Movement . Purpose . Fridays

A week ago this morning, I woke up for the first time in a new city, and it seems like it took that much time for the reality of all of this to set in.  I think when any big change occurs, we more or less go into “survival mode,” where we channel our instincts.  We pretty much do whatever we can to keep afloat and keep moving.  I’ve begun to feel a bit overwhelmed, not necessarily by anything in particular, but more so by the newness and uncertainty of it all.

(1) I’m grateful that I’m afloat and that I’m moving. Someone once told me that, when in a time of self-doubt or really in any time of need, one must talk to oneself in your most compassionate voice.  For me, this most compassionate voice comes out when I’m talking to my students.  When they’re overwhelmed, I tell them that they’re doing their best and that they’re right where they need to be.  So that’s what I’m telling myself.

(2) I’m grateful I have purpose. I’m already jumping into some great projects at work, and it’s really helping me to find my footing.

(3) I’m grateful that it’s Friday. Because I need the weekend. For sheezy.

Logic . Love . False Dichotomies

A dichotomy refers to subject matter that can be easily classified into two discrete groups.  I’ve been exploring this a great deal and in many different contexts.  For instance, the “subjective” and the “objective” are generally seen as two opposing ends of a pretty clear dichotomy.  Many believe that an experience or thought can either be classified as subjective to varying thought or objectified by proven fact. (Remember learning about fact and opinion?) Likewise, many are apt to classify decisions into “right” and “wrong.”  This is a generally accepted and relatively clear dichotomy: There are certain things you do, and there are certain things you don’t.

photo (2)However, most of us know that this dichotomous perspective, while ideal, is not the way the world works.  Things don’t fit into neat categories, and life is not a flow map, laid before our feet, dictating all possible scenarios and painting clear paths along the way.

The idea of “dichotomy” can also be dangerous, in my opinion.  If we begin to classify ourselves into categories, we also begin to classify ourselves into non-categories, limiting what we are capable of, which in turn creates false dichotomies.  For those of you that are teachers or parents, this can be especially challenging for children, as they struggle to form and make sense of their own identities.  While the original intent of a dichotomy is more so to help us, as people, categorize and organize, just like anything else, one must achieve a sense of balance with dichotomy.

Personally, I’m apt to classify myself into the logical/analytical category.  In fact, just the other day, someone said to me, “Think deeply, Paul, but don’t overthink.”  She hit the nail right on the head, because that’s what I was doing.  However, even classifying myself in this way limits me; likewise, removing this label would be limiting, which is why I think it’s important to embrace ourselves as a whole person, where we define ourselves not by the categories that we fit into, but where we define ourselves by our actions, our mistakes, and the lessons we learn from those mistakes.

Having said all of this, I’m grateful for somewhat of a dichotomy that exists within me today.

(1) I’m grateful for my logic.  I used to view my analytical mindset as a fault.  But sometimes it is okay to overthink, get lost in thought, and pick something apart because through this process, we get to know whatever it is we’re picking apart better.  By getting lost in our “overthoughts,” we find peace in either a solution or the acceptance that there is no discernible solution.  However, we’d never get there if we didn’t go through the process of overthinking and getting lost in our thoughts first.

(2) I’m grateful for my heart. Love is the other side of the logic dichotomy, and while the analytical corners of my brain are often firing at breakneck speed, my heart also beats with the same intensity.  I respond to impulse, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I like to believe I lead very vulnerably with my heart, especially in my classroom.

(3) I’m grateful that these two parts of me are really not parts at all.  My head and my heart are so intertwined–almost to the point of malignancy.  Tearing them apart would most likely kill me, which is probably why I love to teach so much.  Teaching requires an intricate mix of art and science, one that asks us to analyze, use what we know, and act pragmatically, while at times, follow our hunches, our values, and our hearts to provide the absolute best and most nurturing experience in the classroom.


Challenge . Listening . Time

I lied awake in bed last night, anxiety creeping up my toes, sliding into my heart, and pulsing into my brain.  My chest felt tight, my lungs tickling with nerves.  These nerves, I expected to feel Sunday night; in fact, I expected last night’s restless sleep on Sunday night as I buzzed with anticipation for my new job, but instead, my anxiety seems to have waited until last night to start to take hold.  Then again, I suppose it didn’t help that the newly discovered newborn baby was screaming at the top of her lungs.

