest level of motivation we are engaging emotional (heart), cognitively (brain), and physically (body). How are we designing experiences for learners that engage them emotionally, cognitively, and physically? If we couple that with autonomy, creativity, and exploration of a diversify of interest, this will wakes them up. This will create a spark that leads to passion.
And it is here that we find grit and perseverance. We see them engaged and alive. Not because we did it to them. No. It is because we created the conditions.
How many of us are living awake with our passions with a sense of wonderment that sparks innovation that leads to execution? How many of us have the courage to continue down that pathway with the degree of grit that allows that dream to persevere?
And more importantly, I’m back to students. How are we encouraging students to explore and discover a diversity of interest that leads them to that spark, that passion, which has them wide awake and living with the curiosity, agility, and grit that makes a difference in the world?
Something to think about…
It is easy to put your head down, get lost in your own world, or bury your thoughts into a device while going about your day. But the simple power of a “hi” can make all the difference.
Now I’m not talking about that “oh no, he or she made I contact so I must say something” hello, the “oh crap… it is just him/her and I in this space (think elevator) and this uncomfortable silence is unbearable” hello, or any other obligatory hello.
I’m talking about a genuine smile and hello to an absolute stranger.
It is so simple yet I rarely see it anymore. And I’ll be honest. I’ve caught myself too many times of late not doing it. My moments of moving from point A to point B are now opportunities to send texts, send emails, and check my calendar or get lost in my own thoughts and reflections. Both of which are a result of a societal shift where the proverbial jug of time is always empty.
On Thursday, I entered the gym hyper-focused on the task at hand: music was blaring through my headphones, hoodie was up, and mind was tunnel visioned. As the intensity pulsated through me, I was in one of those “say something to me and someone will need to peel me from the ceiling” moments.
For whatever reason, I caught the eye of a gentleman my senior heading out of the locker after what appeared to be a workout. His eyes quickly moved away from me, but I slid my headphones down and said “good morning… hope you had a good workout and an even more amazing day”. He said nothing but acknowledge me with a slight rise out of the corner of his mouth.
I thought little of it and went about my leg workout with extreme prejudice.
Too my surprise, I ran into this gentleman this morning and he tapped me on the shoulder to say, “Thank you”. The details of why my connecting with him as a human are beyond the point of this story (though truly heart filling).
The real point is that you simply never know what your awareness and acknowledgement of people around you can mean. We get lost today in ourselves and those digitally close to us often at the price of those around us. We get lost today in hyper-connecting with our close circle of people that we fail to realize the importance of connecting with the new, with strangers.
As educators, we also are so aware of the finite, ever shrinking amount of time that we can at times fail to notice the beauty of our surroundings and the immense possibilities that emerge when we are hyper-aware not always hyper-connected.
This gentleman’s story over his coffee and my protein shake this morning jolted me back to something I’ve recently forgotten. The power of hyper-awareness coupled with a genuine smile, hello, and curiosity.
Life is full of moments both big and small. The small moments, I’ve found, are the one with the greatest potential to become profound because we are living, laughing, and loving. We aren’t trying to force things. We aren’t overthinking things. We are being who we are.
I’ve tried to instill this in my kids that exploring, observing, reflecting, talking, and wondering in everyday moments are the absolute best moments that open the door of amazement.
So I try to create conditions where my kids can engage with strangers that have made their passions, their purpose. I have them write their questions in a Moleskine and bring it with them on adventures. I ask them to talk with strangers, engage with strangers, and observe strangers. This is where they learn! This is where they make connections.
One of the ways we do this is tours based upon whatever interest or spark has formed.
Investing in a Child’s Spark
But as much as I can do with creating conditions, there is a need for others to recognize a spark in a child. This is where the magic happens. When a stranger says, “I want to be part of making this moment matter for you.” They go that extra mile. They see curiosity and interest not a kid. They see fun and heart not a kid. They see happiness and joyousness not a kid. They see themselves and what they would have wanted. They see a child and the difference they can make in that soul’s life.
