If at first you don’t succeed…
How many licks does it take to get to the centre of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop? It is hard to get a definitive answer from anyone…a cow, a fox, a turtle…the question is how many times are you going to ask before it is too late and someone just bites it and you get nothing?
We can’t know when the “right thing” or the “next thing” will happen. We apply to clubs, jobs, groups, teams, and more often than not, we are told no. What keeps us going? Sometimes we get feedback but rarely is that feedback helpful. Sometimes we get nothing. Sometimes we just get told what makes the person telling it most comfortable.
I have a tendency to wait and talk to as many people as possible before putting my application in for another opportunity. Other times, all it takes is a supportive conversation with someone I trust and I am good to go…onward and upward. But what if that plan doesn’t come to fruition? Why do I always feel I have to look to the next thing?
Years ago I was at a dinner party with my husband with his friends from work. We were all having a great time and I enjoyed listening to their war stories from work. They had each other and they were a great team and in spite of the leadership they were dealing with, they had a good time together so work was bearable. The host turned to me, realizing I was the only teacher at the table and not partaking in their talk and asked if I had any stories. I declared to the table, quite honestly and emphatically, that I was happy at work and I loved my boss. They all looked at each other dumfounded that someone could actually be truly happy at work. I always thought that was the goal. Love what you do so what you do doesn’t feel like work…
There have been few times in my career when I have felt totally and completely happy where I was. I may be romanticizing it but I know there was something in those three spaces that made me excited to go to work each day and have a continued drive towards creativity and innovation. We know when we are in spaces like this and I am forever trying to find it when I’m not.
When I first got a permanent teaching job and I worked at a school that no longer exists because the TDSB closed it, I was so happy. I loved the students, staff and community. It was a great place to work but when I heard it was closing and I knew I wanted to have a baby I thought it best to move somewhere else so I wouldn’t be surplus and 9 months pregnant looking for a placement in a school. I was at that school for three years. I had an amazing teaching partner, one of my mom’s best friends at my side believing in me, and for the most part, kind and caring principals who supported me. It was so hard to leave. It was the place where I learned to be a teacher and it broke my heart to leave.
The next time I felt completely satisfied was when I was a vice-principal. I worked with an incredible man who continues to be a confident and mentor to me, Matt Champion. Again the students, staff and community were incredible. We did so much learning together, personally and professionally. I had no desire at that point to be promoted but with encouragement and then pretty much a you’re doing this now conversation from my superintendent, I left that school too…so sad to go and with tears streaming down my face.
The next time was at my last school. The staff were amazing —kind and caring staff with a heart for innovation and creativity. Students were always at the centre of every decision and staff were ignited by their work and the relationships with students and community. It wasn’t just the work in the school but the partnership with the community that was incredible. We were doing great work together and people noticed — our ideas began to spread beyond the walls of our school.
I have been trying to figure out what was the common thread with each of the places and times. I talked to my husband about it as he has been there through it all and he said quite confidently that the common thread was trust. We had trust in each other. Trust to perform and create. Trust to take risks and trust in our colleagues so we could be ourselves — be our best selves. Complacency disappears and the drive to do better and be better creates a perpetual energy that drives us forward.
On the flip side…what happens when trust isn’t a key factor? When trust is broken down fear takes its place which stifles creative energy and we become more inhibited concerned about what we say and how we do will come under judgement rather than discourse.
So then, how do we manage change when we lose our trusting environment?
I know that trust is built through the work and not before the work happens. So is it just time?
I don’t like working in those spaces and I get impatient and begin seeking a way out — a new challenge or a new opportunity. I see other spaces where I think I can be more effective because I have the power to build that trust and risk taking environment where failing fast isn’t just a slogan but a way to design, iterate and learn. So it isn’t just trust but also self-efficacy and autonomy to make the changes necessary for trust to exist.
In the end, I recognize that my big lesson — the one I struggle with the most — is the idea of being present.
“Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life. - Buddha
I once bit a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop — I broke my tooth.
There is no fast way to get there — we just know when we aren’t there and always want to get back.