I think it began yesterday while I was sitting in a company meeting when I realized–truly realized–for the first time that I was part of a business now, not just a school, and suddenly the “gremlins,” as Brene Brown so beautifully describes in her work, started creeping in.  For those of you that have not read her book(s), when she refers to “gremlins,” she is mostly describing those times when we feel shame or a lack of self-worth.

And so this is what happened yesterday, as I learned about new ways of thinking, truly immersed myself into a new culture, and in a sense, began speaking a new language of teaching, learning, and working.  At the very least, the experience has been humbling; at the very most, I’m sure the experience will be monumental in my development as a teacher and as a person.

(1) I’m grateful for challenge.  Someone once told me, “If you’re not scared, you’re not growing,” and I think there’s a great deal of truth in that.  Granted, too much fear is debilitating, and the last thing I want is to shut down. Luckily, these challenges are being presented by people who are “on my side” and wanting me to succeed, and that’s hard to remember when you’re in a new setting.  When the “gremlins” creep in, it’s easy to think that you’re in this by yourself, but you never really are.  The universe and those around you, for the most part, want you to succeed wholeheartedly.  Investing in others’ success means investing in your own.

(2) I’m grateful that I can listen… a lot. I’ve been kind of quiet the past few days, which is rather atypical for me.  I’m usually the one that can’t wait to get my thoughts in, and many times, in the past, I’ve noticed I’m the one dominating the conversation–a quality in which I never took pride.  I’m finding more value in listening than I ever have before, and not necessarily because of the stimuli in front of me, but more so because I’m learning that by listening, I’m allowing myself time to process, more time for my mind to open, and more time for others to share their knowledge.  That’s something I didn’t do enough for myself–or for others–in Chicago.

(3) I’m grateful for time… time to process and time to myself. I’ve had a great deal of time to myself recently, and I never thought that would be something I would love so much.  Every so often, it hits me that, for all intents and purposes, I’m alone in this big city.  Everyone I know and love with reciprocal lack of condition lives two-thousand miles away, but the time to fend for myself, problem-solve on my own, and invest into myself is incredible.

I’m not sure where it began, but I grew up that thinking that taking care of yourself before taking care of others was selfish.  This challenge that I’ve welcomed, coupled with my time to listen, process, and nurture my psyche, I think, is going to create the best version of myself to date–one that will be able to care for others and understand them more than I have before.  Then again, maybe it’s not the best, or the worst, or any sort of qualitative ranking; maybe it’s just another great version of myself that I can learn to love as much as I do the others.

Teams . Autonomy . Peace

So I had my first day of work yesterday, and it was wonderful.  I’m feeling an overflow of gratitude this morning, which is a great feeling to have.  I think these are the highlights of my gratitude, though:

10492081_10202688290505593_3543025024327569339_n(1) I’m grateful for a passionate teaching partner and team.  The idea of reciprocity in any relationship is critical to success.  I’m excited to be able to continue to work with people who love teaching as much as I do.  Chicago was hard to leave, because I felt that my team and I truly coveted the collaborative synergy we had on our team.  In fact, it was so great, that I didn’t think it would be possible anywhere else.

(2) I’m grateful for autonomy, trust, and teacher efficacy. I’ve never been part of an organization that trusts teachers so much and holds them to such a high level.  It makes me want to work harder, learn even more, and push my thinking to even broader levels.  Too often, schools are focused on being the best at some sort of concrete deliverable like assessment or technology integration.  This team values “being the best at getting better,” and that’s a great thing to be the best at.  It implies trial-and-error, active inquiry, research, and an intent at truly bettering our practice and the system as a whole.

(3) I’m grateful for all of the experiences that have gotten me to this point thus far, because they’ve helped me find peace in a roundabout way I never thought possible. This past year was rough, but quite frankly, if it wasn’t for getting both my personal and professional hearts broken, I would not have reflected on my morals, further solidified my identity, and as a result, sought out other–even greater–possibilities.  It proves that…

…when we follow our hearts, and choose not to settle, a weight lifts, the sun shines a little brighter, and for a brief moment, at least, we find peace.

