During the first year of my Ph.D., I was racked with migraines that hospitalized me on a fairly regular basis, my anxiety was crippling, and I was just plain unhappy. My grades were high, but my spirits were low. When I think back on that time in my life: when I wore the pain and suffering as a badge of honor, when I relished in my perfectionism and the accolades that came with it, and when I covered up my fatigue and pain with caffeine and Advil… I cringe. It hurts to think about what I was doing to myself.
My dissertation research was on assessing school turnarounds, in particular measuring and unpacking “success” in schools, and I have spent the past few years developing surveys that all measure some type of success — be it implementation fidelity, strength of school leadership, or presence of a positive school climate. I’m constantly thinking about how to redefine and capture success — it intrigues me and I think pushing back on traditional measures of success, you know: straight A’s; high test scores; acceptance to a top tier college; reaching a high income bracket; or, even hitting life milestones — marriage, 2.5 kids, white picket fence — “on time” (or ever!), is critical.
The school year is in full swing, and as a teacher, there are lessons to plan, assignments to grade, paperwork, and e-mails… lots of e-mails. If you are anything like me, the plan was for this semester to be different. Who am I kidding, every Sunday the plan is for this week to be different. This will be the week when I get sleep. This will be the week I eat healthy. The week I exercise every day. The week I enjoy time with my friends and family. This will be the week I achieve work-life balance.
Every now and then I will receive an absolutely lovely, kind, just amazing email or text or note from a student, a friend, a colleague, perhaps a family member. Maybe even a random stranger! One of those messages that totally makes your day. A message that makes you feel special, important, and happy… truly touched! The type of message that you save, and go look at when you are having one of those days when you are thinking: “What am I doing with my life? Do I even matter?”
November is a BIG month for gratitude — it is the time of year when we give thanks and celebrate all that we have. I LOVE this time of year, but, admittedly, for me, gratitude is tricky. While it is by far one of my FAVORITE tools for shifting my mood and furthering my personal development, it is also one of the most difficult practices to cultivate.