One More Loop

Start the week letting your feet do their thing. Whether your scaling a mountain or commuting from the station; do it in @vivobarefoot shoes. 📷#regram @nelbouchalova #trail #runners #running #mountains #mothernature

If you follow me on social media, you know that I have recently gotten in to trail running. It’s a fun mixture of two things that I have enjoyed for many years: running and hiking. One of the side benefits of trail running has been a lot of thinking and reflecting. As has been my habit, I think and reflect and never get to the computer to blog about it. The following has been bouncing around in my head – probably literally and figuratively – for a couple of months.

On Valentine’s Day this year I ran my first trail race. I had only been trail running for about a month and a half at the time and really not qualified to race. It was a free event so I went for it. The Mt. Tom Challenge isn’t a race as much as it is, as the name implies, a challenge. A challenge, in trail and ultra running parlance, consists of a loop trail that you attempt to complete as many times as possible – or want – in a set amount of time. Mt. Tom is a little different than most challenges because it is crazy steep and is held on what is traditionally the snowiest weekend of the year. The 2.6 mile loop starts out with an insane 1100 feet of elevation in just over three quarters of a mile. That’s hard to hike for most people. You have two hours to do as many loops as you care or dare.

With that slope and at least a foot of snow on the ground, I set off up the mountain with a group of people that apparently had lost their sanity as well. Also, it was cold! I thought I was going to pass out before I got to the top of the slope. Think of climbing that slope – very little running going on at this point – while also sliding down every other footstep because of the heavy snow. It sucked bad. Normally the light at the end of this tunnel of pain is a flat or downhill portion. The next section of this run was about a 3/4 mile flat stretch. That should be a relief except that the foot of snow was a little crusted on top and it turned out to be easier to walk than to run for the rookie me. At this point I am at around 1.6 miles of the loop and still looking for the pay off. The payoff comes soon enough with a one mile drop back to the start. Whereas the rest of the course was single track, the downhill portion opened up onto an old jeep road. Think fresh powder on a ski slope and then think about running down it! It’s worrisome at first but then it is just downright, freefalling, crazy! The finish was the original part of the uphill climb. I finished one loop. I didn’t die. No one had to helivac me off the mountain. I was grateful.

Then the crazy thing happened. The mad-as-a-hatter, out-of-one’s mind thing that prompted this blog post. I DID IT AGAIN! I drank some water, ate a handful of gummi bears and headed up that beautiful, funereal mountain once again.

Why! I don’t know. There is something that happens between drudging up a mountain and flying down one that changes your mindset from ‘this sucks’ to ‘I got this.’

I’ve often said that the hardest thing about running multiple loops is running by your house or running by your car. Starting the second loop from your ‘safe place,’ the last bastion of comfort, takes more than a modicum of fortitude. Starting back up a mountain after a handful of gummi bears! Same but in the ‘you’ve-last-your-damn-mind’ kind of way.

Because this is what I do and why I write this blog, I reflected on this behavior and whether it translated into other parts of my life. I know that I don’t always go for one more loop in all of the things I do. Sometimes it is easy to stop at your safe place. Many times I have stopped at my car and drove off rather than leaning into a challenge. There have been times that I accepted the challenge and pushed forward through whatever pain or mental anguish was ahead of me but probably more often than not I succumbed to a weak mindset.

I had a professor once who had a theory or a belief that when Sisyphus reached the top of the hill with that rock, for at least a brief moment, he felt joy. Until the rock rolls back down the slope and the monotony of his life is renewed. I would add to my professor’s theory that the trip down was renewing and refreshing as well. At least it is for me.

I think the answer to my question is that we need to mix the Sisyphean nature of our lives with things that bring us joy. I swear, when I run down a mountain, through trees and rocks and sometimes mud; when I bound through shin deep snow trying to touch the ground as few times as possible with my shoulder and hips rolled forward, I feel as alive as I did when I was ten years old. No cares! Truly the Joie de vivre! That joy is enough to carry me through one more loop.

Trail running then becomes a microcosm of our life. A way has been found to experience great pain and great joy in one loop. Obviously we can’t live a life in 45 or so minutes but we can begin to pause to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when we are at our height, enjoy the refreshing, rejuvenating exhilaration of returning to the bottom of our climb and leaning into that feeling, that joy as we face the next climb.