Recently, Faelin has expressed this unbelievable interest in being a chef. From helping me food prep to cooking meals from her creative spirit, she continues to wonder about this world. So we did a donut tour this morning as her curiosity about donuts continued to poke at her: how do they make donuts, how many do they make, how do they choose what goes on and in them, how are the shapes formed, and so forth.
A Model of What It Means to Live in the Moment
Chef D’Antignac at Do-Rite Donuts absolutely made my daughter glow. He didn’t just answer her questions. He didn’t just move past her. He took a transient moment and made it a lifelong memory even though there was a line out the door. He invested in a child’s awe, curiosity, dreams, and wonder by…
- Listening to her
- Talking with her
- Asking her questions
- Honoring her as authentic and real
- Engaging her in hands-on experiences
- Creating with her
- Investing in her interests and passions
- Connecting with her as a human
I’m not sure he knew that he was making dreams come true, bringing the greatest smile to her face, and creating a lifelong memory. She is glowing and outside sharing with her friends right now. This small moment on a tour profoundly changed her in ways that I believe will carry with her long after the glow has faded.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Chef D’Antignac. You saw a curious mind and extended your hand when you could have easily done the exact opposite! I hope you know the difference you made today in shaping this smart, strong, brave, creative, and beautiful soul’s mindset and future!
This is an educational blog for the most part. So I’ll simply ask these two questions:
- what if each student felt those aforementioned 8 things in his or her daily experiences in school?
- what if we embraced curiosity, interest, and wonder instead of dismissing an age
I can tell you it would look like this at the end of each and every day #livelaughlove.
Strong. Smart. Brave. Beautiful. Creative.
If you spend anytime around me with my kids, you’ll either hear me or them say these words together, individually, or within some combination. Without question, there is a deep importance to them that goes beyond merely uttering the words.
I started off with just one word a few years ago but it has grown as I see their process flow. And I tell them what I’m seeing. I tell them when they are acting brave or creative. I tell them when I see them being and showing their beautiful side. I also tell them when I see them not displaying these traits, so they see these are pieces we embody but need to be constantly grown.
Because this is life, right? It isn’t about the win/loss, the praise and prizes, the grades, the programs, the life in hyper-drive, nor any one moment. It is about creating conditions that foster a foundation of constant growth. It is about developing a core that cannot be rocked by the failures, setbacks, hurt, and attacks they will encounter in life. It is about them knowing that awareness, effort, process, and fail forward are your cores.
This past week, Finn lost another football game. He was frustrated and sad to say the least. As we went for a walk and sat upon a little hill, our focus was on the question, “what did you learn/what did this teach you?”. This is a difficult question but the focus is on process, getting better, and rising to the challenge.
And when he struggled with this question because emotions were on a specific outcome, this is where those five words come into play. It is putting all five pieces together and seeing them as tools not permanent praise, seeing them as springboards into growth not as a permanent position.
Not a day/night goes by where I don’t follow the ritual of asking them what are you, what is something good that happened today, what was the funniest moment today, and what did you go out and learn today. It is Dweck-ian in nature but I see the impact on growth, optimism, fun, and joyousness.
The question I keep wondering about is how does this translate to the classroom, to leadership…
There are those moments in life where you just aren’t yourself. For me, these are rare but negative moments.
But I’ve learned two lessons over the years:
- Awareness of Triggers that lead to these Moments
- Importance of Reflection when these Do Happen
Recently, I was just not myself. I felt it. The triggers were there. And then it happened. I got done with a tremendous workout and was exiting the gym at 6:30am for work when I let a simple question of me turn into a snarky response.
So here is what I learned, a third lesson: there is great power in taking the time to look a person in the eye and not only apologize but express why an apology is necessary.
And this is what I did the next morning. It wasn’t just “I’m sorry.” It was “I’m sorry for x and y with the reality that you were just trying to be z”.
