All Articles Education Educational Leadership Life and leadership: Turning lemons into lemonade

Life and leadership: Turning lemons into lemonade

Feel like life has been doling out way too many lemons? Fred Ende shares some ways to turn them into lemonade.

6 min read

EducationEducational Leadership


Francesca Hotchin/Unsplash

Over the last two months, I have written my blog posts around times of travel or great experiences. This post was supposed to be written after time away on the beach in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We had plans with two other families and were really looking forward to ending the summer by traveling to a place we had never been and spending time with friends.

Fred Ende

As you can infer, that’s not what happened, unfortunately. Three months after our whole family had our first bout with COVID-19, my wife got sick again. Happily, she is OK, and — although my older daughter developed an ear infection, my younger daughter got a stomach virus and I ended up with a bad cold — it seems we are all moving past it.

The old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is one that we can apply liberally to much that we have experienced over the past few years. It’s also one that we can all stand to live by a bit more. These last few days I’ve had to do a bit of lemonade-making. As leaders, it’s something we have to put into practice quite a bit. Here are three ways to make something sweet out of something that might be considered sour.

Stay humble

When all we see is success, it can be really difficult to deal with a setback. It seems ridiculous, right? After all, if you have been able to check off a lot of boxes, missing one or two shouldn’t impact us that much. But there is a funny element at play here. The more we succeed, often the more we expect to continue doing so. 

This idea, which we can think of as the “Multiplicative Principle of Life” basically states, “The more satisfied you should be with a given situation, the more times you need to meet that benchmark to satisfy yourself.” The more money you have, the more you have to make to convince yourself you have enough. The more hours you work, the more you feel you need to add to your work schedule to be effective.

Now, of course, there are some benchmarks to this; some levels of success are important to being effective, and living above the poverty line likely will allow you to do more than if you live below it. But, to circle back, a balance of successes and setbacks actually best prepares us for anything the world throws our way. By staying humble and recognizing that we are simply human, we can welcome both successes and failures as they come. 

When I took on my current role a few months before the pandemic, I was prepared to change the world. Then the world changed, and I quickly realized that I would need to make changes on the world’s terms, and not just my own. Being humble has become a key part of who I am and has allowed me to make better lemonade from the lemons I am dealt.

Do what you might not be able to otherwise

My wife and I happen to be a great match for a number of reasons, one of them being that we are quite different. We have different skills and interests, and that affords our daughters with a lot of opportunities to explore different aspects of life. 

With my wife in isolation, it provided me with some time to take my daughters to two places that we haven’t enjoyed in some time or previously. First, we went into New York City to take in a Broadway show (“Come From Away”), something we did fairly frequently pre-COVID and have not resumed until now. It was a great experience, and we enjoyed the opportunity to walk through Times Square after not being there for a while. 

We also went to the new Legoland Resort in New York. Both of my daughters are builders, and they loved the opportunity to explore the mini lands that Lego builders had put together (as well as the park rides). Amusement parks are not my wife’s cup of tea, and me being there with both girls let me put a bit of positive pressure on my younger daughter to go on a few of the “older kid” rides. She enjoyed the roller coaster, which she might not have gone on if my wife were there.

On the way home both of my daughters commented on what a great weekend it had been. And, while I didn’t say it openly, that weekend likely wouldn’t have happened the way it did had we all been healthy.

Laugh about it

Humor and laughter, historically, have been the world’s best medicine. If we can’t look at a situation through a lens of amusement, even if it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, then we are missing an opportunity to see the silver lining in our defeats.

In my leadership, humor is often an ingredient I dole out regularly. Not at the expense of others, but sometimes at the expense of myself. I always look to apply it when it is wanted. Sometimes serious situations need to remain serious for a short bit of time, and if humor is applied too soon (or too late), it can come off as being tone-deaf or misjudged. 

Happily, a key part of the Ende household’s structure is built around laughing about situations that are both funny and ridiculous. After the initial shock of my wife testing positive literally three months and a few days after her first positive test, we laughed about our inability to travel with our friends, even joking with them a bit when we called them to tell them we wouldn’t be able to go on the vacation (after first exchanging some sad and disappointed comments). 

Laughter doesn’t necessarily remove the weight of a struggle, but it does lighten the load. So, to sweeten the sour, adding a bit of laughter can be just what is needed.

The summer here in New York will be ending soon, with teachers and students heading back to school. And, by the time you read this, schools around the country will be open in full. While our summer didn’t end as planned, it did end. And since time doesn’t stop regardless of whether we have lemons or lemonade, best to use our time to make something sweet than let it remain sour.

Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


Subscribe to SmartBrief’s FREE email ASCD newsletter to see the latest hot topics in education. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.