Life is a Marathon

More than two years after the beginning of the pandemic, thinking about masks, reaching for the hand sanitizer, getting vaccines and boosters has become our new normal, but we want it to be over. The reality, which we already know, is that it never will be over. And on the horizon are the next changes and new challenges. Life is truly a marathon, long and winding. All of it requiring our energy and attention. How well we do in this race depends on our mindset and willingness to learn so we are ready as we can be for what comes next.

In The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On, RapidStart Leadership further develops the familiar life-as-a-marathon example. When the pandemic started, we dug down to do what was necessary. But it lasted so much longer. And we are tired. We are now at what RapidStart calls the 18th mile, the true test of a marathoner. The beginning excitement (or, in our case, the willingness to take on the challenge) has faded, and we are faced with miles to go before the finish line. This is the true test of our resolve and our leadership.

Directed to the business world, RapidStart offers the following 7 steps – along with my tweaks and comments they are:

  1. Expect it – Anything long term hits this point. When you are a leader, you often are involved in complex, sometimes multi-year, projects. It’s around here where things start to go wrong and it’s harder to find the energy to invest. What strategies do you have in place to deal with this point? How about a mini celebration of the distance you have travelled?
  2. Put in the miles – Doing the work means continuing to learn what you need to do the new and old tasks. It also means once you’ve gone this far in the past, you can go further in the future. And as you go further, remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Look to the other “runners” for support. Make use of your PLN.
  3. Recognize when it comes – If you expect the stress and stumbling blocks, you will be better at recognizing it. Notice changes to your mindset and focus. When you are ready to call it a day before the day has begun, you know you have reached that point. Put your strategies into play.
  4. Pace wisely – Enthusiasm is great, but it can burn out quickly in the enormity of what you are facing. Likewise, starting out too fast can mean you have nothing in reserve. A fast start is fine, but don’t keep that pace. And when you’re flagging, what keeps your reserves up? Time for family and friends and time for yourself are musts. You can’t keep drawing water from the same well without it running dry at some point. Brain, body, and spirit all need to be refreshed regularly.
  5. Watch for the “reveal” – The 18th mile is where you see what you are made of — your commitment to your Mission and Vision. Your perseverance. The longer the project, the more likely the shine is going to come off and you’ll get to see the truth of this work and its impact. Who is still with you? Who’s dropped off? Assess how things are going. Where are there weaknesses that can use some extra support? Whether it’s a pandemic or a project, you are in this together.
  6. Go mental – The power of the brain over your attitude has long been noted. RapidStart says where runners count steps or sing songs, we should look to our why. When fatigue and doubt arise, revisit your vision for and the purpose of the project. There is more to come, but you can do it. You know it because you have already done so much. Review the many accomplishments and milestones you have achieved.
  7. Enjoy the journey – Or as RightStart says, “embrace the suck.” Not every part of the journey will be filled with joy, but these important projects are worth the time and effort. Going through this process, especially with collaborators, brings you all closer together, even (especially?) when it’s challenging.  Find ways to make time for fun and laugh when the situation gets tough, knowing it’s just one more step closer to the goal.

No matter what a project — or life — throws at you, don’t be stopped by the 18th mile. Keep the end (and your Vision) in sight, work with your team, and look forward to reaching that distant and important goal. Maybe we’ll even get a T-shirt at the end!

Lessons from Life

Life lessons are what you draw on when times are tough, and these are tough times.  What you have learned gives you the strength and courage and knowledge. It shows you what you are capable of. You faced difficulties before and survived – even triumphed. 

Frank Sonnenberg’s Facts of Life – Grown-up Version had me thinking of lessons I have learned over the years. For me, the ones that come immediately to mind are:

  • Family First – For a long time I said family was my first priority, but my choices didn’t reflect that. A part of me felt they would understand and be there when I had the time, but as time passed, I was sorry for what I was missing.  Now, my choices and stated priority match.
  • This Will Change –   This is a good mantra in good times and tough ones.  It reminds me to cherish and savor the good times – little as well as big. Life never goes in one direction. For every valley, there’s a hill. For every hill, a valley.
  • Be Grateful – It’s important to me to stop and notice – especially in those valley times – all that I have to appreciate. It not only keeps me from taking for granted what I have, but brings me joy in the moment.
  • Together Is Better Than Alone – Even if it won’t be done my way, it might be even better. I have come to see the wisdom of, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Together has proven to be better.
  • Relationship Before Tasks –Connecting or re-connecting with the person I am going to be working with on a project makes the task go smoother. And, as in the lesson above – helps us to go further.
  • Listen! – As someone who talks a lot, this is a lesson I am always learning. It’s hard to hold back when my experience or excitement has something to say, but when I focus on what the other person is saying, I can hear what is being said, what isn’t, and develop a stronger connection.