The funny thing is that here was this situation where two people could have gone about their daily lives never thinking twice about that moment, never interacting again, and never understanding the other.
But by engaging, listening, and forgiving, something else happens: we grow from one another and connect now in profound ways.
I annoy people by my deep interest in sucking everything I can from those I meet. I liken myself to a magnet working hard to draw people close and harvest as well as share our collective wisdom. It is pure joy for me to be learning and exploring at the heart of the human condition. 99% of the time, these come from a positive starting point.
That 1% I used to dismiss because it started in the negative. This experience fundamentally changed me and taught me that I have the power to extend my hand towards those relationships that fall into that 1% category.
You never know what it means to the other person let alone what it means for your own growth.
I’ve spoken about finding and pushing one’s passion for over a decade including numerous posts here on this blog. Whether it is speaking about adults or students, the idea of following your passion is vital to a happy and joyful framework of life.
But I get a lot of pushback mostly in two areas:
1. Passion is a buzz word and it is difficult to speak about it in pragmatic ways.
I understand this and have over the years focused this blog on actual ways to focus on passion in education as well as life.
2. Recently, I’ve heard over and over that passion is overrated and that people can’t always do what they love.
This brings me to my knees. If I’m exploring and pushing something I’m passionate about, I’m practically unstoppable. I wake up with unmatched hunger and focus. I live, laugh, and love.
If I’m doing something outside of my passion or even a potential passion (an interest), I am merely average. Yes, we all have to do these things but I tend to know that a) I need to link them to a larger vision of life or b) just get through them.
And that’s just it. I don’t want to just get through. I can’t imagine a life where complacency and settling are the foundations of what I do. I want to wake up each and every morning alive. I want to prioritize around my passions. I want to be comfortable saying “no” because it isn’t moving me closer to bringing to life my vision. I want others to support and help me grow my passions, find new ones (expose me to new things), and breakdown barriers preventing growth within my passions.
And I want this for students. Strengths and passions maximized! Interests and possibilities explored. Wonderlust, a word I heard today, honored!!
Passion, after all, propels!
You have to stop talking and start doing or else be comfortable with always saying, “I was going to do that.” And that statement, no matter how good it makes you feel, is actually a statement of weakness.
Whether good or bad, I find it hard to stand still. Ideas are constantly flowing through my head at a rapid pace. While most I let flow past awaiting a possible future return with greater clarity, there are others that align so well with observations, needs, potential, and push that drives action.
Ideation and innovation, in other words, is one thing but execution is another. And on a daily basis, I hear some iteration of “I was thinking about doing that”.
The thing is that maybe you were, maybe you had the exact same idea. Yet, you didn’t act. You didn’t take the leap. You played it safe. You didn’t invest the time. You didn’t prioritize.
So I have little time for those that think it is positive or some how self assuring to let others know they had the same idea, the same intent, the same awareness but didn’t act. I believe in do now, fail forward, and work collectively to improve. I believe dream are important but dream chasing is the ultimate.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many ideas that I don’t act upon and then I watch someone else come up with something almost identical, execute it, and make the difference I knew was possible. In this situation, I don’t spend time letting him or her and the world know “I thought of that too” or “I was going to do that”.
No, I support them. I put wheels on his or her idea(s).
And I remind myself that at any given moment someone else is coming up with a great idea and it is the action, execution, and implementation that sets us apart. Become the person known for innovation and execution not the person known for never bringing dreams to life but feeling the air with wasted words of “was going to”.
As we wrapped up our new teacher orientation today, I gave our teachers a letter and three simple yet meaningful gifts connected to the themes of the week: engagement of the heart, mind, and body; you are not alone; the power of happiness and passion.
