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Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli

Vice President of Leadership Development 
The Leadership Program
Carmel, IN 
New York, New York

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Currently a speaker, educator, blogger, and mother, Erika Petrelli has been in the field of education for more than 15 years, and she currently exercises her dynamic education experience as The Leadership Program’s Vice President of Leadership Development.  In that role she is responsible for overseeing and supporting the development of over 200 employees, the creation of new and evolving content and curriculum, and the implementation of services throughout the country.  Erika also travels to educational conferences across the country, presenting workshops on leadership, management, training, and motivation.  While The Leadership Program is centrally housed in New York City, Erika lives in Indiana with her husband and two children.  She holds her Masters degree in Secondary Education from Indiana University.

What does it mean to find the extraordinary within the ordinary?

One of my favorite quotes is by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of The Little Prince, among others), where he says: "A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."

Are you someone who sees rock piles, or do you see cathedrals?
 
Stone Pile

To find the extraordinary within the ordinary, you have to see it. And to see it, you have to look for it. And to look for it, you have to have your eyes open. You have to be open. You have to believe that within every rock pile there is a cathedral. Or, at least, the possibility of one.
 
cathedral

Or, put this way, as Hamlet said "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

Let's back up.

Think about your life, and the things contained within it. Let you mind roam across the landscape of your days... the people, the tasks, the places, the hopes and dreams, the fears.

How often do you sit in wonder at what's extraordinary in all of it?

I believe that everything can start to look like a simple pile of rocks, if we're not careful. And the trick there is that rocks are not bad, necessarily. A life filled with piles of rocks can be quite nice. Perfectly comfortable. Just fine. It's just...DON'T GET LOST IN A LIFE FILLED WITH FINE.

How many cathedrals might you be missing out on if you just settle on the fine rocks and leave it at that?

So, look again.
 
It's up to you to put some extra in the ordinary of your every day.

Where to start? Well... where are the places where you currently only see rocks? What are the rocks?
 
Here's something I've come to realize. Actually two things. First, this is not something you figure out and then never look back—this is something that needs reminding. A lot of reminding. And second, cathedrals aren't just big things. Extraordinary can happen in a breath; in a look.

For example, just last week I was cooking dinner and my five-year-old son Dylan was acting out in a steady and increasing stream of what we'll call... unproductive behaviors and challenged listening. And I was cooking dinner and I was tossing an equally steady and increasing stream of "nos" and "don'ts" and "Dylan!!'s" at him, until he finally just said "STOP IT, Mommy. You are being SO rude to me!" And I looked over, and saw his face flushed and frustrated and his eyes brimming with tears.

And in that moment I did stop. And I put one of his favorite songs on, scooped him up, and started dancing around the kitchen. And he quickly melted into my arms and buried his face into my shoulder like a baby. And when he looked at me again, it was with such love and connection. And it hit me like a jolt of electricity. He had needed me to see the cathedral within him, and all I was doing was treating him like a pile of rocks.
 
Smiling son

Extraordinary can happen in a breath. In a look.

You just have to actively and intentionally look for it.

How can you find the extra in your ordinary today?
 
diamond in the rough
 
For breakfast I had coffee, an omelet, some home fries, and bacon. Mmm... breakfast with friends.

What does personal development have to do with professional development?
I've had many people ask me some version of this question.
In other words, why bother working on myself? I should spend my time working on my job skills, my staff, my responsibilities, my "stuff."
And, okay, I get that. Tending to others, as I've pointed out, gives me a purr for sure.
But here's the thing that I've come to realize (slowly and begrudgingly and after being repeatedly put in situations to remind me of it):
If you tend only to others and neglect yourself, you will start to wither and die on the inside.
Consider this.
What kind of flowers do we love?

 

Flower EP

 

We love flowers in full bloom, showering us with their full lush petals, their beautiful fragrance, their delicate stems. Not flowers that have lost all their petals and have shriveled up for the winter, leaving behind a crisp brown stick of a reminder of the beauty that once was.
Okay, harsh maybe.
But you get my point?
Full, lush beautiful flowers are absorbing the gifts of the sun and the soil and the rain and the bees and the butterflies and the hummingbirds and the loving gardeners that surround them.
So should you.
When was the last time you asked yourself: What do I need?
What do you need?
Personal development is about figuring that out.
Personal development says: hey, there, beautiful flower... time to think about yourself for a sec, here. Do you need more water? Do you need more warmth? Do you need company? What do you need?

