Perfectionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Francesca Battistelli has it all right in her song “Free to Be Me”.
Listen and sing along:
“Gotta couple of dents in my fender, got a couple of rips in my jeans, Try to fit the pieces together, but
perfectionism is my enemy. On my own, I’m so clumsy, but on Your shoulders, I can see….I’m free to be me!”
I am constantly reminded of my own insecurities and my own imperfections, but if I could simply remember that everyone is in the same boat, I would be so much better off! Breast cancer tried to knock me down, but Dave and I, with a whole bunch of prayer warriors and well-wishers among you all have taught me so much these past few months.
First of all, flesh is only flesh. We are well on our way to the final surgery at which time much of my upper body will not be what God originally gave me, but He gave me the blessing of doctors who know exactly what they are doing to get me back up and feeling “free to be me”.
Second of all, a great 12-step program I know a good bit about talks about how we should aim for progress, not perfection. A dear guy I met about 17 years ago in Niceville, FL used to tell a story about progress versus perfection. You have to put on your best Southern accent to say this story right, so get ready:
“So, you got this dawg. The dawg has so many ticks on him, he can’t hardly move anymore. Those dad-gum ticks are suckin’ the blood out of that dawg. So whatcha gotta do is pick some of them ticks off that dawg. Now, don’t get me wrong. You could pick all of them off if you got the time, but even if you get some of them ticks off that poor ole dawg, his whole dad-gum body won’t be sucked up by them ticks no more. It’s about progress, not perfection.”
Yep, I get that. I work with teachers and administrators all over the country who want to be “highly effective” or “distinguished” in their teaching or evaluating craft. The best thing I’ve heard a principal say to his staff (while we are all learning peer observation skills together, by the way, and he stays the ENTIRE time I ever work with his teachers) is, “I want you to remember I am learning right along with you. I’m going to make mistakes; you are going to make mistakes. But if we’re all in this together, and you trust me, we’ll keep moving forward.” Way to go, Mark, and to all of you out there, committed to becoming better educators and educational leaders.
Finally, I saw this quote and loved it, although I can’t quite attribute it to any specific author:
"There's no need to be perfect to inspire others.Let people get inspired by how you deal with your own imperfections."
Maybe what we all need to do is show a bit of vulnerability to one another to invite others to be vulnerable alongside us. If we admit we don’t know it all, but we are willing to try alongside each other to be better, we may just end up better skilled than we ever thought we could be. I admit this is the reason I believe so strongly in teaming in schools. I am not necessarily talking about team-teaching but the aspect of working cohesively as a unit (grade level team, content area, departments, etc.) to include principals in a district working together as a team. Imagine a school or district in which anyone can raise their hand in a planning/PD meeting, say “Hey, I just read this great article on improving engagement in our students. Anyone want to get together after school tomorrow, read it with me, and brainstorm some ways we can add new strategies to our classrooms?” and a boatload of people nod heads and say, “We can do it in my room---I have big kid chairs” and someone else says, “I’ll bring snack mix.” I’ve seen it and watched it in action.
It’s progress, not perfection.
What is one thing you could do today to begin working towards progress but not perfection in your own life? Tell me, tell me, I really want to know!!
All I am saying is “give peas a chance”
I heard Dave humming the tune this morning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkZC7sqImaM (not sure what side of the 60s he woke up on, but whatever), and I burst out laughing. I could only think about giving “peas” a chance.
Back up to 40 something years ago (is age really that important, after all?) when Kristen and I were little girls and she couldn’t eat all her mashed potatoes and I didn’t like the peas on my plate. We made a daredevil swap at the dinner table whilst parents weren’t looking---I ate her potatoes and she ate my peas. On another occasion, I may have been known to “spill” the peas into my napkin and go to the bathroom and flush them down the toilet. (Don’t try this at home). Why? I hated peas. So I wrote them off. No peas, ever. Nada. Zilch. None. Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I tried edamame the first time (I know, I know, they aren’t peas but soybeans, but trust me, if you are not a pea lover, you are VERY resistant to anything that looks like a pea pod twin). Love edamame!!! I also tried black-eyed peas, and with a small amount (your “small” may slightly differ from my “small” but whatever, right?) of bacon, I can throw down some black-eyed peas.
