I am finding from principals I mentor they feel they can’t even take the whole month of July off anymore. I counsel them to really think about and create boundaries that allow for a large chunk of time away from the work. Because in the end, you know the work will get done before the start of school. Think about it, it always does.
When I went through Breakthrough Coach training, Malachi Pancoast cited some statistics about longevity after retirement of administrators. He said, that on average, if you retired from the work at 55, you had a 30-year average life span. If you retired at 60, you had a 15-year average life span. If you retired at 65, the life span dropped to an average of 18 months. I don’t have to tell you that this job is stressful!
I am currently reading The Gatekeepers, The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple. I was fascinated by this book when I first heard the interview of Chris on NPR. The correlation to the work of the principal struck me! Whipple interviewed 15 of the17 living former Chiefs of Staff. They all described the work as untenable, impossible, and stressful, but they absolutely loved doing it! One former Chief of Staff described the work as being a “javelin catcher.” Another described the work like he was “climbing into the cockpit of a crippled plane in flight and trying to land it safely.” There are no moments of peace in this job. “You’re on the phone on the way home. You’re on the phone during dinner, you’re on the phone reading bedtime stories to your kids--and you fall asleep before the book ends. And then you wake up around three in the morning with something bad happening somewhere around the world.” What they described is the work that you do each day! Keep in mind though, the average tenure of a Chief of Staff is less than two years. Think about the lifetime of stress that a principal endures, eh “javelin catcher?”
Several former Chiefs of Staff share some inspiring information that certainly every principal can relate to regarding servant leadership. “Never forget the extraordinary opportunity you’ve been given to serve, and the privilege and responsibility that it represents. And this advice from John Podesta, former Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton: ‘You’ve got to slow down, and listen,” “You’ve got a lot of smart people who are in that building with you. And you’ve got to resist the temptation to always have the answer. Slow down, listen. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll make better decisions.” Hmmm. Great advice for an incoming principal new to a building and for veteran principals who may need a reset.
The most recent TEDx conference in Vancouver covered robots who could outperform college students to ultraviolet lights that could kill “Superbugs.” But many talks focused on simple ways to prioritize our life, make improvements to live better, be more mindful, and care for the soul.
In a Washington Post article by Colby Itkowitz, he summarized three things to improve your life and maybe live longer, enjoy life more and find that elusive happiness!
1. Face to Face Social Interaction Leads to Longer Life
A person’s close relationships and social integration are the best predictors of longevity according to psychologist Susan Pinker who has studied the impact of human connection and its relationship to well-being and physical health. Pinker shared that women on average live six years longer because they prioritize spending time with their friends more than men. It must be face to face, not email or text! “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, and, like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future,” she said.
She shares that ¼ of the population say they have no one to talk to. It reminds me of Hattie’s work when he shared that he placed microphones on children to record their interactions with other children and adults at school. He found a remarkable number of children who were never talked to by an individual child or adult for the whole day! Pinker says that we can change that and it doesn’t have to be long and involved. Simple eye contact, fist bumps, hugs, and high fives lower your cortisol levels and releases dopamine, making you less stressed and giving you a little high. What might you do next school year to increase face to face social interaction at your school?
2. Knowing when to turn off your Smartphone Enriches Your Life
Adam Alter, a professor of marketing and psychology has studied the impact screen time has on our lives. He cites that in 2007, technology took up a sliver of our precious personal time in a day. In 2017, it took up almost all of it. Alter cites that those who spend large amounts of time on social networks, dating apps and online news sites report being less happy. The problem is according to Alter that technology has removed our “stopping cues.” Unlike reading a book or watching a movie, time spent on technology sites can become a black hole of continuous searching that never ends.
Those who set a finite amount of time on technology, by not having it out at the dinner table, putting it on airplane mode on the weekend--were able to enjoy life more. “Life becomes more colorful, richer, you have better conversations, you connect with the person who is there with you,” Alter says. He suggests using vacation responders on email that direct others whom to contact when on vacation and that if they email it will be automatically deleted! Think you don’t use your phone that much? Put the app Moment on your phone. It keeps track of how many times you pick up your phone and how much time you spend on social media sites. One person thought they didn’t spend much time on their phone, but found out that they picked up their phone 100 times in one day and had over 2 hours of time collectively using various apps. If one were to minimize that amount of time, what creative, innovative thinking could be relegated to the brain?
3. Chasing Meaning, Not Happiness is What Really Matters
The quest for happiness doesn’t make us happy. Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the new book “The Power of Meaning,” realized through her research that constantly evaluating our happiness is contributing to feelings of hopelessness and depression. She discovered that meaning can be culled in four ways: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.
We need people in our life who love and care for us, we must have purpose and feel like we are contributing, we need to be passionate about something bigger than ourselves, our faith, nature, or Yoga. Finally, “what is the story we tell about ourselves?”
Shawn Achor is a Harvard researcher who has studied Positive Psychology for the last decade and the author of the book, “The Happiness Advantage.” He and his team began by studying “outliers” ---people who thrive during times of challenge and stress. His work involves examining ways in which we can “retrain our brain” to set at positive and become more creative, productive, energetic, and intelligent.
●Your external world predicts only 10% of your happiness. 90% of your happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by how your brain processes the world.
●75% of your work success is determined by your optimism level, your social support network, and your ability to see stress as a challenge, rather than a threat.
●Your brain at positive performs better than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed. When you are positively present, your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, and your energy rises---You experience what Achor calls “the happiness advantage”.
●Dopamine, the brain chemical present when we are set at positive does two things: It makes you feel happy, and it turns on all the learning centers in your brain.
He suggests 5 strategies that if done for 21 days can train our brain for positivity:
○Writing in a journal
○Surprising others with “Random Acts of Kindness”
What strategy could you commit to doing that could train your brain to set at positive and experience “the happiness advantage?”
Every August, when I got back in the office after my month-long rest, the first thing I would do is enter all my vacations into my calendar. These were my carrots to help me through the tough and difficult times, when I felt like a “javelin catcher!” The time to slow down, listen, have intimate face to face interaction that was meaningful with my smartphone unplugged and on mute. What action will you take this summer to ensure maximizing face to face social interaction, turning off or limiting the use of your smartphone, and focusing on creating meaning in your life? What memories will you make for yourself and your family? You can never get that time back and it might lengthen your life!