1. A Doorstop
These are hot commodities in schools so there is an immense practicality to a doorstop. But there is a metaphorical significance that is at the heart of teachers who are outstanding: opening and keeping your door open both physically and metaphorically. Keeping his or her door open physically let’s the world know what is happening in the classroom. It allows people to see the risks, rewards, failures, and successes. It is a welcome sign for visitors who can provide insights, share ideas, and offer perspective. This is an open invitation that waves colleagues into the room where their wisdom can be pulled.
But it is also a sign of being open to others, open to new ideas, open to feedback, open to growth. An open door is an open, growth mindset that is at the heart of the most successful, long-term educators.
We have too many one-room schoolhouses that are doing wonderful things that few know about. A doorstop is a sign of breaking down those walls. It is a gift that I hope each of them will someday give to someone else.
2. Letters from Students about their Favorite Teachers
Passion, joy, happiness… creative, energetic, and a little whacky… empathetic, aware, and caring… These are just some of the words that emerge with almost each and every teacher identified by students as most impactful. The gift of last year’s letters from students nominating impactful teachers serve as reminders that the classroom is about the engagement of heart, mind, and body. It is a human-centric endeavor. When we remember that and we focus on the service of all three aspects, the classroom becomes a powerful environment — one in which you walk in and feel the energy, the vibe.
These letters also serve as a connector. These are the teachers that are making a difference. Get to know them. Connect with them. Reach out to them. Go see them in and out of the classroom. Learn from and with them!
Education can be lonely. When things get challenging, we too often close our doors and go it alone. Why? There is a sense of pride, a sense of not wanting to admit that things are challenging. When we free ourselves of the belief of perfection, we recognize that an extended hand will be met with many smiles. We are not alone unless we choose to be alone. The lifesavers serve as that reminder.
This is a post about education for the mere fact that it is about life. If you can bear with the length, you’ll see the points at the end (or jump right there). Nearly 20 years ago, I had a dream of being on the Mr. Olympia stage. Life has a funny way of working out and I took my athletic talents to the football field. But my dream never left me.
Three years ago, that dream began to haunt me. But I was 34 so I decided to get healthy. This past October, I saw how well my body was reacting so I set my sights on Men’s Physique bodybuilding Master’s class. A spinal injury brought things into perspective but also wasted away a lot of hard work as I sat dormant for months.
Entering Precontest Mode
With the doctors’ okay to begin, I recalculated with the help of an amazing coach and my lifelong mentor/father figure. We plotted a 16-week course and went to work with reckless abandonment. I started at a solid 248lbs, a bodyfat well into 20%, and a waste line nearing 40. Bottom line: I was strong and carried a good dose of muscle BUT I was an old School, off-season bodybuilder who was not in the ideal condition to begin a contest prep nor hit the Physique stage. However, hunger, focus, and passion can do amazing things.
Stress and Struggles
Precontest athletes are told and pushed to minimize stress, change, and problems as greatly as possible. It is the only way most say to be successful. As an agile person who thrives on problem-solving, evolving, and change managing, stress was something unavoidable. I just never realized the impact on one’s health, physique, and quality of life. That is, until this precontest phase where I saw dreams being destroyed by stress.
Mine was the antithesis of smooth:
- 14 Weeks Out: Pneumonia
- 11 Weeks Out: Bicep/Tricep muscle tears
- 10 Weeks Out: Pinch nerve rendering left arm out of commission for 10 days and even then it came back with up to 70% reduction in strength on lifts. Not to mention, could not use dumbells for final 6 weeks leading up to show.
- 10 Weeks Out: Interviewed and accepted new job
- 8 Weeks Out: Take on technical department along with already assigned instructional tech during transition
- 5 Weeks Out: We discover there is no Master’s class. I either stay the course and go into the Open (all ages and primarily young, talented folks) or drop out for a later show.
- 3 Weeks Out: Family member in accident and left on life support for 10 days. Two inches went on my waist during those 10 days despite no changes to training nor diet. Coritsol came visiting in a big way.
- 12 Days Out: We are ready to pull the plug. Body isn’t responding and continues to go in the other direction. Injuries making things unbearable for everyone.