 

SKY EP

 

The more you listen to the answers to that question, and—more importantly—the more you heed the answers to that question, the more fully you will bloom. The more fully you will be in bloom.
And do you know who that's good for? You, obviously, because you start to feel better...great... beautiful.
But everyone else too.
And there is the big AH HA! Of it all. The more you tend to YOU, the more you ultimately are tending to OTHERS.
Go figure.
Sometimes you have to be selfish to be giving.
Sometimes you have to look inward to be able to give outward.
Hey there beautiful flower. You need some water? Ask for it, please. We'll all be better for it.
How can you tend to you today?

For breakfast I had coffee. Lots of coffee.

The past few weeks have been very fun and proud for me, as this baby of mine, this pet project, this seed of an idea that was planted more than three years ago, finally saw the sunlight.

 

sun light

 

The interactive journal—the book born out of a weekly blog that I write—On Wings & Whimsy: Thoughts on Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary—was published as the first product of The Leadership Program for 2017. It's a journal designed for personal reflection and development, rooted in stories of mine that are designed to ignite reflection in others.

At The Leadership Program we focus on leadership development. We are rooted in our work with young people—helping them see, and step into, their leadership; as well as with the educators that work with those young people—helping them see, and step into, the best version of themselves so that they may be an inspiration to those young people. We are passionate about our work with businesses and professionals who are trying to elevate the level of leadership and culture on their teams. We eat, drink, and breathe leadership—and how to ignite it in anyone in our path.

So, it's no wonder I've had more than a few people ponder on what the heck Wings & Whimsy has to do with leadership? And how personal stories lead to professional leadership?

And my answer is simple.

Everything.

It has everything to do with leadership.

Not the kind of leadership you read about in business books, necessarily. No... this is different. This is magical leadership.

Wings is about inspiration and motivation—the things that lift us up. Whimsy is about joy and laughter—the things that lighten us. I talk about this in the context of life, but leadership is a part of life, right?

Think about the very best boss you ever had. Chances are, they did things to lift you up and to lighten you. Chances are, you felt seen and heard by them. Chances are, they filled your bucket instead of emptying it. Think of the moments when they thought of you when you weren't expecting to be thought about. When they went out of their way to make something just that much better than it needed to be. When they cared for the extras and the details. When they remembered that connecting and being human together is almost always more important than any deadline. That is someone who is practicing magical leadership. I'm sure you've seen it in practice by more than just a boss.

Magical leadership is about seeing people as people first, rather than employees. And magical leadership is about loving those people and making it your utmost goal to make their lives better, whenever possible. Magical leadership is about taking in every single ordinary moment and pondering what extraordinary just might be contained within.

Sounds easy, right?

But, it's just... thinking about magic allowed me to stumble across this quote from Nigerian writer Ben Okri: "Our time here is magic! It's the only space you have to realize whatever it is that is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is great, whatever is potential, whatever is rare, whatever is unique, in. It's the only space."

And I thought... well that's just it, isn't it?

There isn't one way to be a magical leader. My way is to literally include glitter. But your way might be totally different. There are as many ways to be magical as there are people contemplating it.

 

glitter

 

That's why the personal stories matter. Magical leadership isn't meant to be contained in your workplace. There are opportunities for magical leadership everywhere. The key is simply to remain dogged in finding what's beautiful, what's true, what's great, what's potential, what's rare, what's unique. Try to find that in your people, in your workplace, in the world around you.


If you do, you'll start to notice differences in the way people respond to your leadership, I bet.
It just might start to feel magical.


For breakfast, I had coffee and a leftover half-eaten bag of goldfish that someone left out last night.

Starlings In Winter, by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
erika loveAnd now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can't imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

**

Here we are, at the start of another year. I thought Mary Oliver would be a good way to kick us off.

As per always, I'm avoiding resolutions as we head steadfast into 2017. Last year, I talked about finding a word to guide the year and came up with "Flow" or "Flow-t" for myself. This year I'm not landing on a word so much as I am an intention. And I think it lives in this:

"I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings."

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing.