No, this is not the new food channel blog. My point is this: some things about which I may have been resistant in the past are now things I will try. Behaviors, for instance. A dear friend of mine was having some communication issues with a group of fellow teachers. I told her some advice that had been given to me about twelve years ago by a very smart and successful businessman: When you and a co-worker or colleague disagree, a quick way to end the friction and tension is simply to say “You may be right about that.” Simple words, right? But it tamps down the emotion that might be exuding from both parties. He said that the key to saying these words is to say them without any hint of sarcasm. Simply say it and then change the topic. Great idea, I would add, when engaging in conversations about politics and religion. What is the alternative? To continue to beat our heads against the proverbial wall, saying the same thing over and over, usually louder each time (as if volume is going to increase the chances that you are going to change someone’s stubborn mind about said topic), with no resolution. “You may be right” takes the negative impact that seems to drive the conversation.
This is key when we are working with groups of people in schools and other businesses as well. What businesses say more and more is that they can teach the skills of how to operate the technology or work the machines at their place of business just fine. The real challenge is getting people to work together with the path of least resistance. In schools, I like to call this “how we play in the sandbox together”. Whether at a grade level meeting or a content area department meeting, there always seems to be that one person who poo-poos every idea brought up. What if Negative Nellie says “That will never work” and one or two other folks simply say, “You might be right about that, but let’s try it anyway this time,” and then the real kicker is to move on. Don’t give the negativity any more credence.
My friend, who was wanting some help in dealing with her grade level, listened to my suggestion, and at first said, “I don’t know if I can do that.” Understood. I totally get how hard it is to give peas a chance. Trying anything new is scary and sometimes leaves a bad taste in our mouths (I used to tell my sweet Mother “Le Seur peas taste like they are from the sewer”---aren’t you jealous you didn’t have a child like me? J But guess what----two days later, my friend came back to me and said, “I’ve been practicing saying ‘You might be right’ and I am going to try it this week when Opposite Oscar tries to rain on our parade and then I’m going to move the meeting along.
What about you? What is a new behavior (or food, if I stirred up that (no pun intended) for you) that you might take on this week or this month? I suggest thinking of something that is not working for you, currently, ask some advice from “the winners” (people you truly trust to have your best interest at heart) and try one new behavior that you think you can make your own.
Just for today, I would challenge you to try something new, even if it’s something you tried long ago and you didn’t like. Your taste may have changed, you may have grown up, or you might just find that a new result is out there.
In the meantime, I am going to give peas and peace a chance.
More on Customer Service this week, so if you have no problems with giving it or getting it, you can skip this one! :)
Dave and I spent an absolutely great weekend with his side of the family in Bozeman, Montana. Siblings and spouses under one roof who span age ranges over 18 years could be a recipe for disaster, right? All was great, complete with food, fun, laughs, and sentimental talks. Yesterday, several of us traveled through Yellowstone, which, even though I am not a park ranger nor am I doing an ad for Yellowstone, you simply must go if you haven’t been. The scenery, the flora and fauna, and the animals are simply gorgeous! Ummmm….just a note, if there are several cars pulled over, prepare to pull over. They are all looking at SOMEthing and it is usually something you want to see, too. We watched a herd of elk crossing over a river. Another note----there is a reason they call them “wild” animals. They are not zoo animals and taking selfies with wild animals is, in my opinion, like turning your back for too long on a group of bored high school students. It is just dangerous! :)
At the end of the day, we stopped at a café where the waitress warned us they were busy and the food might take a bit to come out. “No worries”, we all assured her with smiles on her face. “We’ll just enjoy our time together until you can get us served.” She had a look of gratitude that melted our hearts. Why the good experience? No one was looking for a reason to be in a foul mood. She nor our group was loaded for a fight. We joked with her, they brought the food in a much more timely fashion than she had warned (at which point I called her a liar for making us think it was going to take longer, and she laughed and said, “I love you guys.” ) We loved her, too.
This morning before even the sun had come up, Dave and I made our way to the airport. He was headed home to hang out with the dogs before going back to work tomorrow and I was headed to Detroit, where I will be teaching nearby for the next two days with administrators. As I said, we started out early, but I just got to my hotel at 10:00 tonight. From Bozeman, MT to Detroit, Michigan, it shouldn’t take that long but so many things happened along the way, including canceling the first flight to Denver because the battery was broken. “We’re not positive we have the right kind here” we were told bright and early. We all agreed the proper battery should be put in to replace the bad one, and we soon found out they didn’t have the right one so the flight was canceled. About 75 people stood in line to try to get re-booked. When Dave and I got to the head of the line, Jake (one of the poor souls trying to solve everyone’s “I gotta get there now” issues) looked up and we both smiled at him. “You’re doing a great job”, we told Jake and I won’t lie---he looked as though he could cry right there. That was the first time, he said, he had been told anything but disappointment. Sure, we were disappointed, too, and I was worried I wouldn’t make it to Michigan in time to teach today, but it certainly is not Jake’s fault and I feel pretty strongly that nobody wants to fly on a plane that doesn’t have the “correct” battery attached.
