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The gala piece that became the Olympic free skate for Adam Rippon.
And the story behind it which I never knew until now; a strong capable leader of the flock injured and in recovery, creating a new strength + redefining themselves.
A reflection of Adam’s own personal journey and his confidence in defining his own artistry, which in my opinion stands him apart from the crowd despite not having the technical merit of the top contenders.
Amazing, the light that shines when we each of us commit to being authentic.
We did a professional development as a whole staff recently where we were asked to name, in a sentence, what sparks our passion as people. Not as teachers, but as people. And found myself saying immediately, without thought or preparation:
“If ‘excellent’ is the highest pinnacle, like the North Star, or the top of a mountain, then I am determined to find a way to get there with my students without shame. I will not hold any of their personal attributes or actions against their inherent value, or allow that to colour their pathway to achieving excellence. But I WANT excellence. That’s unmistakable. It’s in the blood. I just think that you can do it joyfully, with a love of learning the whole way. It can be honest, gritty, no-frills, and monotonous, but it will not cut or hurt them personally.”
So my spark of passion in one sentence is this:
I want to bring the students under my direction to their best selves in an envelope of joy and worthiness.
I’m an example in my words, in how I am as a person, in how I recover, in how I deal with stress, in the challenges I choose to accept, in how I love and care for myself and the people important to me, and even in how I interact with the people I do not like or respect.
You can get to “excellent” by squeezing it out of a kid, by threatening them, by coercing them, by holding academic barriers over them, by comparing them to others, by pitting them against your own self-worth, by unwittingly emotionally cornering them into doing what you want. You know what? It all produces the same result of excellent. How twisted is that?! I hate that. But there it is. I will actually get you the result that you want. I’ve seen it happen.
But THAT version of excellent, forged from a foundation of shame – and that IS what it all is, shame packaged in various forms – doesn’t eff-ing fly. It doesn’t stick, it’s not life-long. And students will fight it the way their bodies fight disease; instinctively.
And why would you want to connect that with excellence and their self-worth?
Teachers, check your words + intent carefully. I have to on a daily basis.
And find another way.
I will find the only other way to “excellent” that doesn’t involve shame, even if I have to find the goddamn scenic route that takes twice as long.
Because that’s my spark.
Class of 2018 Musos carrying on the traditional of presenting me with a new lanyard.
“Education can radically change the trajectory of a child’s life. It can transform the possibilities of what a child can become and achieve.”
“To all the children out there, I want you to understand from my story … [that] suffering doesn’t define you, what other people say to you or call you doesn’t define you — what you choose to do with the opportunities you’ve got, that’s what defines you.”
[Eddie Woo, 2018 Australia’s Local Hero Award]
Just finished reading “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, made even more dear to me because it was given to me by a wonderful friend for my birthday.
I experienced every scope of feeling in this book; gasps of surprise, shivers of wonder, warm glows of love, pangs of anger and grief, the poignancy of small and simple joys, and the overwhelming anguish of final death.
Don’t you ever think it’s astonishingly wonderful that we get to feel the whole gamut of emotions as humans? That we get to do something so refreshing and cleansing as cry, long slow tears, or laugh with such buoyant joy? That our whole bodies move and are filled with something more divine that just our mortal flesh?
To be able to feel the entire spectrum of feeling, an alphabet of emotion that spills forth is sure the most wonderful blessing that you can have as a mortal human.
To be able to imagine and create scenarios that don’t exist, to understand, to wonder, to hypothesise, and to heal; extraordinary. The highest of human thinking + compassion.
To be able to choose what you do with that force of feeling, and how you will use that moment, the greatest gift of freedom.
Stand your own sacred ground through light and joy, storm and stress, unchanging and quietly courageous.
That’s when you know you burn with a real internal light.
To engage with life and the world around you, you need to be up for discomfort and struggle. And after a period of intense rest and time away from interaction, that can be the last thing you want. Add to that the very introvertness of my introvert nature, and that’s recipe enough for me to lie on the rug in the middle of my floor and pretend I’m not a teacher.
Every single year, no matter what sort of holidays I have, I always have the irrational thought before going back to school: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH STUDENTS.” Right now, it’s even more basic: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH PEOPLE.”
Why am I so antsy and afraid?!
Am I afraid of the intensity of work? Because I may get hurt? That I don’t think I will survive the roller-coaster that is teaching? Interacting with the staff who give me the shits and drain the life out of me? My own unrelenting standards and expectations? Having less time?
The thing is, these all make sense. And I will survive, one thought and step at a time.
The intensity of work? Yes, it will be intense. I will be in the coalface getting blackened again. But I have done this before, and I have the fitness and ability to do it now. I have the tenacity and determination, and I have been working on my concentration. What I need to remember is how to step out of the intensity of work. To see the little moments and don’t discount them. To hug them tight, because they will sustain me.
That I may get hurt? Of course. I think there are flying shards of glass every day. You wouldn’t be living life if you didn’t step into a shit-storm every once in a while. But I have firm ground under my feet and a quiet confidence. I need to remember that I’ve survived so much, and far worse more capably than I believe. Every day is not supposed to be filled with just all things wonderful and breezy brightness, there is supposed to be some gritty consideration and thinking in there. That’s called living. And I am not perfect. I need to remember that. In living and loving well, I will skin my knees. But my goodness, my survival skills are developing nicely and so is my connection circle of people who love me.
That I won’t survive? Just one foot in front of the other. Look all around you at the people who are surviving, on far less, with more gumption. Take a leaf out of their books and look, learn, and admire. Talk yourself through the stressful moments. You’re allowed to worry and fuss. But don’t stop. Don’t hurry, but don’t stop. And hold a very big flashlight as to what you think is correct for you. Stay in your own lane. When things get crowded, get back in that lane like your life depends upon it.