Those climbs are everywhere. Those climbs happen every day.

Joy is everywhere. Find it. Lean into it. Climb again.

The Struts – They Get Me

 

I love rock music. The good old fashioned kind. Electric guitars, bass guitars, drums and some dude wailing. Real, new rock is hard to come by. When I am in Pittsburgh I listen to WDVE and when I am in Philly it’s WMMR. These two along with WMMS in Cleveland are consistently the top rock stations in the east. I’m not talking alternative, acid, death metal, or punk just straight up rock and roll. There is one reason that I love rock music; It makes me feel good. It is fun and allows you to scream lyrics and rattle the dashboard with bass. I like all kinds of music: my playlists have something from just about every genre. But to feel good, I can’t wait until I get to those points on the PA Turnpike where i can begin to hear DVE or WMMS.

There is a point to this that relates to education. Just keep reading.

As I think I mentioned before, my number one professional goal for the year is to bring the fun. I’m trying hard to bring the joy with me to work every day. The goal is to improve the culture in a positive way. To do everything in my power to suppress the negative and accentuate the positive.

The video that I posted above is by a band called The Struts. The Struts get it. They embodied my beliefs in this song. The point of bringing the joy is to get the most you possibly can out of life. Embrace the struggle because it is part of living. My expectation isn’t that everyone will be happy everyday; my expectation is that we will try to find fun in our work. My expectation is that when we fall, we will learn together to get up. When we feel shame we learn from it and when we fell pride we celebrate it. When we taste pain we grow from it and when we fell love we shout it from the rooftops. When we look back on our lives we don’t want to have regrets, we all want to live better lives and we don’t want to say, “Damn, that could’ve been me!”

Let’s be honest, working in public education isn’t something that we chose to do for the glory, the paycheck or the constant positives from the public. We got in to education to impact lives. Little lives or big lives, at some point we all wanted to make a positive impact. We can’t do that with a negative attitude. We need to be All In Every Day! All in for our kids and all in for ourselves. We have a very finite window in which to complete our life’s work. Like The Struts say: Don’t let your life be an untold story; Don’t live as an unsung melody.

I’m probably driving the staff nuts (and my family) but I am committing to writing my story everyday and I am committed to Bringing the Fun; Bringing the Joy!

More Cowbell – The Education Edition

MoreCowbell

I Got A Fever

Saw this meme on Facebook a week or so ago and since then have heard “more cowbell” at least three times. The meme is meaningless if you never saw the SNL skit. Hilarious! We were at a field hockey game last week toting our Temple University cowbells when a university administrator standing beside us said, “There’s no such thing as too much cowbell!”

Of course, like most things, I thought about thus statement in the context of education. I know, I’m a nerd. But think about what the cowbell signifies. Cowbells are the joy! When you here a heavy, clapping cowbell you know there is a celebration. A hero in our midst. A fan trying to muster the last bit of energy for his or her team.

Education needs more cowbell!

I have made it one of my goals this school year to bring the joy; bring the fun everyday. When I am having fun and enjoying my work I fell like I am better at my job. People tend to connect more with people who are bringing the enthusiasm to work. It has benefited me to relax the facade of the expected principal and take ‘selfies’ with the kids, interrupt their class to get them a little wound up. The staff seems more at ease when they see the real me and know that when its serious we will be serious. Making connections and building relationships makes it easier when you have to have the unpleasant conversations.

So in education, what is the cowbell?

In my reflection, the cowbell is the times that you relax a little and not only enjoy your job but genuinely enjoy your students.The cowbell is the times that you celebrate the achievements of your staff and your kids. The cowbell is the times that you remember to ask your staff about their families or things you know that are going on in their lives. The cowbell is the sincere, straightforward ‘thank you’ to staff and students for making this place a great place to work. The cowbell is calling parents to tell them their kid didn’t something wonderful.

Cowbells cannot be disingenuous

If you have ever heard a cowbell, you know when you’ve heard it. You know what instrument makes that sound and it is clear and unmistakable. It’s important to keep that in mind no matter what your cowbell is. Everyone knows when they are not hearing a cowbell. They know when you are blowing wind up their skirt.

Does Education Have a Fever?

I don’t know if I have that answer but if it does, I know the prescription!