In the education world, parents get angry with teachers and principals, teachers get frustrated with students, principals get annoyed with teachers, teachers blame the district, and so on, and so on, and so on. I’m just thinking that sometimes, if we can take a minute and give people a break, everyone ends up in a better mood and a better outlook.
Perhaps we need to examine how we handle disappointing situations when they don’t automatically suit our needs. I have fallen victim to racing heart, anxiety, frustrating emotions and words that come out before I can take them back. But I am finding more and more that if we can let go of the things we can’t control and focus on the things we can, we are so much better off. We can be better equipped to “fly safely and comfortably”, in whatever task we are currently undertaking! Have a great week, all of you!!
Stick with the winners!
“The battle you are going through is not fueled by the words or actions of others; it is fueled by the mind that gives it importance.”
― Shannon L. Alder
“You cannot expect to live a positive life if you hang with negative people.”
― Joel Osteen
I’ve written two books about communication and trust (“Communicate and Motivate: The School Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication” and “Building Trust in Teacher Evaluations”). Both have a common theme that being around people who are busters and not builders is harmful to our psyche. I had a good many questions I would ask potential teachers when I interviewed them, but one of my favorites was something about “How are you going to ensure that you get ‘fed’ what you need to stay motivated to teach, even when the going gets tough?” The answers I loved and ultimately helped in hiring were things like, “I cling to people who build me up” or “I am looking for a team that I can work with, people who will come to me for help and I can do the same with them.”
When I was an elementary principal, the Kindergarten teachers were ROCKstars at this. As different as the six of them were, they would share ideas at grade level meetings and late evenings at school. Jil was also one who, once she found a website that had great ideas, she would share with her grade level. If they used it, great; if not, great, too. I still brag about the teachers at our school who were so willing to share and grow and not be focused on the negative (“oh no, there she goes again, bragging about some great idea she just found”). Of course there are always a couple of people in each school who have that attitude (folded arms at a faculty meeting when someone enthusiastically shares an idea, as if the sharer is trying to “one-up” everyone else instead of “boosting up” the others around her). I told new teachers to ignore that nonsense and stick with the winners. I hope all principals tell their staffs that---there will always be the Negative Nancy (oh brother….here we go again) or Naysayer Nellie (that will never work; we’ve tried it before) or Poo-Poo Patty (do we have to try one more “good idea”?)
But those are few and far between when the culture has been built to stick with the winners!! Stick with the folks who will boost you when you are down, not keep holding your head underwater while saying, “I know, doesn’t this drowning suck? But we all have to do it, so here you go.”
Being diagnosed with breast cancer in May was a devastating blow, no doubt. Finding out I had to have a double mastectomy was a pretty tough pill to swallow (not to mention all the actual pills I HAVE had to swallow, despite trying to be “drug-free” since I quit drinking 17 years ago). I am not trying to make light of breast cancer or the pain or the tough times it has created in Dave’s and my life. But wowee! I have been blessed to see the good in all this. Here are a few:
*the dearest friends in the world who came to stay with me post-surgery (and pre, also) so Dave could go back to work after the first few days of me throwing up on him from anesthesia overload.
*friends who called and continue to call to see how I am doing and just to make me smile and laugh
*doctors who have combined a caring bedside manner with a wicked sense of humor (exactly what Dave and I needed)
*cards, emails, facebook posts, songs, and sweet thoughtful gifts that continue to uplift me
*Glenn and Callista who may wince when I talk about needles but will take me to doctor appointments and then to Baskin-Robbins afterwards for a milkshake to help with that post-surgery weightloss
*friends in AA who have texted me the most beautiful sayings and met for diet coke/pastry runs to talk me off the ledge
And, finally, one friend, Susan, who I met through AA a couple of years ago. When I came into a meeting literally 30 minutes after finding out I had to have the double mastectomy, I shared with the women’s group my fear and tears. Susan, who has been through her own hell of cancer and chemo, etc., came up to me after the meeting, in tears, and she said this, “Shelly, I can’t give anyone advice because what works for me may not work for you. But my best advice is this: Stay clear of people who want to tell you their horror stories of ‘My aunt went through breast cancer, and even though she died, I’m sure you will do fine.” I laughed out loud but got the message, loud and clear. She finished by saying, “Stick with the winners.”
Susan passed away last week and her memorial is this week while I am away for work. I can’t pay homage to her in person, but I can promise you that her words will live on in me, long past my last surgery next month.
Perhaps we can take a note from Susan and remember to stick with the winners---at work, in teaching, in administration, in whatever line of work---how about in life, in general? “Just for today, I choose happiness. Why? Because I like it better than the alternative.”