I also recently re-read this from another one of my favorites:

Wild Songs, by Brian Andreas

I wish for you a life
Where your blood sings
With the voice of an eager, wild thing.

With a voice that says
I am here

& in this short time,
This is the song I sing
Because I can.

"With a voice that says I am here."

I am here.

How many New Year's Eves find us scratching our heads wondering where the heck the year has gone, realizing we've been sleepwalking through it- not paying attention... here, but not here. And how many January 1sts find us shrugging our shoulders and saying "well, I guess I'll just go ahead and lose that weight this year because I can't think of anything else to do."

The sun came up beautifully on January 1st from the place where I was standing. It struck me as an invitation. An invitation to be here for this year, to be awake, to be alive, to be here.

trees erika

I'm totally having an Ebenezer Scrooge moment, aren't I? Throwing open the windows with glee and shouting to all who would hear: "I Haven't Missed It!!!!!"

But that's the way I feel. 2017—I haven't missed it!! Hot damn, I've got plans and intentions for this sucker!

So, you know what? I guess I do have a word for the year after all. It's love.

Because the best way for me to feel light and frolicsome and beautiful and fearless, the best way for me to sing the song that I can sing, is to accept the sun's daily invitation to look up, breathe deep, and love the world all over again and all over again and all over again.

It's 2017. What do you want from it? You have 359 opportunities to look up and accept the sun's invitation to embrace another day... and find the song that only you are meant to sing.

2017. It's yours for the taking. What will you do with it?

 

For breakfast, I had a power smoothie, a boiled egg, and a cup of coffee. Cuz, you know, it is a new year after all. ;)

My husband and his team put on amazing festivals, and one of them is called The Festival Of Machines. Sprawling over several acres of property, festival-goers can look at (and climb on) cement mixers, tractors, old time steam engines, old time fire engines, classic cars, race cars, army helicopters, and more. They can ride on a mars “rover” bike made by a competitive high school team, race each other on kid-sized motorized vehicles, take flight on a “hover chair,” go on a thrilling ride in an actual two-seater go-cart, spray water from an actual firehose attached to a hydrant, go down a ramp in a soap box derby car, go on a hayride, and more. It’s tons of fun, with lots to experience.

As any “experiential” place will have you do before entering, this festival asked participants to sign a standard waiver releasing them of liability. The kind we all sign before we go in a jump house or on a trampoline or up in a hot air balloon or basically anywhere we’re going to engage not just our minds but our bodies in some kind of fun.

So the first day I took the kids and was standing at the waiver table, signing away, when a man walks up next to me, tosses the waiver down, and says to the poor, sweet young bright-eyed worker man behind the table: “So what happens if I don’t sign it?” His stance was aggressive and his voice trembled a bit with the nervous/excited adrenaline of someone who has come to pick a fight.

The poor, sweet worker started to reply with some version of “well that basically means you can’t participate in any of the hands-on activities etc and so on” and then paused and asked “so why wouldn’t you want to sign it?”  

dec 14 blog6

Which was all the man needed to hear.

“Why wouldn’t I sign it? Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t I SIGN IT? This basically says that if you guys screw anything up or if an engine blows up there’s nothing I can do about it. Are Americans really THAT STUPID that they don’t READ ANYTHING ANYMORE?!?!”  

He said. Loudly. To the “stupid American” standing right next to him currently signing the darn thing (me).

I tossed a sympathetic smile and eye roll to the poor, sweet, and now growingly awkward, worker behind the table, finished signing the waiver, and walked away.

I thought about saying any number of things to that man, but I didn’t. And I’ve been thinking about that choice to stay silent—whether I should have somehow intervened. But my kids were standing right there with me. My 8- and 5-year-olds. They weren’t paying attention to the man because they were too busy eyeballing all of the activities that awaited them. But if I had engaged in the conversation, they definitely would have started to pay attention. And I’m not sure anything productive would have come of it.

Because he was So. Sure. of his Rightness. He was so sure of his rightness that he grabbed his “right” flag and went searching for someone to stab with it.   And a person that dead-set on their rightness is not usually someone open to a dialogue.

Still. I struggle with this one, because what about the poor, sweet worker man? I just left him to deal with Right Man all on his own.

When to engage?

What would you have done?

