A mentor once told me, "Every five or ten years, you'll have one that feels you might not survive." That's this year for me.
So I'm writing a pep-talk blog post. The pep talk may be for you, or it may be for me, or maybe both. In the end, it doesn't matter—just so it serves a purpose for one of us.
This year's relentless array of challenges have grown almost comical. Every single time I think there will be a quiet day, I'm blasted with an out-of-left-field problem I didn't see coming. It's been a hard year. Students struggling, staff struggling, an endless stream of parents finding fault, causing fault, raising all kinds of hell.
I've also felt cold for five straight months, and there aren't enough sweatshirts to take it away. My skin feels like a crinkled, worn parchment. My house is crumb-y and my clothes all look the same. Rut, rut, rut.
There should be some sort of law that if you live in Ohio, you go somewhere warm as winter wanes. For a day or two, even. That's all.
My sister lives in Mexico City. Almost on a whim, my husband and I packed up our kids, tank tops, and sun hats, and flew there to see her and her family. We spent three full days drinking in the stories of this rich, layered city. I stepped back from myself and pictured an energy tank that was filling, filling, filling up. We were buoyed, giddy: The colors! The sun! The tortillas! The welcoming smiles of the people! The blue of the sky! For breakfast the first day, my niece squished up a fresh avocado and spread it on thick wheat toast with a drizzle of spicy sauce on top. I ate it every day we were there, and have eaten it every day since.
Seasonal depression is a real thing, methinks. I'm a relentlessly positive person, but there were many days this winter I wondered, "What is wrong with me?" Blech and ick and meh and blah.
A few weeks ago, I presented to a group of principals about ways to avoid burnout. The topic itself was an irony not lost on me, since there I was, presenting as some sort of expert, and I felt—had been feeling— like a wet, bedraggled rat trying to scurry and scrape my way out of dirty depths of seasonal doldrums. I felt like a fraud: Who had thought I could talk on avoiding burnout?
I started by being really honest about the internal fights of frustration in my own mind, reminding them multiple times, "I don't have answers. I can only offer validation." I felt the audience really sitting up. Putting down their phones and closing their laptops. Agreeing and relating. When I finished, one raised his hand. "Why don't principals feel like they can talk about their dark times?"
We kept talking and talking, long after the session was scheduled to end, as we tried to answer his question.
"We have to be the strong ones."
"We're not paid to have bad days."
"There is no time to wallow."
"Everything just moves too quickly."
"We need to be unbreakable."
All these things are valid. And it wouldn't be right or fair or productive to try to find a way out or around them. We are paid to be the strong, positive, confident ones. That's why we are leaders.
It's just what we need to do.
And, as they say, if we look around and see no one following, we're not leading. If we're grumpy, we're making everyone else grumpy. And that's not okay.
So let's pull our bootstraps—yank them, if needed—and bust through this month. Stay strong, my Midwest friends. The sun is coming out soon. It's a promise, promise, promise!
**This, by the way, is a photograph of a tree we saw when walking to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. I look at the colors and gasp a little. This tree alone may be enough to get through