- 10 Days Out: Minor fracture of left shin bone (unable to put significant weight on left leg while on stage)
Despite all of this, we still managed to get on stage…
Getting On Stage
The morning of the show, I weighed roughly 185lbs, had a 28in waist, and carried a bodyfat around 4% (estimated). I felt great the night before (photos in green) but we had a spill over the day of the show. I was furious and upset with myself for not listening to my body. So much work after so many setbacks only to have one small change cause water retention.
Right after prejudging, 1st, 2nd, and 5th hit a backstage shot together. You can see the water retention on my waste compared to 9 hours prior (photos in green).
Shots from the show after making a water/sodium manipulation error and then 90 minutes later after correcting it.
Evening show and the crowing of those that placed, the Top 5, who are now nationally qualified!
And The Results Mean…
I’m proud. My team is proud. I never expected to place in the Open. I was confident going into a Master’s competition but the Open is a different story. But I’m not satisfied nor am I happy. At 37, I chased down a dream despite every possible setback. But there is unfinished business. I have bigger dreams and I entered this precontest mode knowing this was a starter, a warm-up given 20 years off.
I sit now at 205lbs, nearly healed, holding bodyfat in check, and gaining strength every day. I’m going for it in a big way! Three years until 40 and I am giving it all I’ve got as I make a run at the Nationals.
I will also move forward with a much more transparent and active social media campaign during my run at the Nationals. I was confused, concerned, and reserved this time out of fear that personally and professional people wouldn’t understand. However, the outpouring of support personally and professionally tells me the journey can and should be shared.
Advice and Lessons Learned
- Build a Team #livelaughlove
- Contest Coach to Guide You (Mine, Bethany Halperin, is a master!)
- Nutrition Coach
- Stage Coach
- Posing Coach
- Stylist Coach
- Tanning Coach
- Chiropractic Coach (Dr. Clemens got me back in the gym and kept me there. Amazing!)
- Family Foundation
- Go To Person Over Everyone
- Trust and articulate the unique attributes of your body
- If you hire someone on your team, follow their program. If you have concerns, express them but never leave your coaches to believe you are following the program to the letter and your not
- Remove all stress.
- Patience! Patience! Patience!
- Don’t fix what isn’t broken
- Your mind and heart are your greatest enemies BUT the source of your greatest strength. Learn to be in harmony with these two
- Capture the entire experience in words, photos, sketches, and videos. I include a mood scale that I tackled daily
- Create a plan of action using Google and share with Team for ongoing tweaks, collaborations, and concerns
- Do a photoshoot a 1-2 after the show
- How do we create conditions for students to dream chase?
- How do we help students understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How do we discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each student?
- How do we coach students through mistakes and setbacks so they come out stronger?
- How do we come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that students have found interests and sparks?
- How do we encourage students to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you create conditions for teachers to dream chase?
- How will you help teachers to understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student and teacher stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How will you discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each teacher?
- How will you come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that teachers have found interests and sparks?
- How will you encourage teachers to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you share and support your teachers’ passions that extend beyond the school – those living life-long learning but unable to model it?
A big thank you to Coach Halperin, Dr. Clemens, Capitol Nutrition, AllMax, Met-Rx, Billabong, and X-Sport Fitness. And without question, my family, my mentor Jeff, my friends, and my colleagues #horizon #livelaughlove
I’ve been sitting here thinking about this idea of quality feedback. In education, it is nearly impossible to discuss assessments, homework, professional development, coaching, etc. without hearing it.
Timely, relevant, specific, targeted, etc. are all descriptors associated with quality feedback. But in an age of speed where feedback is +1, Like, Retweet, favorite, and so forth, how are we adjusting our approach to quality feedback? How are we managing expectations for that quality feedback?
Worthwhile discussion for teachers with students, administrators with teachers, and professional development specialists/coaches with peers.