At the end of 2019, before our world changed forever, I wrote a piece for SmartBrief on three nonresolutions I planned to make for 2020. The idea was simple: Rather than making resolutions for the New Year about things I would do, I decided to make them about what I would not do. It was a fun idea, and I would like to think I kept to those nonresolutions pretty well.
Fast-forward two years, and things are very different than they were. We continue to move through a disastrous pandemic, and our experiences as leaders and learners (and as people as well) have been drastically different from where we were only two years earlier.
As I was thinking about my monthly post, I thought it might be interesting to bring back the idea of nonresolutions, this time informed by what I have learned since I wrote the initial piece. I would love to hear how these “won’t dos” land for you.
I will not advocate for a return to what was
The last two years have changed us significantly. While our own individual ratios of positive to negative change will look different, each and every one of us will never be the same. Early on during the pandemic, I recall making comments like, “When this is all over, we will go back to . . . “ or “I can’t wait for . . . to happen again.” Over the last few months, I have stopped making those comments entirely.
Simply put, we can never go back to what was. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t be informed by the past to be better in the future. Recently, in conversation with members of my team, I said, “As we consider our plans for the next few months, let’s not think about what we would have done in the past. Instead, let’s think about what we will do now.”
Just a few months earlier, that comment would have likely been met by furrowed brows or questioning looks. Now, though, what I see most is excited agreement. Generally, most of us are ready to use the lessons we have learned to make the world a better place. We can help each other do this by using forward-thinking questions and statements such as, “What can we do about this moving forward?” or “How do you see this working a year from now?”
There are times to look back, certainly. And yet, now is a time for continued growth. I will do my part by no longer longing for what was before.
I will not engage in toxic positivity
Pre-pandemic, I was definitely more of a glass-half-full type of person. I encouraged everyone to look on the bright side and was always outwardly happy, choosing to close off my feelings of frustration and disappointment to all but a select few.
The pandemic exposed me to so much stress and loss that I realized that remaining positive all the time helped no one – certainly not myself. It was akin to lying. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that we constantly live in the negative. I am suggesting, though, that we recognize that not every situation warrants rainbows and unicorns. Too much positivity, particularly when all agree that the situation is stressful and disappointing, does more harm than good.
How do we navigate this so that we remain balanced and pragmatic when faced with a given situation? I’ve worked to be more open with my emotions and have attempted to model how to welcome them while not making people uncomfortable. When I receive bad news, I share my disappointment openly. I do this by letting people know how I feel and how challenged I am by a given situation. I share that it is important, despite those feelings, that I am open with where I currently stand. And I encourage others to do the same – to name how they feel and why – and to let others know whether they are pleased, excited or filled with sorrow.
This open sharing of emotional states can be scary and uncomfortable in the short term. I have found that in the long term, however, it allows everyone to interact with more care and more appropriate levels of support. By removing toxic positivity from my state of being, I will be more real, and more supportive, than I could have been otherwise.
I will not “FUD my own bags”
During the pandemic, I started to explore investing in cryptocurrency, and I have learned a significant amount and made wonderful contacts over the last few months. It is a fascinating area of study, and one of the common phrases is “Don’t FUD your own bags.”
The “bags” in that statement refers to your investments, and the “FUD” stands for “fear, uncertainty and doubt.” The simple idea is that you should avoid constantly putting fear, uncertainty and doubt into the decisions you make, because doing so is rarely beneficial.
When the pandemic began, there was so much uncertainty in everything that came our way. Close to two years later, there is still lots of uncertainty. The difference? Many of us, myself included, have grown to accept that uncertainty as an opportunity rather than a threat. I have learned to step back from the elements of control I felt I needed, and I have become more capable of openly sharing “I don’t know” as a truly acceptable answer to a question.
How can we continue to build on FUD avoidance? In addition to liberally using “I don’t know” as an answer, we also use “How might we find out?” as a follow-up question. Admitting our lack of knowledge, and enlisting the assistance of others both humanizes us and pushes for a stronger community.
Another step we can take is to give ourselves at least a short bit of reflection time each day to process and consider the choices in front of us and potential small goals we can lean toward. For instance, I set a period on my calendar daily called Prep/Reflection that I attempt to keep as untouchable time. I use this just to think and process so that I can make the best decisions possible.
I also find I think more effectively when I write by hand, so I always keep a journal handy to take notes and doodle. By giving myself processing space, I feel more comfortable with my decision-making and therefore less likely to doubt direction.
These three nonresolutions are not the only avoidance choices I will make this year. They are, however, significant ones that I resolve to not engage in to be the best I can for myself, for those I support and for the greater good of learners and leaders everywhere. I’m hoping that 2022 brings you lots to look forward to, as well as lots to put behind.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.
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