While I grapple with this one, I will say this: watching Right Man reminded me what happens to people when they get hung up on being right. When they don’t want any other resolution than affirmation that they are RIGHT.

Whether we care to admit it or not, I think we all have moments where this comes out in us. Whether at work or at home—moments that make us say “Hey, I’M RIGHT! Now let me go prove it so that people will affirm it and generally acknowledge and revere my RIGHTNESS! I’m So Right!”

So here’s the thing: sometimes you might actually be right. But that’s not the point. The point is what happens to you when suddenly all you can see or care about is that those around you also understand and acknowledge that you are right. It becomes less about the thing itself and more about personal validation.

white flag

So—are you currently holding a “right” flag? Let Right Man be a cautionary tale for you. Put down the flag, friend. Put it down.

How can you let go of the “right” flag today?

 

For breakfast, I had a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich with bacon. Mmmm…bacon.

I've mentioned before my love of the band Mumford & Sons, and I have been delighted recently that my five-year old son has been similarly taken by them. The other day we were listening to "Roll Away Your Stone" and I was telling him how that was the first song of theirs I had ever heard, and recounted the first time I heard it.  He made me tell him the story twice, somehow as rapt by it as he was by the song.

I told him that I was in the car driving when it came on. I told him that as the first instrumental notes started I thought "Oh, this sounds nice." And then a few moments later, when Mumford started singing, I thought "Wow, this is a really good song." And then, yet a few moments later, when the entire band—as Dylan calls it—"went crazy," I thought "I LOVE THESE GUYS and I must hear MORE!".  It was love at first listen, I told Dylan. But it was a layered love—it started as "oh this is nice" before getting to "I LOVE THESE GUYS!"

I think that's true with people, too.

group of people How many people do we meet and think "oh, they seem nice"...   but then after spending a bit more time with them, or getting to know them a bit more, realize "Wow! I love this person!"

And so more importantly—how many people do we not?  How many times do we settle for "oh they seem nice" without bothering to go further? How many times do we make a final judgment on a person based on limited information? How many times do we decide that this is the way a person is, despite not knowing much?

Me telling the story of how I (quickly, I admit) grew to love Mumford & Sons reminded me of the importance of making sure we've "heard the whole song."  In general. In a partnership. At work. When parenting. When exchanging political discourse. Because if I'm too quick to decide about you, I may be missing the best part. I'm probably missing the best part.

So why not rock out with me and Dylan and put on "Roll Away Your Stone" while considering this:

With whom can you take the time to "hear the whole song" today?

 

For breakfast today I had a cup of coffee and a handful of peanuts.

School starts for my kids in a week. One week from today! My daughter starts third grade and my son starts KINDERGARTEN, which just seems ridiculous. Time flies, they say. Time doesn't fly—it rockets. It races. It's relentless. It leaves me saying wait, Wait, WAIT!!! I can't catch up with them growing older; I can't catch up with life passing by; I can't catch up with any of it.

We went back-to-school shopping last weekend and as our cart began filling up with two sets of notebooks, glue sticks, pencils, and more, I remembered a post I wrote a few Augusts ago, in 2012—before my kids were even school age.

On Pencils... and Possiblities:

school doorI love pencils. Freshly sharpened, classic #2 pencils. I love the smell of a freshly-sharpened pencil. I love the way a sharp pencil feels on a thick, new notebook. I love the way you can erase away anything you don't like with a pencil. I love the way pencils will smudge my fingers. I love the eraser dust that fills the page.

Fresh pencils also bring with them all of the feelings of back-to-school. Here in Indiana, the dawn of a new school year is already upon us: School buses are shining in the August sun, kids are fresh pressed in their back-to-school outfits, stores are filled with school supplies. I have to resist the urge to gobble up all the pencils, glue sticks, notebooks, and highlighters gleaming in storefront windows... to me, back-to-school time screams "Fresh Start!"

As a kid, I always loved back-to-school time. For all of the above-mentioned back-to-school supplies and back-to-school outfits (I still remember with love a pair of pin-striped blue jeans from elementary school), and also for all the possibilities that lie ahead. A whole school year, at the ready. New classes, new teachers, perhaps a new hallway or a new locker. New friends? Maybe.

Possibilities.

What would I be? What would I do? What would happen?