Sonnenberg lists fifteen lessons. See which ones resonate for you – which you have learned, and which you are still learning.

  1. Your mindset matters more than you think – I’ve written a lot about how a negative mindset affects every aspect of your life. Same is true of a positive one. At any moment, we have the power to choose.
  2. Your life is determined by the sum of your choices – And if a choice didn’t work out, then that’s the lesson to learn. Next time you’ll make a different one. The learning never ends.
  3. There’s a difference between motion and movement – This has to do with knowing where you want to go. A treadmill vs a walk to the store. Both are exercise, but different results. Are you going through the motions or are you creating movement? (Hint: Does it further your Mission and Vision?)
  4. Own your life – Taking responsibility for what we choose – the mistakes and the successes – is part of growth as adults. Also, be careful of places where you are giving away responsibility for things you should be doing for you.
  5. Be a good person. Everything else is secondary – It starts with the person in the mirror. Kindness to ourselves and others. Things are replaceable. People – including you – are not.
  6. Instant gratification does not guarantee lifelong happiness – There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with some instant gratification but don’t allow short term desires to get in the way of long-term goals.
  7. To-do lists can be unproductive – This is related to the motion vs. movement idea. We’ve all had busy days where nothing really gets done. Keep your priorities clear and create progress on them.
  8. Make your priorities a priority – As mentioned above, in your professional and personal lift, live your priorities. Your actions speak louder than your words, and your real priorities go beyond work.
  9. Everything worthwhile requires an element of sacrifice – You will have to give up something (probably an instant gratification moment) to have what you want. This is where knowing and living your priorities comes in.
  10. Determination is habit forming; so is quitting – Those sacrifices? They will add up to you living up to your word, keeping your commitments, and reaching your goals. This will define you as a leader and allow people to trust you.
  11. Make personal development a priority – Invest in yourself. This can also be personal as well as professional. Keep up with changes and pursue things that interest you. As I’ve written before – You are either growing or you are dying.
  12. View feedback as an opportunity – It’s part of the learning process. It’s information and helps you to know whether to keep going in the same direction or if it’s time for a course correction.
  13. It’s so easy to lose sight of the things you can’t see – And yet, it’s the ones you can’t see, like love, trust, and honor that are the most valuable.
  14. Money can’t buy respect – An old and true saying. It’s true of a job title as well. Earn the respect of those you work (and live) with by keeping your word, living your priorities, listening and engaging.
  15. Invest in relationships to avoid the time repairing themThis is so important, again in and out of work. Do what it takes to keep the trust (and respect) you earn. Professionally, we can never lose sight of the fact that we are in a relationship business. Without relationships, we are out of business.

There are lessons all around us and we’re always able – if we’re willing – to learn. From the good and the bad times, from the supportive administrators and the difficult ones, from the willing students and the demanding ones. Our priorities in and out of work and the choices we make around them will give us the movement we’re looking for. And remember – things will change.

I Don’t Have Time To…

How are you completing the sentence in the title? To get books shelved? To do a diversity audit? To eat lunch? We are so pressed for time we focus on the most urgent tasks or the ones we are struggling to complete and forget ourselves. It’s not only that there are a limited number of hours in the day. The fact is, we can’t be creative every hour we are awake. We cannot even be productive every hour. Our bodies and brains need a break.

We’ve all tried a variety of ways to organize and manage our time. We have our to-do lists in whatever format we prefer, project planners, and post-it note reminders. Then your principal pulls you to cover a class and have no choice but to do what you were told. And there goes the to-do list and your day. You surrender to it and are too tired to use whatever time you have left to tackle the task you expected to get done.

Despite your best efforts, you may not be making the best use of the time you do have. Mary Kelley has 5 Ways to Find Out If You Are Maximizing Your Time.