And oh, the shitty shitty people? Again, we are all one big happy family, and some of those “family members” will give you the shits. Big shits. What sort of person do I want to be? I survived most of 2017 by cocooning myself from the shittiest of shitty people. I’m going to test something new out this year, to see what sort of result it will give me; I’m going to apply grace and lean into the things that scare me, or piss me off. I am going to speak truth and honesty, but with grace and compassion. And I will do it FOR ME, because that’s the sort of person I want to be. When there is a problem, I am going to quietly and courageously stand my ground. I am going to fortify myself with love from everyone around me who really love me for all that I am, strengths, achievements, and weaknesses. In other words, I am going to ruffle some feathers and see if I come out looking and smelling even more authentic.
My own relenting standards? Oooooooh, yes. Somehow, the perfectionist streak in me rears its ugly head when I am on holidays. When I am supposed to be relaxing and getting myself prepared for a new year, this horrible gremlin asserts itself, I think partly because there are no “normal happenings” around me to beat me back into humanness, and I am allowed to be perfectionistic. Relaxed, but perfectionistic. So to this, I tenderly remember that I am an imperfect and worthy human. I’ll have to yell it at myself, but I know that to be true. And telling myself I’m not perfect, putting myself into context, and putting everyone else into context, their words + failings, faults + successes, helps soothe and encourage me immeasurably. I am suddenly able to touch on forgiveness, even if I don’t yet, or can’t go there, and life moves on again. So again, engaging with life is incredibly humbling and normalising. Having time away to reflect is essential, but getting back into it, also just as essential.
Having less time? I think that’s less disposable, aimless time. I need to get very clear about what is important and how I would like to spend my time. One of my biggest time-sucks and numbing of behaviours is scrolling Facebook. When I am stressed out or feeling small, I need to get the hell off Facebook, get the hell back into my lane and engage with something that really sustains me…creatively, musically, personally, humanly. And all of that takes courage. Because Facebook is like the massive scoop of salted caramel ice-cream. It goes down easy. What I’m asking for is something like hot chicken soup, which takes some time to see the healing benefits and is going to take some discipline, but I have to believe + know that it will nourish me more.
I cannot live life being afraid. The more afraid I am, the MORE I need to practise engaging with the world, listening, being mindful, being present. This whole “warrior + happiness training” thing that I have inadvertently engaged in these holidays because I opened up the Pandora’s Box Of Unprocessed Thoughts and Emotions is not to make me feel good right now. It’s to build up a bank so that I have happiness and courage in credit for when the shit hits the fan. For when I am struggling. That is when I look back and realise the catalogue of events I have survived with grace, the endurance and problem-solving skills that I have, and that I can lean HARD on them. The immeasurable joy in my life, and the joy that emanates from me.
And of course it would be Atticus that said it! 🙂
What do I know to be true? Morning scribblings and conversations, in the middle of the holidays, on a still morning with a plunger of coffee. Total, unexpected oasis.
That you cannot shame anyone into changing their behaviour or actions. For there to be lasting change, people have to want it deeply. I read it from Brené Brown, and fought it all through my university years. What I would say to that 17-year-old hopeful, heartful, impressionable, intensely dedicated girl if I could have my time over, I now say to all my students with a great deal of warmth and humour: “You all have excellent crap detectors on your head. Use them. Trust you teachers and mentors, but above all, trust yourself. When the intent is right, you will know that you are entirely safe, in well-being, mind, and heart. And that is the only way to learn.”
You cannot protect and cocoon yourself up forever. Sometimes, you don’t even know that you are doing it. You’ll be happy enough, but is that really what you want? Life is always going to have ebbs and flows, moments of grace and moments of intensity. You have everything you need to ride those waves. For God’s sake, do something and have something to say. Thoughtful, considered, and entirely yours. You need to lean into life in order to really engage and live.
You will absolutely NOT be happier when things are “done”. Sometimes in the haste to wrap up and finish, and get to the happy pontoon at the end, you miss the amazing moments of industry. The really interesting bits that frustrate and challenge you. Again, it’s not going to be comfortable. It’s going to be downright annoying sometimes. But you are absolutely alive. You’re not when you’re safely passed out on a couch, in relative terms.
Push yourself to be industrious, but also to be human. Believe it or not, you will be most happiest when you are filled with purpose, when there are things to do. Complain or joyfully proclaim to the world how busy you are, it’s never going to be a perfect balance. But you will feel the muscles of agency building, and the inevitable and wonderful hum that comes from creating and being.
You’re here to live, not to be static or just appear. Ask questions, be all-in, find things out, push up against boundaries, reset them, carve out time, then swim into each minute. Be unique, be controversial, be gracious, be generous. But above all, BE.
Find your moral compass. My God, you’ll need this. Being deeply committed and indebted to yourself is a daily, and sometimes hourly, struggle. Hold yourself accountable, even if the rest of the world gives you a free pass. Don’t for yourself, if it doesn’t line up with your values.
Stand your own sacred ground. Whatever you are doing, whether you are in battle, in struggle, in glory, in joy, in grace, in pain, in love, in play, in life. You matter, my darling, so much. For me, most days are joyful, industrious, or rewarding. I like the ordinary, it makes the little special moments explode with the spark of “extraordinary”. But on the days that I’m unsettled, I’m going to lean in. That’s some serious arse-kicking courage right there for an introvert who would love nothing better than just to cocoon up. Take down one puzzle piece, and begin, and you take down fear breath by breath.
And this one.
Things will move and change.
“Don’t hurry, but don’t stop.”