For me, back-to-school time exemplifies the chance to begin again, even more than the ringing in of a new year. As kids we are given a literal re-set button each August or September when we collect all those fresh pencils, papers, and pin-striped blue jeans and climb back on that bus. As adults, though, we have to remember that we can do that too – re-set our own re-set buttons, start anew.

So, it's fresh start time. Why not get a gloriously freshly sharpened pencil and a new notebook and think about what possibilities the fresh start just might usher in for you.

What are the possibilities that lie ahead?

 

Oh, I still remember those pin-striped jeans... with pleated fronts, no less. And now that my kids are school aged, I am watching them have this opportunity. To reset. To form new friendships, to learn new things, to share themselves with the world. To find their own version of a treasured pair of pin-striped jeans.

And I'm thinking about it for me, and for us, as well. As we embark on one of our most interesting election seasons yet, as our world feels divided in so many ways, it seems that this August is as vital a time as any other to imagine what possibilities lie ahead. To reset. To think about a fresh start. To stop desperately shouting wait, Wait, WAIT!!!! to all that time is sending hurtling past us and instead say yes, Yes, YES!!! Just yes.

How can you say YES today?

 

For breakfast, I had two cups of coffee and a bag of chips. 

I'm only at the cusp of this thing, this elusive thing called "family communication." My kids are just 5 and 8, but already—already!—I can see the need for intentional and thoughtful strategies to encourage and maintain open lines of communication. I recognize how important it is to set up a safe and open line of communication with my children now so that they can rely on it later.

The following list is a mash up of things we've just organically tried and things that the "experts" have told us are good ideas. I offer this as a starter list and hope that you'll add on to it: especially those of you that are waist-deep in it with teenagers, or those of you that are on the other side of it with grown children. Help us navigate this winding path!

But, to start:

1. Listen. An obvious one, on surface, but here's the thing that I've realized: I might get impatient with my five-year-old who is taking ten minutes to tell me a story about a rock he and his friends were trying to dig up at school today, but if I don't listen fully and openly to that story, he'll grow less likely to tell me other stories in the future. Every story they choose to share with me now is a gift, and I need to remember to receive them all with love and appreciation, demonstrating how happy I am just to be talking.

2. Empathize. Does my daughter really have a stomach ache? Maybe. Maybe not. Is she feeling some version of "off" and needing to find a way to express that? Definitely. It's tempting to dismiss the minor complaints of our children, to brush them off in a "you're fine" kind of way. But jeez, when I am feeling "off" the last thing I want is for a co-worker or friend to tell me to just get over it. In those moments, on those days, what I long for is empathy. A simple: "hey, I'm sorry you're not feeling great." I need to empathize first, so my children know that whatever manner of "off" they are feeling, I will be there with a hug first, not a critique. Something tells me this is going to be really important later on.

mom and daughter talking

3. Eat Together. We try to have a proper sit-down dinner every night, and some weeks we do that better than others. But the expectation that dinner is a ritual is a good one. And while we've never been able to stick to a behavioral ritual—like roses and thorns every night—simply being together over a meal lends itself to chatting. Whether we're chatting about our days or chatting about something we've spotted in the yard or chatting about something that's coming up this weekend, we're chatting. And chatting feels like one of those things that bonds a family in ways much deeper than one might initially think.

4. Allow Kids to Have Their Opinions. My kids both feel comfortable disagreeing with my husband and me—my five-year-old especially has no problem diving right into a conflict. He'll challenge something I've asked him to do with a hearty set of "Why?"s: he'll put me in my place with a "Why are you acting mad at me?". If I'm being too snappy, he'll stand his ground with why he thinks something is a good idea, even if we don't. When kids are young like mine, I think it's easy for parents to nip that kind of "attitude" in the bud, but I actually think it's great. I think it's great that they feel safe enough to argue with us and know that he is loved no matter what. To nurture that, I need to remember to encourage them to share their feelings rather than just stomping off when they are mad—I need to ask my own hearty set of "Why"s, and I need to be prepared to change my mind and say I'm sorry.