Opportunity . Safety . Gratitude

I had some elaborate plans to write about being grateful for having a job and enough money to house, feed, and clothe myself this morning, but it took on new meaning sitting at the Starbucks on Market Street this morning.

It all started last night, when I met some “bro” at another Starbucks.  He noticed my Illini hat and struck up a conversation with me about Chicago.  Turns out he was from Schaumburg, a small suburb close to where I grew up.

“Dude,” he said,” you totally get body slammed by income tax here,” he said in his charming frat boy rhetoric.

“Well, that sucks,” I replied, happy to have a new friend to talk to.

“We should totally go out sometime,” he said, “but let me tell ya, it’s a total sausage fest down here.  I, like, walked into a bar down in SOMA a couple of weeks ago, and there were just, like, dudes, making out everywhere. Not that I have a problem with that, but…”

I waited patiently for him to finish his sentence as he paused.  Suddenly his frat talk was less endearing.

“…but yea, all the girls go to the Marina.”

“Cool,” I replied.

We talked a little bit more, and he went on his way.  Clearly, all I got out of this conversation was that income tax was going to be even worse than anticipated, sending me on a downward spiral of worry and anxiety about finances. I lay awake in bed, wondering how I would save any money, a tad angry at the supposed “raise” I thought I was going to get.

And this morning, when I approached the aforementioned Market Street Starbucks to get my morning coffee and bagel, I was harshly reminded that I am truly a fortunate man, and that I have nothing to complain about–especially when it comes to money.  Because homelessness is real here, and I don’t mean that comically.  Some people joke about it, but it’s a startling reality.

photo (1)

Note: This is not the same man, but this is how prevalent it is here.

I sat down, opened my laptop, and began sipping my coffee quietly, ready to write about the “bro” I encountered yesterday in North Beach, when my eyes met the eyes of a homeless man outside.  Piercing blue and bloodshot red, they were wet with exhaustion and grief.  I could practically feel his angry gaze slice through me like a wet knife through fresh fruit.  I looked away immediately, for I did not want him to think I was staring.  When he turned away, I set my gaze back upon him: light khaki pants that wore him at his middle thigh, slumping to the ground, aching to remove themselves from his body; an exhausted navy zip-up hoodie sagged on his back, catching the residual San Francisco grime that fell from his hair to his cheeks to his shoulders.

He suddenly started screaming about corporations and Disney World, thoughts that, when coming from a more picturesque spokesperson or with a more tactful delivery, might have been entertained by a passerby on the street; however, his rough and tinny scream made him no more than an annoyance and a source of fear for the patrons of the Starbucks this morning.

My eyes met his once again, but only briefly, and I could see anger seething in his veins.  Truly, at some point in the past, he had felt that someone wronged him–horribly.  Whether he was actually wronged or not was irrelevant, for our perceptions become our realities, and his reality was truly an upsetting one.  The bottom line?

(1) I’m grateful for this incredible opportunity that I’m starting today. I may be getting screwed over by the California income tax laws, but I have a job, I have a place to sleep, I have food to fill my stomach, clothes to keep me warm, and even some extra money to get my morning Starbucks coffee with a warmed bagel.

(2) I’m grateful that I’m safe. Because I got scared for a minute there when this man’s scream shook my ears so heavily.  Really did.

(3) I’m grateful for those that have inspired me to practice gratitude. We have more control over our realities than we think we do.  If perception is reality, and thought truly dominates the way we interpret things, then we truly have the power to change our realities, even if we don’t have the opportunity to change all of the circumstances in which our realities lie.

I think the man I (kind of) met this morning doesn’t know the control he could exert over his reality.  I hope someone inspires him to do so.

Simplicity . Hills . Familiar Faces

Yesterday was a rather uneventful day.  I bought my bike, which was pricey, let me tell you, but nonetheless, a great investment, because I was able to go on a wonderful bike ride down the Embarcadero, the road that runs along the bay in San Francisco, as well as Market Street, the street that cuts across a great deal of the city diagonally, and finally down into the Castro.

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(1) Yesterday’s simplicity made me grateful for simplicity. It wasn’t a “remarkable” day by any means, but sometimes it’s good to find happiness in the present–to find contentment in simply being granted a day to exist.  After all, if every day was up to our standard of “remarkable,” the word would become meaningless–a new standard for simplicity–and truly nothing would be remarkable at all.

