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Every time we do something different, it opens up a little door of change and possibility in each of us. A glimpse of a world slightly different from our current path, or a whole new way of understanding that shakes us up and asks us to explore and embrace something which is outside of our comfort zone.
This year, I’d like to do things differently.
Inherently differently. That is, for all the times in the past that I have made a decision and had an outcome that I didn’t like, I’d like to remember those experiences and then try to respond differently this year.
Every time I get the opportunity to walk through one of these doors and to create a different outcome, I am going try to do so. My question that I am going to ask myself this year at each decision is this: How will I do things differently?
So rather than saying, “That’s fabulous, but that’s not me”, I am going to see if I can take a different viewpoint of, “That’s fabulous, and how can I find a way to engage with it so that I am still standing in my own integrity, but just a little (or a lot, let’s face it!) out of my comfort zone?”
How often do we do things the way we have always done things, or thought the same thoughts, and been surprised when the outcome has been the same? Or those times we have written off a project, idea, friendship, conversation, or connection before it had even the opportunity to get off the ground because we could not change the direction of our thinking?
I realised that even though I am an optimistic person who is thoroughly interested in life, I have made a lot of my decisions from a place of can’t. No, that won’t work because that person doesn’t do large-scale, or fun, or innovative. No, I can’t do that choral piece because I don’t have the numbers. And yes, there is reason behind my thinking and I’m not about to be blindly Pollyanna about anything. But…what if I thought about things just a little bit differently?
So for example, rather than being a little shy and careful with how I react to new connections because of past hurts, I’d like to be more present and embrace them more fully. This doesn’t mean overflowing with information and personal details from the onset, this means that I have to work harder to connect, be more open and present in my interactions and not just rely on brightness and niceties, be genuinely interested and not just fly-by tokenistic with my conversation, and to look hard at myself as to whether I am being the sort of colleague and friend I would like to have. It’s harder, more genuine work. But it’s different from how I do things now, which is stay somewhat brightly superficial until I really feel safe with the people and want to invite them into my circle. So many lost opportunities for connection and to engage with people who have different ideas to me if I do not have the courage to have my own world shaken up a bit because I’m skimming the surface.
I’d like to get more real and curious!
Rather than sitting on the fence, I’d like to see if I can form a more definite opinion, even if that opinion is sitting on the fence and being undecided.
Rather than just writing lyrical pieces, I’d like to see if I can write and embrace my witty, playful, clever, unexpected, and fiercely intelligent side.
Rather than being adaptive, I wonder what it would be like to absolutely take the spotlight more.
Rather than being a team player all the time, I wonder what it would be like to lead and direct a project.
Rather than preempting how something will go before even jumping in, I’d like to try something, knowing full well that it might not work and that it might cost me time, energy, and personal investment, but I’d still like to try and embrace the journey rather than cutting an idea down before it’s even had a chance to be fully explored.
Because somewhere in all of this thinking, I think that I have been living safe. I have a safe little world where I am comfortable. But I am wondering what it is like to take the other path. To take Option B. To take the experience rather than what I’ve always done.
I’d like to see how differently I can do things this year, and what choices I will make which will allow me to change and grow.
What will you do differently?
It stands to reason I’ve left this one to the end.
Even while I was brainstorming my five points of reflection for 2019; this one was the hardest of all to acknowledge, to commit to, and to want to invest in.
Forgiveness, in all its forms, has been something which has both fascinated and frustrated me for a while, eluding and embracing me with equal unpredictability. I’ve been drawn to books which take it apart, or have it as its central theme. I’ve listened to TED talks and read reflections of courageous people who have survived far more in a week than I have my whole life, and been silenced and humbled by their words. And the reason why is this: I want to learn what it means to forgive as an act of love, when the issue at stake is bigger than the usual ups and downs of life. I want to learn how to forgive, others and myself, when there needs to be a process to the forgiveness.
In my natural, un-worked-on state, I am a perfectionistic score keeper. If there is an issue, my instinct is to apologise for the 27.5% of my part in the proceedings (because I’m alway more right), and readily expect 72.5% pure, unfiltered apology from whoever has wronged me. And I would remember it if didn’t happen, or happen to my satisfaction. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t keep loving or working with the person who had caused me hurt, I just could never fully forget the hurt in a way which allowed me freedom and full access to myself, and my interactions with them when it really counted. When I read that forgiveness is an act for yourself, not for the other person, it was revolutionary. So then, I spent some time grappling with that concept, not wanting and eye for an eye, but to forgive and acknowledge for my own well-being and sense of hope.