5. Just Be Together. Time together, naturally, brings out conversation. I try to hang out with my kids at night, sit with them at their lemonade stands on the weekends, go to playgrounds and ice cream shops, and just generally find ways to be together. This is one that I know is going to be an increasing struggle as they get older, so I want to maximize the time now: time that says "Hey, I like you and I like hanging out with you." As a parent, what's more important than reinforcing this message? You Are Worth My Time. You Are Worth My Time. You Are Worth My Time.

family walking beach

6. Ask Questions. What did you do today? Who did you hang out with at recess? Who'd you sit with on the bus? What is one thing you learned today? Did anything make you feel sad or mad today? Did anything funny happen today? What is something that you remember that your teacher did/said? What are you excited about for this weekend? What's one thing you'd like to do this weekend? Etc. and on and on. As parents, it's our job to be relentlessly curious, even in the face of "no" or "I don't know" or "yeah" answers. We mustn't get discouraged by our mumbling ones! Because though they may not always answer, they always hear... they hear us wanting to know. They hear us caring.

7. Follow Their Lead. My daughter occasionally writes me notes to tell me how she's feeling. So I'll write her notes back. Sometimes she'll send me a text from the iPad—even if she is sitting right next to me—clearly wanting to share something with me that she doesn't feel comfortable saying out loud. If your child communicates with you in a way other than just talking, don't stop it—follow it.

8. Allow Them to Be in the Driver's Seat. Wherever possible. Kids have such little decision-making abilities, so where can you find areas for them to steer their own direction? Can they choose their own clothes? Decide what music we'll all listen to in the car? Decide what show we'll all watch on TV tonight? Decide what we should have for dinner tonight? Help us choose whether we should turn left or right? Showing them their opinion matters, not just to you but to the entire family, is important in building connectivity and confidence.

9. Create a Tribe. I think there is definitely power in families that feel like a "tribe"—like a cohesive unit that sticks together. So even if it is in just subtle things like saying "Hey, The Petrelli Wagon Is Leaving!" when it's time to go, identifying ways to declare yourselves a "pack" is an important way to show your children that you all need each other to be successful.

10. Love Them. This one shows up in all my lists because it's the simplest, hardest, most important, most core thing that we can do, in just about every situation. As a parent, am I relentlessly showing my children that I love them, no matter what? Do they know that I love them equally when they are perfect angels and when their choices are less-than-ideal? Am I vocalizing, every day, just how much I love them and how glad I am that they are here? Do they feel this running through their veins? Youarelovedyouarelovedyouarelovedyouareloved.

 

For breakfast today I had a cup of coffee and then a boot-camp workout session. And then, a banana.

Ah!! I love spring. Everything has gotten so green, just in the last week, and suddenly buds are bursting out of the ground and off of the branches. The grass is growing like crazy. Morning birds welcome us with their non-stop melodies. The days are lighter longer. Windows are open. Fruit and Veggie aisles are more abundant. Sidewalks and playgrounds have come back to life after a dormant winter. The kids have already had multiple splinters and skinned knees.

This spring feels even more relieving since this winter did not want to go away. Snow and hail in April? Not cool, Mother Nature. Not cool.

But there is a bit of that every year, isn't there? Just when we think we can't bear the winter anymore, spring finally comes. Spring always comes, even if some years it's later than others.

Oh. Spring always comes.

This is true too, of life. When we find ourselves in a winter, it can be impossible to believe that there will ever be a spring. It can feel like the darkness will always overpower, that we will stay chilled to the bone. Head down, arms clutched across our chest tightly, wanting nothing more than to simply retreat.

But Spring always does come... eventually.

Be-Like-Spring

You know that quote "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."? I guess we've all got some kind of winter going on, at any given time. It might be a light winter—just a gentle dusting of snow that's not much more than a petty annoyance...but it might be a blizzard-ridden artic style winter—one so intense it's impossible to see the way forward. We rarely know the depths of another person's winter, which is why it's all the more important for us to try to be like spring ourselves... offering words like a morning-bird's song, offering actions that warm like the sunlight.

I've been in a few different settings recently where we've discussed the importance of "holding space" for another... holding space means simply being with another person without judgement, setting your own ego aside, and allowing them to feel and experience whatever they are feeling and experiencing, trusting that you will be there with them along the way. I guess that's not so simple, actually. But it's such a beautiful idea, isn't it? How lovely would it be if we all knew we had someone that would hold space with us, and what a gift it is to have the opportunity to hold space for others. I think this comes more naturally to us as parents and educators... We do this with the little ones among us, creating a safe, trusting, and loving environment in which they can thrive. But do we do it for each other? Do remember that even as adults, as professionals, as colleagues, that we are humans first?

