More Isn’t Always Better

I stopped by one of our workrooms during lunch and caught up with a few teachers. It was Friday during the first day where all of our students were back in school. Some of them were telling me about how they forgot how exhausting it can be to be “on” all day. They were feeling it a little extra because their plan bells fell at the end of the school day. Such a relatable feeling as an educator.

I’ve been thinking of my own exhaustion lately. My exhaustion shows up in a variety of ways, but I can often sense it when I a feel a bit more annoyed or less patient and have to work harder to act the way I want to feel. Acting the way we want to feel is an important strategy to help us get through it, whatever it may be for each of us, but if we find ourselves in this state too often, we reach new levels of exhaustion. When I have too many days in a row in this state, I try to remember my favorite quote from Poet David Whyte, “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”

Rest is important and critical. I’m not downplaying rest. What I’m saying is that often when I find myself unable to connect with feelings, it’s because I am not connected with what lights up my heart. And often I’m not connected with what lights me up on the inside because I’m filling my time with too many things that don’t connect with my true heart center.

For me, it’s the feeling of firefighting that can really bring me down. It’s the feeling of rushing into calls and meetings and problems that is my danger zone. Especially when I do not see meaningful connections to caring for students and educators. More to-do’s, more meetings, more calls, more texts, more problems to solve do not necessarily lead to meaningful change in our schools. In fact, often, it runs counter to meaningful change. Some of this cannot to be changed. Some of it, can. Whether that’s boundaries with others that need to be in place, trusting others to make decisions in their work instead of making decisions for them, or paying attention to whether we are the ones making our days feel a certain way, there’s a lot we can control. I know this about myself: my best work and thinking occurs when I do less of the rushing around in all of the stuff and spend more time in schools listening to students and staff. Period.

Sometimes, we need more of something. Sometimes, we need less of it. It’s knowing ourselves well enough to know the difference and making wholehearted choices (where we have choice) that matters most. While there is no recipe for all of this that works best for each person, I’m seeing some patterns of more of/less of that seem to work well for me. This is not an exhaustive list. It’s a reflective exercise for me, personally, so I encourage you to consider what is best for you. Individually.

More of: I feel more connected to my wholeheartedness when I:

  • spend time in classrooms and schools
  • listen to students deeply
  • listen to educators deeply
  • express gratitude with specificity
  • make space to be alone with my thoughts and feelings
  • use creative and artistic thinking and approaches
  • enjoy good, honest conversations with my closest friends at work
  • plan meetings and PD as if I am planning a dinner party for close friends/thrill and delight
  • eat nutrient-dense foods, drink water, get good exercise, and get good sleep

Less of: I feel less connected to my wholeheartedness when I:

  • am back-to-back with meetings
  • treat everything in my work with the same sense of urgency
  • spend too much time on my phone or in my email
  • spend more time focused on compliance-issues than issues that feel meaningfully important to me
  • focus too intently on that which I cannot control
  • focus on what other people are thinking of me and my work instead of what feels right to me
  • allow the energy, urgency, and emergency of other people and other people’s work to take over my inner thought life and day
  • spend time outside of work spiraling internally about what I should have/could have done differently

None of us got into these jobs as educators because we wanted to feel like work machines, cogs in a wheel, robots just churning through all of the things to do. We are hard workers. Don’t get me wrong. We will work hard to build what is good for students – brick-by-brick. But if we don’t have agency. If we don’t have a sense that we get to bring our whole hearts, gifts and talents into the design of the cathedral we are building, we will not make it. If we don’t make time and space for inspired thinking and reflection, we will lose sight of the cathedral all together. And we cannot give to others that which we do not have ourselves. So, we cannot lead inspired, wholehearted, agency-filled classrooms if we ourselves do not have agency in our work. This is made especially hard if we work in schools where the conditions do not nurture this kind of self-work. It’s not that it’s not possible, but it’s much harder.

This is not a remember your WHY post. We all know our WHY. It’s a reminder that while there is much we do not control in our work and our day, there is also a good amount that we do control. It’s easy to lose sight of that – I know I have. It’s easy to lose sight of it when so much is coming at all of us in any given moment. But finding our way through what we need more or less of in order to show up with our whole hearts could be the most important work we do this school year.

The most important work is the work we do on ourselves. Everything else is secondary. Let’s put ourselves in the best position possible to show up with our whole hearts this school year and love ourselves through the times when don’t then try again. Our schools need more humanity. This may be one of our best first steps.

More self-awareness.

More noticing and listening to others.

Less rush and hustle culture.

I dig into this more deeply in the draft of my book. Here is an excerpt:

Being our own champions requires us to believe that we can do hard things when something really matters to us. It also means that we must set boundaries and be honest with ourselves and others about what we are willing or are not willing to take on at any given time. Often, we say we “don’t have time for things” but what we really mean is that some things just aren’t a priority for us right now.

And that’s ok.

Let’s focus on being well and giving our best to the work that really matters to us.

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