Now, in my work-in-progress state, I am a recovering perfectionist and advocate of the compassion which is required to live life well. And it comes back to one thing: We are not perfect. We get up each day, we do our best. Some of us do better than others. But we all require compassion and forgiveness at some point in our lives, and I’d rather be an active participant in the process than have to ask someone to forgive me with no return if I am able.
The inability to forgive easily is simple to explain; we are tender-hearted and we don’t want to get hurt. Holding that inability to forgive in place means that we’re in a deadlock, and even if that means hurting yourself a little, it means that you’re relatively safe from any further hurt from the person who caused it.
But it also holds all of you – your joy, your ability to love and move forward, your vulnerability and tenderness – in an absolute deadlock as well. You might argue that you can function perfectly fine without forgiving certain people and events in your life. But those pockets of darkness that remain unexamined continue to hum and buzz in the background, taking away from your love and joy. And loving yourself means truly examining things, even if there is no answer.
Forgiving doesn’t EVER mean letting the other person off the hook, it means that you’re no longer allowing them to take a part of your joyfulness and will to live life without your permission. What’s to say that you, put under a unique set of circumstances and pushed to breaking point, wouldn’t cause a situation where you required love and forgiveness?
As we walk through life together stretched and pulled in different directions by opposing ideas and different people, we walk with a common humanity. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to like each other. But we can certainly start by looking for understanding and the middle ground, holding fast to our compassion for each other, humanising each other, and getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable place which allows us to recognise that very rarely is anyone 100% right or wrong.
So, in holding forgiveness in my heart, I remember the following:
Forgiveness is for me. When I need to look hard at something, let my first thought be for my own well-being and those that I love. Put pride back on the shelf, take ego off the table, and just look at the humanity of the situation. Then look at what I need to do to match my values; is it speak my truth? Walk away? Call a mediation? Offer an apology? Forgiveness will often be open-ended and messy, and I need to be sure of two things; that I have done the best I can according to my values, and that my well-being comes first. These two things push and pull in opposite directions, but that is what I ask of myself.
Anger is okay. Knowing when to express anger in the appropriate manner, to the right person, at the right time, is a unique challenge. But for those of us hell-bent on being perfect score-keepers, it’s so much easier to talk about all the things a person has done wrongly behind their back, than hold them accountable. And sometimes, anger is the right form of communication. Anger can show the strength of a boundary, the depth of a connection + love, or the value of something. Anger, without being derogatory, cheap, or hurtful, is a powerful and important form of communication.
Forgiveness is not an exact science. Forgiveness requires the most creative thought process and tracking than any other brand of problem-solving I’ve encountered. Because you cannot predict how people will respond, you can only deal with your side of things. If you go in with an apology, don’t go in expecting one back. You offer an apology because it’s what you hold yourself accountable to do, and it’s what you think is the right action for you. Forgiveness can be quiet or haphazard, unspoken or spoken, serious or playful; don’t be fooled by its presentation. Forgiveness may also never come, and you may need to figure out a way to find closure, and to make your own peace. If you really want to seek forgiveness, you must be prepared for any outcome, not just the one you want.
Forgive myself. Something I have learned in this past year is to recognise when I need to forgive myself. Often, these times will masquerade as extreme tiredness, or my being unpredictable, distracted, being totally over-the-top, going into myself, not being able to make a decision, and most tellingly, not being able to be fully engrossed in whatever is in front of me. When I get down to the heart of it, it is often a time when I need to tell myself that I forgive myself. I forgive myself that I couldn’t respond to a student in the perfect manner today; I will try and reconnect tomorrow. I forgive myself that I have no energy for my family, I will try and rest so that I am better value over the weekend. I forgive myself the frustration I feel with a colleague because I am on track and they are out of kilter, and it has knocked me off my strong, steady path. I forgive myself that I did not speak up when I had the opportunity, let me make a time to have that conversation, and let me prepare for it. I am not perfect. But I can always try again.