For me, the literal arrival of spring feels like a kind of space holder itself. I feel more expansive than restrictive. I feel more centered. I'm breathing deeply. So it's a good reminder to me to, again, try and intentionally be like spring for others... to be kind, to hold space for the winters in them that I may know nothing about, and to walk together until they finally feel the warmth of the sun.

How can you be like spring today?

 

For breakfast I had two sausage links and a handful of blueberries.

I have written a blog weekly for the past four years, and just about everything I write involves some version of convincing us to stop judging ourselves (and each other), forgiving ourselves for our imperfections, and just allowing ourselves to be fully who we are.

That's four years of saying: Hey, you! Yes, YOU! Did you know that you are amazing and awesome and unique? Can you show us a little more of your own amazing awesome uniqueness?

I'm amazed that I, myself, need to continue to hear this message, and that you seem to need to continue to receive it, too. Why is this so hard for us to just believe and move on already? Why can't we just be?

I created a presentation a few years back called exactly that—Just Be, and when I first created it, it was about how to engage with youth by "just being," and then it expanded into how to engage with anyone by "just being," and now I think it's really just about how we live our life. I even had a t-shirt made with all the tips on it so I would never forget the importance of just being. I thought it was time I share them with you, so here they are: my tips for how to Just Be.

just be words

Number One: Be Present.
How many of you have a habit of sneaking peaks at your smart phones while at your kid's baseball practice or during that epic conference call? How many of you are half-thinking about your plans for this evening or about an argument from yesterday while in the middle of a meeting with your team? You can be physically present without actually being present at all. But people need us to be present with them, fully, and they can tell when we're not.

Challenge: Take a moment and close your eyes. Try to let the feeling of your breath bring you back to the present. Now open your eyes and really look around the room you're in. Try and notice something that you haven't noticed before. Try and keep this level of focused presence up for an entire day, and notice what you discover. Be present.

Number Two:  Be Yourself.
We can get caught up in the idea that we have to know certain things or act a certain way for people to connect with us—whether we're educators trying to keep up with what's trending with our youth, or whether we're teens trying to keep up with our peers—but the truth is, it's okay if you still don't really understand why we need to care about the Kardashians or what the heck a Vine is. What people connect with is when you are genuinely and authentically you.

Challenge: When you start to think about all the things you are "supposed" to know or be or do, take a look in the mirror and take a moment to remember that you are already more than enough, just as you are. Do you remember Stuart Smiley from Saturday Night Live? He would look in the mirror and say "I'm Good Enough! I'm Smart Enough! And Gosh Darnit, People Like Me!" It makes most of us laugh, but I think personal mantras are helpful, ESPECIALLY if they are slightly ridiculous. I have one that is completely absurd, but the days I remember to say it, I do actually feel better about myself.  Do you want to hear it? "I only hope my stunning beauty doesn't blind them to my absolute genius." See what I mean? That's so silly! But I think the sillier, the more outlandish, the more spectacular the better. So, take a moment to come up with a few possible phrases for yourself that remind you that YOU ARE AWESOME, just as you are. Be Yourself.

Number Three: Be Passionate.
Think of someone you're drawn to. Chances are, at least one of the reasons why is because they are ignited by a passion for something, and that is irresistible.   So ask yourself: What are you passionate about? If you can let that passion fuel the day-to-day, it will literally light you up from the inside.

Challenge: Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you can think of that makes you happy, that charges you up, that you love doing, that you wish you could do/have more of, that inspires you. Once you've exhausted all your thoughts, take a look back at what showed up on your list. Chances are, your passion is in there somewhere. Circle it, and then re-write it on a post-it (or ten) to keep somewhere visible. There is no passion too big or too small, and there is no "right" answer. When I make my lists, I pretty much always come to the conclusion that my passion is simply in igniting a feeling of joy in others—and that can take many different forms: whether it's leading a dynamic professional development training for a team or bringing an awesome goody bag to my kid's school party. Be Passionate.