(2) I’m grateful for hills.  Because good golly, my butt’s going to be looking great in a few weeks.  Just kidding… kind of.

(3) I’m grateful for familiar faces.  I was able to meet up with an “old friend” yesterday in the early evening for a drink.  We sat on an outdoor patio, where I got to meet his lovely friend.  I’m grateful to have a friend here to help introduce me to a new city and some new friends.


It was a simple, and much needed, reminder that our pasts truly are conduits to our futures. 

New Faces . Art Shows . Authenticity

I don’t know where to start. Between work and this new life I’ve created, my mind is a storm of possibility and doubt, mixing together perilously and causing some extremes in emotion.  One minute I’m elated, and the next, I’m on the verge of tears.  I’ve reached a lull in this dynamo this morning.  Thank Universe.

10557342_10202672766517503_1418994317635709340_nYesterday was a day of walking.  I milled about the north end of San Francisco, traveling east from my apartment all the way to the Presidio, looking at bikes, walking along the bay, eating pizza, reading, and of course, drinking an IPA.  I still find myself in disbelief that I made this move, but it feels oddly normal to be here.  It feels like it fits.

Today is Day Two of the Gratitude Reboot.  Here goes:

(1) I am grateful for new faces.  My teaching partner texted me yesterday, letting me know that there was a happy hour in SOMA (short for South of Market).  Well, to give you a little context, I’m far north of Market, and considerably uphill… or downhill… or both.  I’m still figuring out this whole “changing elevation” thing.  Alas, I figured meeting some new people and having a beer might assuage some of my homesickness, so I booked it the two and a half miles to meet some of the people from my new job.  Not only were they all incredible, humble, and kind, but they reminded me that we’re all in the same boat and that we’re all in education for the same reason.

(2) I am grateful for art shows. When at happy hour last night, I approached someone who’d become my new friend almost instantly.  We chatted about school, personal lives, and other things I’m sure I can’t remember.  She mentioned that her girlfriend was coming, and that they’d be going to an art show.

“Hey, you wanna come?” she queried.

I was humbled and fought the urge to say “no” immediately, not because the proposition seemed undesirable; rather, the preconception that surely this Midwestern boy would not fit in at  San Francisco art show made it hard to say yes.

She looked at me, half-smiling.

“What the hell,” I replied.  And I went.

The expression of culture, artistry, and individuality left me speechless.  In fact, I still feel speechless about it.  I’ve tried to write several descriptive sentences about it right now, and I find that my words are incapable of capturing the experience at this time.  I’ll try again later.  If the words never come to me, what I can say now is that it opened my eyes to how little I truly know, and to how easy it is to come to a new place and immerse yourself in new experiences and new culture… as long as you’re open to it.

(3) I’m grateful for authenticity and presence of mind. When we were entering, I turned to my new friend, unsure about my attire.

“Am I dressed okay for this? I look like a goody-goody white boy.”

“Well, you are one.  You’re wearing shorts and you have a tan,” she said, smiling, and we both laughed. “Here, wear this beanie. It’s San Francisco.  Everyone wears beanies.  Just make sure you pull it up and tilt it a little bit.”

I put on the beanie and laughed, thinking about how ridiculous I probably looked, but grateful that I would fit in.  I walked around with it on my head for quite some time, feeling horribly out of place, but simultaneously feeling like I was right where the Universe wanted me to be.  The diversity of clothing alone was worth its own exhibit.  No two hairstyles, dresses, shirts, or colors were the same, a far cry from the relative conformity of Chicago.  In fact, the diversity of style in the room almost made my “mainstream” unique.  I was certainly the only one in my summer shorts, green henley, and Sperrys.  It was then that I realized I was in a room full of individuals, happy to share their unique expression of themselves with the world around them.

I took off the beanie, relinquished my insecurity, and embraced myself, which at this point was truly an innocent, goody-goody white boy from the Midwest.  It really made no difference what I wore; instead, all that mattered was who I was, and not in the sense that I needed prerequisite personality traits to fit in with this crowd.

Instead, I needed authenticity and presence within the moment to be “one of them.”  It seems that I was “one of them” all along, with or without the beanie.