Forgiveness is a skill. Forgiveness is a skill that I would like to continue practising. The more I look gently and tenderly at things which upset, frustrate, or anger me, the more I exercise the muscle which connects me to love and forgiveness. Forgiveness, for all its intangibles, requires the ability to think about a situation from every angle, applying compassion where it would be easier to dismiss. One thing I’d like to do differently to strengthen this conversation with myself is to reach out to friends and family to help me tease out the different viewpoints. What I cannot see, they might be able to lovingly and safely bring to my attention so that I’m not attempting to do the impossible on my own.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t just figure out forgiveness like you can a maths problem, as satisfying as that would be. Forgiveness is like picking up the threads of the impossible fabric from where you left off, and continuing to weave understanding. As you travel through life and get older, wiser, and collect new experiences, this helps in building your repertoire of skills and understandings to forgive. Allow time. Press pause. Go run around and be human. Then come back to the hard work.
Quiet, considered words are powerful. Forgiveness is rarely overt or loud, and requires some degree of stretching to reach a new understanding. If you cannot forgive at an exact moment in time, that is okay. Aim for being authentic and accurate. Quiet, considered words spoken with truth and accuracy are far more powerful than throwing down a careless and flippant apology or acceptance of something when you really don’t feel it. Because the mind and heart keep score, and it’s your job to know yourself well enough that you can understand what is true and accurate for you.
Forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is love in its purest form. It cannot be measured or extracted, it is given. So, let me remember to consider this first for myself, then those most important to me, then everyone I have contact with in my life. Let me strive to be accurate, authentic, compassionate and honest, straddling the line between compassion and integrity. Let me make decisions on how I will act based on my own morals. And let me understand when to hold fast, and when to let go. Let me do so in the highest integrity, compassion and love.
When I think about the teacher I am, where I’ve come from, and who I will continue to become, I cannot help but marvel at how different I am. I am not the same person or teacher that I was even a year ago; I am more. There is greater depth and understanding, gradients of colour, shades of understanding, more weight, more presence, more joy, more freedom.
Yet how often do I look at my own mentors and teachers and think of them as being exactly the same, somehow frozen in time in their ideas and thoughts? Ridiculously shocked that they look older, and are less energetic than they used to be?
Let us be gentle and joyful with each other, and allow ourselves the grace to change. Let us put into words the gentle shift of time, so that those around us can see that we are becoming, constantly.
I love who I am, and who I am becoming. I am grateful I get a new class of students each year to share this with, and wonder with slight disconcertment at my first set of students 16 years ago, and how I would have taught them now.
Let us realise how incredibly beautiful and powerful we are as agents of change, as we are moving and changing entities ourselves. Isn’t it extraordinary that every year, I will teach with a slightly different viewpoint, depth of passion, and colour?
And let me have the grace to allow myself to change, that I do not have to replicate the expectation over and over. That all I need to do is be. Essentially and authentically.
The thing is, if you want a child to become more confident, you cannot say, “Just be more confident!” Yet how many of us as teachers are completely guilty of this? I find myself saying this to my students despite myself, with ill-founded best intentions to support and build them up in confidence.
So what do you do?
You make eye contact with them.
You catch them in a moment where they are doing the right thing and you celebrate it.
Use their name, and not just in vain. Because you are glad to see them.
Thank them for the times they have done something to the best of their ability.
You are playful with them.
You see and acknowledge things about them that they did not even realise themselves.
And you love them and value them for who they are, not what they will become, even if it’s your duty of care to pull them forward and draw this out of them. You love them exactly as they are.
And then their confidence will grow, sure and steady, and the tiniest thing will take, and spark, and flourish.
Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
“…but you persist in playing the greatest hits like some passive-aggressive Spotify playlist!” has to be one of the GREATEST quotes ever!
I clicked on this out of pure curiosity. I’m glad I did, as I came away with lots of snippets of information, having enjoyed it much more than I expected.
WOW, today. SUCH a huge example of the quote: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
This morning, I experienced that quote realised in full colour. Playing for a young man who has struggled long and hard throughout his schooling, supported by a small nation of staff, adults, family and friends, and undertaking modified Year 12 Solo Performance with me this year.
He was the pre-music for the whole school assembly, singing “Let It Be”, and quite simply brought the house down. The response was tear-worthy and unprecedented. My heart was beating out of my chest at the piano, and not from nerves. All of it was pure buoyancy and joy at the moment he was creating. 🌟
Thank you so much to the Pulteney community, teachers + students, who have been so open in their support of him this morning. He is walking around believing that Year 12 Solo Performance, and life in general, is possible.