  1. You Stick to Your Schedule – First, make sure you’re doing what you said you were going to do when you wanted to do it. You’re not maximizing your time if you are checking emails before getting started. But what about those unscheduled interruptions?  What happened to the task you didn’t get to finish? Get back to it as soon as possible. You may need a quick review to see where you left off. An alternative is to consciously reschedule it for a better time. Then get on with the next task on your schedule.
  • You Plan Ahead – Kelley is referring to looking long range – next week, next month. I call it telescoping, periscoping, and microscoping. In telescoping you view a project through its completion. This could be an advocacy plan or a unit you are doing with a teacher. You are aware of when the parts need to be completed to meet your final deadline. In periscoping, check in every so often to see if you are on target for completing a task. If not, make the adjustments to the schedule to make sure there are no surprises as you head toward the finish live. In microscoping you focus on the immediate work. Then if you are interrupted, you can make the needed change when you periscope.
  • You Prioritize – Kelley uses a whiteboard with her MITs (Most Important Tasks). You may be doing that with your to-do list but having them in front of you is a constant reminder. It might also alert those interrupting you to the work you are trying to do. And don’t forget to put yourself in the schedule. Put in your lunch time. Add whatever you do to stay healthy such as a chair yoga exercise or even going to an open window to breathe. You need these pauses to refresh your brain. You are a priority too.
  • You Avoid Multitasking – It’s been proven that it doesn’t work, and we keep doing it. Know which tasks require the most brain power and/or creativity. Make sure that has your total focus. If there is an interruption you must respond to, do not work on the task while dealing with the interruption. Tasks involving creativity often require that you pause to think through a problem. It may be tempting to scan your emails while you think. Just because you are not actively doing something doesn’t mean you aren’t engaged in the task. Trying to get through those emails will only slow you down, and you are likely to miss important details on both tasks.
  • You Cheerfully Say NO – I like this one. While you can’t say no to your principal, there are many other requests you can turn down. Knowing when and how is important in making the best use of your time. If the request connects to a priority of yours, “yes” is probably the right answer. If not, refuse, but carefully. Suggest an alternative. You may be able to take it on at a future date. It’s important to know how to say “no” without damaging a relationship.

In her post, Kelley notes our brains can’t run at full capacity for more that 4 hours a day. Know when your most productive/creative times are and develop your schedule around it. Do what you can to work on your biggest priorities during those times. And give yourself a break when the schedule goes nuts.

In the Heat of the Moment

We are all stressed. And we are dealing with people who are stressed. The combination can lead to sudden eruptions of temper. Words spill out. More are exchanged, and you are left with the fallout. It’s not pretty, and it can have long-term consequences.

How do you feel after one of these verbal explosions? Exhausted? Still simmering? Annoyed with yourself? Are you re-thinking what the other person said? What you said or should have said?

We are in the relationship business. Having a professional relationship with everyone in the building is a job requirement for school librarians. We can’t afford to lose our temper in the heat of the moment. We need to quickly defuse the heat whether it’s ours or theirs.

It’s important to anticipate these outbursts and possibly more important to know how to deal with the consequences. Knowing these confrontations are bound to occur, have a plan for dealing with it to lessen occurrences and/or any damage it does to relationships.

The Leadership Freak’s blog post offers sage advice, giving 7 Proactive Responses to Hot Emotions. The title refers to the focus of the post: reactions are too often an out-of-control response to a situation. As he says in his list of “7 Dangers of Reacting, “The more you react, the more your thinking congeals,” and “The more you react, the more negative consequences you experience.”

The “5 Emotions that Switch on Reaction-mode” according to the Leadership Freak are ones we experience frequently. The first he mentions is Stress, and, as noted we are living with high stress. Discouragement is another emotion he identifies. So many librarians are feeling frustrated about schedules that keep them from doing their job as librarians. It’s no wonder that things boil over.

To deal with these situations, Leadership Freak suggests “7 Powerful Proactive Responses to Hot Emotions.”

  • Gratitude – Thank the person for bringing the issue to your attention. When you do this, focus on the message the other person is sending, not the manner of delivery.
  • Acknowledgement –  Recognizes the other person’s feelings. There are two of you (or more) in this moment. Notice what is happening for them.
  • Space – A time-tested technique for any relationship, personal or professional. It’s counting to ten or the parent classic, “Go to your room, I am too angry to deal with you now.” In the work setting “Give me some time to think about this” achieves the same aim.

If you respond offensively or defensively when someone’s hostility is directed at you, you set off an escalating confrontation. You will need to invest time and effort to restore the relationship to where it was previously. If others were present to hear it you may have some repairs to do there as well.

The scenario is somewhat different when you are the one who starts the conflict. It maybe you were asked to do one more thing and just exploded. Whatever triggered your reaction is not as important as what you do after. That step is crucial.

As soon as possible, apologize, another of Leadership Freak’s proactive responses. It’s best to do so without adding reasons. Start with, “I’m sorry. There is no excuse for my behavior.” Justification is a natural way to remove some of the blame (and shame), but you will get the relationship back on track much faster if you take full responsibility.

And remember, what is true in the work world is also true in your personal life. These outbursts will happen. Be pro-active to de-escalate them rapidly. The more clearly we can communicate, the less stress we’ll have in our relationships and our lives.