Number Four: Be Curious.
People want to know that we care about them, and one of the surest ways to show them that we care is to be genuinely curious about them. Are you asking questions of the people you're with? Are you paying attention to the types of sports teams they like or music bands they listen to? Did you notice if suddenly they started talking less or smiling more? It's amazing what you can discover through simply watching, listening, and asking... so practice curiosity!

Challenge: Think of one question you'd like to know about the people you encounter today, and try to muster the courage to actually ask that question to as many people as you can today!  Be Curious.

Number Five: Be Surprising.
How many of you have a tattoo that most people don't know about, or a hobby or talent that pretty much keep to yourself? We are all more than meets the eye. Did you spend a month backpacking in Europe? Did you study Mandarin?  Do you belong to a champion bowling league? Do you do awesome celebrity impressions? Share those things with those around you!

Challenge: The next time you are with your co-workers, have everyone share one "surprising" fact about themselves. Or, tell your child about a fun adventure from your own youth. Or, go to the store and buy some temporary tattoos and wear one of them to your next social gathering. Let yourself Be Surprising.

Number Six: Be Imperfect.
Do you suffer from "mistake shame" like I do? Why do we feel the need to be perfect? To have all the answers, to always have it together? The thing is, I believe that if we try to always be perfect than we are teaching those around us that they need to always be perfect too. How often do you compare yourself against someone that seems to be "perfect"—and how does that make you feel?  So, when you are trying hard to be the perfect "whatever", remember that our imperfections are what make us human and our humanity is what connects us.

Challenge: Simply let yourself Be Imperfect. If you make a mistake, shout it out. If you don't know something, ask questions. If you didn't finish the things on your to-do list, shrug it off. If you start to hear that voice in your head judging you for your imperfections, refer back to tip number two and get to sweet-talking in the bathroom mirror.

Number Seven: Be Forgiving.
I think people are evolutionarily designed to frustrate us. Young children push boundaries to understand the rules of the world. Teenagers push us away to gain their independence. Grown ups forget to listen, forget to learn, forget to ask. And tweens, well they are just molting (and that's never easy). The people that drive us crazy may never say sorry for the small and big ways that they do. Forgive them anyway.

Challenge: Remember this quote "You can't reach for the skies if your hands are still full of yesterday's junk." What wrongs are you still holding onto? How can you let them go today? Be Forgiving.

Number Eight: Be Flexible.
How often do your plans go exactly the way you imagine? Probably usually when there are no other people or movement or external elements involved.  Flexibility is key for engaging and interacting with others because your energy is contagious, so when you are able to relax and go with the flow no matter what happens, the people you are with feel safe and able to relax too. But when you let yourself get stressed, your stress starts to seep into them.

Challenge: Practice this phrase: "That's Okay! I'll Just Practice My Awesome Flexibility Now!" The next time you see your perfectly planned "fill-in-the-blank" start to unravel, and you feel the stress building up in your chest and you want to start to tear your hair out, you just assume your best superhero pose and smile big and say that phrase. Be Flexible.

Number Nine (we're almost there now!): Be Grateful.
Here's the thing: gratitude is free and yet we are sometimes stingy with it. But, when you actively practice gratitude, the entire world literally starts to change shape.

Challenge: Thank you cards are pretty cheap, but gratitude doesn't have to be a thank you card; it can be a phone call, an email, a tweet, a post, a sticky-note, a hug, a scribble on the mirror. Start to practice gratitude with the people in your life—including and especially the ones that are challenging you the most. Practice it with abundance and abandon, and see what comes back to you. Be Grateful

And finally, number ten:  Be FOOLISH.
No great things were ever accomplished without some risk, and in life we have to embrace the idea that looking foolish is fine... and that looking foolish can even be fun. Because if we are able to let go of our fear of looking foolish, there truly is no stopping us.

Challenge: How can you let yourself be foolish today? Is there something you've wanted to volunteer for, try, experiment with? Is there something you've been avoiding for fear you might look foolish? What's the worst that could happen? What, really, is that terrible in the end about looking a little foolish because, yes, you might fail, but my, oh my, what might happen if instead you fly?

So, how can you Just Be today?

 

For breakfast, I had a handful of cheerios and two cups of coffee. And then I ate lunch at like 10:30.

Image credit: Flickr

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