I have to say, tutoring + accompanying for him is VERY much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Honest-to-God, you really DON’T know what you’re gonna get. It’s an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I think John Lennon + Paul McCartney would have gotten a laugh out of how many viable combinations of words you could get out of Verse 1 alone, when applied to the entire song, INCLUDING the instrumental interlude.
Isn’t it extraordinary that when we look back to our most influential teachers and mentors, they are the same age as when they taught us? That they have somehow remained suspended in mid-air and time, exactly as they were when we were 11 years old, or high school, or university?
What force granted us the means to stamp them into a moment of time? Shouldn’t we apply the same grace as they gave us, and allow them to grow as well?
I think of my most treasured mentors, who filled me with such confidence, love, and joy for my learning, and seemed so limitless and wise. I am 10, 15, 20 years older and in the middle of my own teaching career, and I have learned + fallen, failed and grown. I’ve changed; why should I think they haven’t?
Why shouldn’t I allow them greater wisdom, tenderness, and the passing of time?
It’s so easy to think of them as timeless, and limitless, but they are people on the same continuum, growing, changing, and being affected by life. It’s the same story I preach to all my students, and yet I catch myself forgetting to apply that insight and grace to my own teachers, parents, mentors.
No-one is limitless.
And when you allow that humanity, they become more scarily fragile and vulnerable, but all the more beautiful and touchable.
And I guess that’s the lesson I am teaching to my students as well; that as bright and as energised as I am, I, too, am not limitless. I am beautifully, touchably human.
You know that Autumn rain that is temperate, but not cold? That is not harsh, but is undeniably cool and soothing? One that makes the windows misty and grey, and the insides of houses and cafes seem warmer without even trying?
That is what I long for right now, and that is what is predicted for us in Adelaide this week. Beautiful Autumn rain.
The sort of rain that makes you long for pumpkin soup and woollen socks, to be wrapped up in cuddly large-knit throws, with hands cupped around a hot chocolate. Molten and dribbling cheese toasties. Baking.
On the couch in a nest of pillows, reading, or dreaming, or writing, or composing, or conversing, letting time draw longer and longer, deliciously, into the afternoon.
It’s the time of shedding leaves and shedding fears, embracing change. It’s a time of preparing for deep rest and reflection. A time to lay down foundations, slowly and methodically. There will be no green and promise right now, only gentle goodbyes.It’s the time where stocks and stews are made to nourish the soul, and the heart, where life still has a steady optimism and heartbeat before the real metamorphosis of winter begins. It’s transient, but not unbearable. It’s shifting, it’s changing, and it’s beautiful.
I love this rain, still welcoming to walk outside in, fresh and new, but pulling enough that you’ll want to be inside, dreaming. And if it’s constant, in steady slow blunt tears, there’s such a cleansing beauty to it.
It inspires and washes away, without harshness, like a person lit up internally by their work, glowing. It’s the focus that goes into creating. It’s simple and nourishing. It’s inspiring.
I love the safety and serenity of routine. It’s not the predictability I crave, but the idea that in this passage, I can change one variable and watch an infinite number of little nuances change afterward. How I choose to start my choral rehearsals even though there is a set routine; how I create a change in momentum when there is a framework.
The thing is, change shakes us up in the best way possible. Some of it can be self-inflicted, and some of it is as out-of-the-blue and unpredictable as they come. Either way, you need to adapt. Sit with the newness of it all, figure it out, ask for help, wonder, worry, celebrate, and play with the puzzle pieces. Without change, there is no new life. No new discoveries.
The tiniest change, such as smile and an extra word of conversation can change me, or positively affect my health, or change my attitude. The bigger changes, such as a loss, a death, a sadness, the passing of life and time, change of job, or living situation, the birth of a child, a new friendship…all of these add richness and complexity to the safety. The safety is charming and unashamedly safe. But change, with all its haphazardness, and sometime pure stealth and quietness, can take me by the sleeves of my well-worn jumper and pull me forward into living in the most unexpected, creative, and innovative ways.
Today, I’m looking back on all the little changes. And I am so happy for the monumental ways they have shaped my life.